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Narrative Proximity in the Work of Nelson Algren


Royal Holloway, University of London


Recent critics of the work of Nelson Algren have often worked themselves into the tricky situation of having to “restore” or “recuperate” Algren. Such restorative approaches become concerned with justifying interest in, or arguing for the significance of, their subject. But while this “defensive” approach may go some way to carving out and preserving a critical space for Algren, rarely does it point towards or embark upon new and productive critical pathways. Moreover, while much of the available criticism on Algren is thematic in focus, few critics have considered Algren’s narrative technique.

My article joins an incipient narratological conversation about Algren, arguing that no thematic account can be complete without a nuanced consideration of his narrative technique. I call Algren’s particular brand of free indirect discourse “narrative proximity.” This term encapsulates what I consider the fundamental interlacing of Algren’s aesthetic and social visions; it therefore has deeply ethical implications. Furthermore, “narrative proximity” denotes a technique whereby the very inarticulateness of his characters is rendered profoundly articulate.

Keywords: Nelson Algren, narrative technique, free indirect discourse



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