In class we began to analyze what the narrator had learned, if anything, by the end of Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body. I believe that several important massages were accepted by both the narrator and myself, as a participating reader.
In deep mourning for Louise’s lost love, the narrator says, “‘I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t even get near finding her. It’s as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book. Did I invent her'” (189).
The question feels plausible since the narrator questions reality throughout. In this moment, Louise appears to be a haunting memory, if only of a fantasy, but Gail Right offers proof that Louise and her remaining souvenirs were not invented.
“‘No, but you tried to [invent her],’ Gail said. ‘She wasn’t yours for the making'” (189).
Does the narrator ever fully understand his or her objectification of Louise? I think yes. The last passage of the book speaks to this conclusion:
The walls are exploding. The windows have turned into telescopes. Moon and stars are magnified in this room. The sun hangs over the mantelpiece. I stretch out my hand and reach the corners of the world. The world is bundled up in the room. Beyond the door where the river is, where the roads are, we shall be. We can take the world with us when we go and sling the sun under your arm. Hurry now, it’s getting late. I don’t know if this is a happy ending but here we are let loose in open fields. (190)
If, as the narrator says, “it’s the cliches that cause the trouble” (189), or the language that confines us, then the confines or walls are exploding in a moment of clarity. Windows have turned to telescopes searching beyond the language, magnifying the world outside. This is the place where Louise and the narrator can finally exist together. The entire universe is theirs for the taking.
But is this a happy ending? It all depends on whether or not Louise’s final appearance is real. If so, one might think yes. Both the narrator and Louise have finally escaped the boundaries of subject, object, power and submission, using the term “we” to capture the equality of the lovers let loose in open fields. Still there is a sense of urgency in “Hurry now.” It’s as if the ability to escape the shackles of language is fleeting. One cannot avoid defining thought with language for long.
Then again, can we trust Gail? She’s never met Louise. What if Louise is not real? The last paragraph begins with “This is where the story starts, in this threadbare room,” I returned to the novel’s beginning for further insight. From that perspective, the escape truly is brief. In the room where the story starts, we find the narrator avoiding heartbreak again by falling back into the same cycle of cliches with Gail that were experienced with Jacqueline:
Still waiting for Mr Right? Miss [Gail] Right? And maybe all the little Rights? I am desperately looking the other way so that love won’t see me. I want the diluted version, the sloppy language, the insignificant gestures. The saggy armchair of cliches. It’s all right, millions of bottoms have sat here before me. The springs are well worn, the fabric smelly and familiar. I don’t have to be frightened, look, my grandma did it – my parents did it, now I will do it won’t I, arms outstretched, not to hold you, just to keep my balance, sleepwalking to that armchair. How happy we will be. And they all lived happily ever after. (2)
If this is where the novel ends, stuck back in the cycle with only a brief peek into the fantasy of Louise, it becomes painfully obvious that the narrator nor the reader can remain free from the boundaries of language, the boundaries that keep us separate from love and from our beloved.
This book raises so many questions. How can one operate outside language, even with its flaws? How would the story be told? The minute we try, the trap snaps shut once more. Even if Louise were allowed her own quotes, wouldn’t they be filtered through the narrator’s reactions? Perhaps we must tell every story from two or more perspectives, but how does that effect our own as author or narrator? If Louise and the narrator exist outside of language, how do they communicate? Have they become one and the same – just knowing? Has anything really changed? Louise, if real, still doesn’t speak upon arrival except through her body, through touch. Perhaps that’s the key to truth, experience without words.
Again I’m left wondering, what do we do with this? Even when we strive to reach beyond the comfortable cliched armchair for something more, when we can glimpse the possibilities of the Universe and want to run freely in the open fields of equal love, we aren’t quite sure how to step through to the other side linguistically.