Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The main action of this powerful war novel—Robert Ross’s initiation into adulthood through confrontation with death, violence, love, and sexuality—is preceded by a brilliantly constructed frame which engages the reader’s interest and establishes the objectivity and credibility of the first-person narrator, who is either a historian or a biographer. The frame is also thematically linked to the main plot as another aspect of the difficulty of the search for truth about any man at any time. The first section of part 1, “Prologue,” presents a remarkably memorable image of Ross at the devastated front lines, about to commit the error of benevolence against which the preceding epigraph warns. This scene is repeated verbatim in part 5, section 11; only then will the reader grasp the motives, consequences, and meanings of the event.
This structure gives the novel a quality of resonance and reverberation, for to understand the scene fully is to understand one major theme of the novel. The scene also secures the reader’s interest in Ross and his sympathy for the narrator’s search for the truth about this man among the archives of letters, documents, and photographs of the scholar-athlete and his loving, wealthy family, of Ross during basic training, and one of him in flames astride a black horse, so vividly described that it burns itself into the reader’s mind. Then the narrator inserts part of a transcript of an interview with the nurse who cared...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
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