How does the narration and plot arrangement serve the theme in "Nobody Listens When I Talk" by Annette Sanford?

The theme of "Nobody Listens When I Talk" is the adolescent angst of not fitting into neat, expected gender roles as well as not yet knowing one’s identity. The narrator is Marilyn, a sixteen-year-old girl who feels like she doesn’t “fit anywhere right now.” This story explores the frustration and complexity of an evolving self-identity. Author Annette Sanford uses first-person narration to emphasize this theme. The entire story is told from Marilyn’s point of view, so readers see her observations and learn her thoughts directly. She barely speaks, and what she says is not what she really thinks as she ponders the frustration and complexities of her evolving self-identity.

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The theme of “Nobody Listens When I Talk” is the adolescent angst of not fitting into neat, expected gender roles as well as not yet knowing one’s identity. The narrator is Marilyn, a sixteen-year-old girl who feels like she doesn’t “fit anywhere right now.” This story explores the frustration and...

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The theme of “Nobody Listens When I Talk” is the adolescent angst of not fitting into neat, expected gender roles as well as not yet knowing one’s identity. The narrator is Marilyn, a sixteen-year-old girl who feels like she doesn’t “fit anywhere right now.” This story explores the frustration and complexity of an evolving self-identity.

Author Annette Sanford uses first-person narration to emphasize this theme. The entire story is told from Marilyn’s point of view, so readers see her observations and learn her thoughts directly. She barely speaks, and what she says is not what she really thinks as she ponders the frustration and complexities of her evolving self-identity. She doesn’t speak her thoughts out loud to other characters because “Who would listen?”

Plot arrangement or structure also supports this theme; it mixes present-day external action and internal thought with both past and stream-of-consciousness thoughts. The story uses one summer day (from day to night) to bookend Marilyn’s flashbacks to earlier memories as well as glimpses of different personas from any time.

The action begins in the present day, with Marilyn reading on the porch. Each person that passes her stirs up thoughts. Her mother is a housewife always doing chores (clutching “a dustcloth or a broom handle”) or skimming light reading geared toward female audiences (the “woman's section of the Windsor Chronicle”). Her mother expects Marilyn to fulfill traditionally female tasks—like housecleaning or sewing—while Marilyn wishes for more adventurous and active, less traditionally feminine activities like “swimming, hanging on the back of a motorcycle, water-skiing.” Although she wants Marilyn to spend her summer as “an apprentice woman in training for three meals a day served on time and shiny kitchen linoleum,” her mother is desperate enough for the teenager to get up and do something that she would be pleased even with something as absurd as “dancing the funky chicken if it would get me on my feet.”

Then evening comes, and the narrator’s father returns from work. He embodies the traditional male role: the breadwinner who works with clients in an office. The father is very masculine; he is good-looking and someone whom the narrator thinks would be a biker who picks up girls, but not someone like her, if he were younger. He seems to value appearance strongly, telling her, “a pretty girl like you ought to realize how lucky she is.” Marilyn’s friend is the stereotypical “pretty girl.” Marilyn describes her with the hyperbole, “When she blinks, boys fall dead.” The friend believes that as a woman, Marilyn should gain experience with men and go out on dates she fixes up. Marilyn want to say how she really feels (“I'm not that kind of girl”) but does not. Instead, she simply refuses to participate in the date but then questions herself and wonders why she didn’t go.

The action moves to Marilyn’s internal flashbacks or memories, which illustrate her evolving identity from when she was younger (at six years old, at age twelve) back to the present day, when she is sixteen. Marilyn describes identifying with various characters from the books reads: a woman with a dead lover, a father hated by his child, a pregnant girl, a boy prisoner, an old woman, and a child with a facial scar. When she is reading and taking on the identities of these characters, she feels that she is “part of everything.”

The story returns to the present, but now the summer is over, and Marilyn is seventeen years and three days old. Was the summer a waste, as her mother thought? She could tell her mother what her mother wants to hear (i.e., that Marilyn accepts the traditional feminine role); she could tell her father what she really thinks (that she is pretty). In both cases, however, she doesn’t. After all, she has not defined a self-identity, and no matter what she says, no one will listen. Instead, she chooses to keep her thoughts to herself.

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Sanford's short story is told in the first person with copious amounts of interior monologue. The monologue takes the form of the remembering self, the experiencing self, and also a self-reflective meta-fictional narrative.

The plot juxtaposes these varied forms of narration to underline the main theme of the story: the arduous process of achieving self-awareness and self-actualization. The protagonist, Marilyn, agonizes over how others perceive her and the expectations that besiege her on a daily basis. She longs for personal agency and is frustrated that her freedom is circumscribed by her parents. In other words, Marilyn is in that seemingly annoying stage between dependent childhood and self-sufficient adulthood.

Her frustrations, anxieties, and hopes are delineated through various forms of interior monologue. Sanford juxtaposes Marilyn's remembering self with her experiencing self. In the midst of this, she weaves in a self-reflective meta-fictional narrative that reveals the dissonant experiences of a teenager buffeted by parental expectations, personal fantasies, and peer pressure.

The story begins with Marilyn's experiencing self telling us about being sixteen and spending the summer in a swing. She tells us that she doesn't talk much because nobody bothers to listen to her. Marilyn feels isolated, misunderstood, and unloved.

Marilyn's parents tell her how lucky she is to be young and facing a life full of possibilities. However, Marilyn doesn't share her parents' positive outlook on life. Marilyn's remembering self tells us that her parents are hopelessly out of touch. She contends that her father "grew up in Utopia, where everyone between two and twenty dwelt in perpetual joy." Marilyn feels the same about her mother, a woman who "hovers" and who expects her to be an "apprentice woman in training for three meals a day served on time and shiny kitchen linoleum."

Marilyn's remembering self takes us back to the time she was six-year-old, "crying into a blue corduroy bedspread" because an uncle laughed at her elephant drawing. She remembers lying in a "big iron bed" in her grandfather's house and feeling "safe."

It's obvious that Marilyn no longer feels "safe." Adulthood is beckoning her into its mysterious arms, and she feels unsure, anxious, and even rebellious.

Even her friend contends that she needs "a lot of experience with different men" to get her out of her doldrums. No one seems to understand that Marilyn doesn't want a whole "lot of experience" with different men or any other experience. Instead, she wants one man to kiss her madly, buy her violets, and throw himself in front of an Amtrak for want of her "careless glance." Here, Marilyn betrays a somewhat romanticized view about love.

The author then eases us into Marilyn's meta-fictional self, where she takes on the persona of different characters in novels she has read. Sanford's skillful juxtaposition of varied narratives clearly portray the profusion of emotions our protagonist experiences. These narratives also highlight the main theme of the novel: the arduous process of achieving self-awareness and self-actualization. In short, the narratives clearly highlight the tumultuous experiences of the adolescent self.

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