What is of key interest when we think of the narrator in this brilliant novel is the way in which he delves into his family history and narrates it to us as a means of understanding his existence and in particular the kind of failure he has suffered. Tom's loss of his job, his reason for being, and his wife's insanity, has meant that he adopts a traditional historical approach of investigating the past in order to help him understand the present. The past in this novel is thus shown to interact with the present, and the stories that Tom divulges about his family are of great interest in explaining why he is the way that he is in the present.
The fascinating narratives that we are told capture age-old aspects of human life. Tom's ancestors are shown to enjoy amazing success and gain of wealth and prestige, only to lose it a few years down the line. There are acts of violence, lust, revenge and goodness, and then finally one incestuous act that has particular releveance to Tom's background and the kind of person that he is shown to be. Throughout his narration, Tom describes how curiously compelling his family is and the interest that they hold in terms of their various exploits.