What is the point of the repeated lines, such as "Trust me, I'm telling you stories" in The Passion by Jeanette Winterson? What greater significance do they bring to the book?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of repeated lines in Winterson's The Passion varies between individual instances of repetition and repetitions that develop unity of theme and structure throughout the narrative. In individual instances, repetition may underscore other literary techniques or philosophical points made, while in unifying instances, repetition may unify narators' experiences or the sectional structure of the narrative, which has two narrators, Henri and Villanelle.

Some of the points made through repetition in individual instances are emphasizing exaggeration, nesting fact within fiction, giving credence to contradiction, and underpinning philosophical ideas, as in, "What would you do if you were an Emperor? . . . I'm telling you stories. Trust me."

Some of the points of unification made through repetition throughout the novel are establishing a shared world-view and perspective, providing consistent metaphors for life, offering a philosophical view, and unifying the narrative's structure, which is told from two disparate points of view.

To illustrate the point of the rhetorical device of anaphora, or repetition, in individual instances—which are instances of anaphoral meaning in the specific context without the anaphoral meaning necessarily carrying over to the larger work—Winterson uses repetition to give substantiation to exaggeration. For instance, in "The Emperor," the discussion of the Emperor's favorite horse, which is full of exaggeration, ends with the first instance of the oft-repeated sentence combination, "I'm telling you stories. Trust me." The exaggerations this repetition substantiates as truth are the claims made about the length of the Emperor's favorite horse's tail:

The horse he loved was seventeen hands high with a tail that could wrap round a man three times and still make a wig for his mistress. . . I'm telling you stories. Trust me.

Relating to repetition used with the point of unifying narrator experience and narrative structure, Winterson uses anaphora of words, phrases, and sentences to bring disparate perspectives together and tie thematic and philosophical messages together. For instance, the repetition of "play" and its variations underpins the narrative's unifying thematic metaphor for life, showing life to be unpredictable, open to the odds, yet somehow trustworthy, an idea summed up in "The Zero Winter": "The cards. No man knows what they may hold. A man must trust his hand."

As another instance of unifying anaphora, variations on the phrase "zero temperature" unite the experiences and perspectives of the narrators in "The Emperor" and "The Zero Winter." In "The Emperor," the young narrator Henri speaks of "unimaginable zero temperature." In the second, "unimaginable zero temperature" appears again, followed by a host of variations:

  • turned. . . out into the zero winter
  • survive the zero winter
  • challenge the zero winter
  • love. in the middle of a zero winter
  • war and a zero winter. Like the snow-raspberries.
  • die in the zero winter
  • froze my heart more cleanly than any zero winter
  • not through the zero winter
  • survived. . . the zero winter died in the mild damp
  • walked. . . through the zero winter. . . to a better place

Another point to Winterson's anaphora is the presentation of double meaning. Using "telling you stories" as an illustration, "telling you stories" can mean untruths are being told or it can mean accepted historical truths are being told. Another point to the anaphora is that it is used to substantiate the nesting of fact within fiction. To illustrate, in "The Emperor" in the narrator's fiction, he compares himself to "the little figure in a child's snowstorm" into which idea is embedded factual historical statements about Napoleon's "zero winter": 

Outside the flakes are so dense that I feel like the little figure in a child's snowstorm. I have to screw up my eyes to follow the yellow stain that lights up Napoleon's tent. No one else can have a light at this time of night.
Fuel's scarce. Not all of this army have tents.

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