What is the Wilson boy/narrator's first name in William Maxwell's novel So Long, See You Tomorrow?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Maxwell's first-person narrator in his novel So Long, See You Tomorrow is never identified by name in the story. At no point in the narrative does another character address the narrator by his first name. The narrator is simply The Narrator, the grown man recounting the tragic events of his youth.

The key to understanding the mystery—to the extent one wishes to view the absence of a first name as a mystery—concerning the narrator's name lies in the author's approach to his novel. So Long, See You Tomorrow is not an autobiography, but it is seriously inspired by Maxwell's life. Maxwell's mother died when he was a child, just as occurs with the narrator's mother in the story. In addition to the facts of his own childhood, Maxwell was inspired by stories of a real-life murder about which he had read. The novel's plot, involving the examination of one's life against the backdrop of the murder of the narrator's father by the father of the narrator's closest childhood friend, Cletus, departs considerably from the actual life of the author, but the book reflects Maxwell's spirit nonetheless. That Maxwell's novel was inspired by his own childhood as well as by stories of a murder help explain the reason for the narrator's failure to reveal his first name. Some insight into Maxwell's reasoning for cloaking his narrator in a degree of anonymity can be gleaned from an interview the author granted to The Paris Review [Issue 85, Fall 1982]:

"With So Long, See You Tomorrow I felt that in this century the first-person narrator has to be a character and not just a narrative device. So I used myself as the 'I' and the result was two stories, my own and Cletus Smith's, and I knew they had to be structurally combined, but how?"

In this quote, Maxwell provides a potential clue as to the narrator of So Long, See You Tomorrow's first name. The narrator, whose last name is, of course, Wilson (this, we know, is due to the references to the narrator's father, Lloyd Wilson), does not have a first name per se, but can presumed, perhaps, to be "William" due to the autobiographical element of Maxwell's novel.

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