Lost in the Funhouse

by John Barth
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Which elements of postmodernism can be found in "Lost in the Funhouse"?

Many elements of postmodernism can be found in this story. The story's and author's perpetual self awareness, the disjointed narrative structure, and the denial of reader's expectations are all postmodern elements of "Lost in the Funhouse."

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"Lost in the Funhouse" by John Barth contains a number of elements that are common to postmodern literature. Perhaps the most obvious is the way that the narrator remains self-aware throughout the story, even though he writes in the third person. Readers are reminded throughout that they are reading a story.

First, the author repeatedly comments on and justifies rhetorical moves that he makes while writing. For instance, before providing a description of the characters, he notes that "description of physical appearance and mannerisms is one of several standard methods of characterization used by writers of fiction."

Similarly, he calls attention to the fact that he italicizes some words, although his reasons for italicizing are never entirely clear. Examples of such editorializing exist on nearly every page, to the point where the narrator begins questioning his own ability to write a story, and begins encouraging the reader to stop reading.

The story itself takes place at an amusement part in Ocean City, Maryland. At several points within the story, as the narrator provides context, he acknowledges that while the title of the story is "Lost in the Funhouse," the characters have not yet actually made it to the funhouse. Here, the narrator is aware of the readers's expectations—that a story called "Lost in the Funhouse" should entail being lost in a funhouse. He intentionally writes a story that spends very little time actually exploring being lost in a funhouse.

Much of the story, instead, is spent moving back and forth between present and past events that are tangentially related to the story, describing in great detail what characters outside the funhouse are doing, and looking at the main character Ambrose's disjointed thoughts.

At one point in the text, when describing the happenings at the amusement park and Ocean City, the narrator states that it is all "merely preparation and intermission." In many ways, this is how the story itself feels. It prepares to see the main character lost in the funhouse, and it makes side comments and tangential vignettes, but it never seems to actually get the point of the story.

This non-linear and decentralized structure, as well as the story's tendency to upend readers's expectations of what the story promises to be, are hallmarks of postmodern approaches to literature.

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