Analysis

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

Isak Dinesen employs the device of the literary frame to craft a story that is about storytelling, even as she includes a physical frame in the story within a story. In the story that the old woman tells, the themes of purity and innocence as contrasted to sexual awakening, and knowledge seem central. In the way that the storyteller sets up her tale, however, she incorporates the idea of craft, thus establishing a parallel between the making of material objects—the sheet—and of intellectual endeavors—the story.

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While the young couple listening is interested in the tale she tells, the teller herself is concerned with the quality of her performance both as author and as speaker. She stresses that she is a conveyance of a traditional story which she learned from another storyteller, thus establishing her place in a lineage, apparently a source of pride for her. Even as she downplays her own creativity, however, she toys with her audience, as they have no way to establish the truth of what she says; her goal was to gain their trust.

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Latest answer posted December 6, 2016, 4:20 am (UTC)

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Both the story she tells and the one in which Dinesen situates it are exercises in ambiguity. The old woman leads the listeners to suspect that her story will be about the young royal couples, apparently offering an analogy to her audience. Instead, she veers away from the people who use the sheets to return to the sheet itself. The pure, unused white sheet is the most fascinating, even revered, object on display. Its most devoted viewer is a nun, ostensibly a woman without sexual experience. Why does the clean white sheet fascinate its viewers? What is its special hold on this nun? The multiple possible answers to this question suggest the equally numerous interpretations of the story. While the blank page is a challenge to the writer, it also offers the greatest opportunity, as it is the place to use the imagination—but always within constraints, like the frame around the sheet. Dinesen and the old storyteller both lob the hard work of imagination back into the audience's court.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

Isak Dinesen’s primary ambition, she once said, was to invent very beautiful stories. “The Blank Page” is beautifully told, as are Dinesen’s other tales, but it is different from all the others; there is no plot, and there are no individualized characters. The tone and the setting are, therefore, made the substance as well as the context within which the untold story may reveal itself on the blank page. Both are conducive to the distinctly oral quality of Dinesen’s writing.

Although there is no conventional plot, there are little stories linked into a context: the storyteller’s strict training under her grandmother; the crusader bringing back the linseeds; the Blessed Virgin receiving the Annunciation; the public announcements of virginity; the pilgrimages of the old princesses; the coming of the old spinster; the framing of the blank canvas. All these are linked as hallmarks of traditions. In the beginning, the loyalty of the storyteller to the true being of the story is extolled, and, at the end, the dauntless loyalty to tradition of the parents who had their daughter’s blank canvas framed is praised. These loyalties not only unify the narration but also create the context of the story.

Other associative and subtly connecting repetitions, such as the old, black-veiled storytellers and the old, black-veiled spinster, the Blessed Virgin, the virgin princesses, and the virgin sisters, enhance the rich cohesiveness and depth of the tale. The black-and-white tiles of the gallery of virtue are a symbolic and ironic motif: Ordinary events and everyday morality may be set down in black and white, in trite categories, but the deeper truth must be discovered personally on the blank page. The final unity and the ultimate epiphany occur paradoxically, through contrasts, by bringing opposites together. There cannot be a virgin mother, but to the devout, the mother of Christ is the Blessed Virgin. Silence cannot speak, but to the keen listener it is eloquent. The blank page conveys nothing, but to the contemplative it reveals a deep truth, not expounded by the writer or the storyteller but clearly indicating matters of sexual as well as spiritual significance, not only for temporal and spiritual brides but also for all beings in relation to their spiritual destiny. In this way, Dinesen eloquently and skillfully uses words and the absence of words to tell the story of “The Blank Page.”

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