Lost in the Funhouse

by John Barth

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What does Ambrose imagine his father's advice about people on the Boardwalk in "Lost in the Funhouse"?

Quick answer:

Ambrose’s father’s comments about people on the boardwalk apparently include reflections about spouses hating each other and parents not loving their children. The author does not clarify if the father actually says these things or if Ambrose imagines them. They may be the narrator’s opinion offered directly to the reader.

Expert Answers

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In “Lost in the Funhouse,” John Barth employs a third-person narrator who usually, but not always, presents things from Ambrose’s perspective. By using this method, Barth challenges the reader to identify whose views are being presented and consider if the events narrated are supposed to have taken place. The author thereby calls attention to the underlying premises of fiction.

Ambrose is a self-conscious, awkward thirteen-year-old who seems to be uncomfortable in almost every situation during the family visit to Ocean City. During the period when Ambrose is lost, the narrator presents him as imagining a wide variety of possible scenarios as well as comments that other characters would make if they found him. Ambrose is said to despise both Uncle Karl and his father. The narrator also suggests that Ambrose’s father “should have taken him aside” and told him a secret about getting through the funhouse and, by extension, through life. This passage is offered as the father’s spoken words.

You and I are different. Not surprisingly, you’ve often wished you weren’t …. You won’t regret not being like your brother and your uncle. On the contrary.

The comments that follow about people on the boardwalk are not in quotation marks, nor are they specifically attributed to Ambrose’s father or to the boy’s imagination. Barth presents them in second-person direct address. It may be that the author intends these sentences to be attributed to Ambrose’s father, or he may be utilizing an intrusive narrator to speak to the reader.

If you knew all the stories behind all the people on the boardwalk, you’d see that nothing was what it looked like.

The next sentence is an observation about spouses, parents, and children:

Husbands and wives often hated each other; parents didn’t necessarily love their children; etc.

This may refer to the people on the boardwalk, or it may be a generalization about humanity. It could be intended to refer to Ambrose’s family.

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