“Rhetoric of Fiction” – Booth

Booth, Wayne. Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Print.

In The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth argues that the primary function of fiction is to persuade or to make a point. As such, his book dissects the ways and means by which fiction attempts to persuade. One of the first distinctions Booth makes is between “telling,” a practice more common to early narratives and epics which allow the author to speak with an authority and absolute voice, and “showing,” a style popularized after Flaubert and more prevalent today in which the onus of understanding and judgment are more squarely placed on the reader. Yet, regardless of mode, Booth points out that there is no such thing as a truly objective author – the author will always impose some sort of perspective (8). Subjectivism, however, can also ruin a novel if it is too extreme. Thus, a balance must be struck between the two. For Booth, this is where the difference between author and implied author becomes important. While the implied author may provide an opinion, it need not be one the author agrees with. It is the implied author that mediates the objective and the subjective and is, according to Booth, “the very stuff out of which great fiction is made” (86). Booth also spends time detailing 5 types of narration in relation to distance. Distance, he remarks, is essential in approaching fiction as non-rhetorical. Distance is, however, hard to negotiate and comes in 3 kinds of its own: intellectual, qualitative, and practice (the most human of the three). The five narration forms are setup as a means of distance between the narrator, implied author, reader, and character. Each amalgamation creates a different level of familiarity or alienation between the reader and the text. The five narration types are 1) the narrator may be more or less distance from the implied author, and this distance may be moral, intellectual, or temporal 2) the narrator may be more or less distance from the characters. The narrator may differ intellectually, morally, temporally, from them and their norms 3) the narrator may be more or less distance from the reader and the reader’s norms. This distance may be physical, emotional, or moral 4) the implied author may be more or less distant from the reader, a distance that may be intellectual, moral, or aesthetic. A book that expects the reader to accept and share these values is likely to not be well received by its audience 5) the implied author (carrying the reader along) may be more or less distant from the other characters. Distances can be seen to fluctuate, where a character might alternate between sympathetic and unsympathetic (156-158).

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