Awesome novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” portrays evocative, self-contained world [Note: Spoiler Alert]
This post is concerned with impression management as the term is used by Erving Goffman.
Goffman, a celebrated Canadian sociologist known for his uniquely ‘Goffmanesque’ takes on everyday life, speaks about impression management in the context of social interactions.
In Goffman’s formulation, impression management refers to the things that people do, in order to arrive at an ongoing consensus, regarding how a given situation is to be defined. Of necessity, each of us takes care to create suitable impressions, that will guide the perceptions of people that we’re dealing with.
Social interactions are typically of a collaborative nature, in which all parties generally gain a measure of benefit. Who benefits the most may depend (with exceptions) on where a given participant is situated, with regard to hierarchies involving social position, income, and power.
Every communication package creates a self-contained world
Along with a focus on impression management, this post also deals with the fact that every form of communication – whether fiction or nonfiction – operates within a frame of reference that creates as a virtual self-contained world.
This applies to short stories, novels, journal articles, news reports, blurbs, advertisements, news releases, political messaging, and historical studies.
It applies, indeed, to any form of communication.
The existence (metaphorically speaking) of such a self-contained world is evident, by way of example, when we study a 2018 novel entitled “Where the Crawdads Sing” by the wildlife scientist Delia Owen.
As a rule, I’m not in the category of people who reads one novel after another, day after day, but this is one novel that I felt I just had to read, as soon as I came across a newspaper article about it.
I came across an article about “Crawdads” at a print version of the New York Times, at the Stratford Public Library some weeks before the library was closed with emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I put a hold on the book at once, as many other people had already done. Eventually, I got around to reading it.
At this post I will discuss “Where the Crawdads Sing” (2018) in generalized, abstract terms. That’s because when I read any form of fiction, or watch a play or movie based on fiction, I want to know, in a precise and systematic way, how it was put together. I want to know what makes it work.
I will discuss this particular novel, which I much enjoyed reading, in terms of its existence as a self-contained world.
I will not share details about the characters, setting, or plot of this awesome novel.
That said, I can add, however, that my analysis of the book’s structure will likely give away the plot.
That’s because if you read my generalized outline, which follows below, of how the book is structured, you will figure out the ending of the story, even before you finish reading it. That’s because the content of the novel is directly related to its structure.
So, if you have not read the book, and do not wish to have the reading of it spoiled, I recommend you the book first, before you finish reading this post.
[Please note; you have just read a Spoiler Alert.]
Self-contained world of “Where the Crawdads Sing” (2018)
In “Crawdads,” the reader is initially prompted to go along with the author’s observations, related to a series of compelling situations, involving the central characters in the novel. Among the characters, as it happens, is the setting within which the plot unfolds.
You might be expecting a few words about who the characters are, and where the story actually takes place, but you can determine such details without my help.
In terms of how the story is structured, which is what this post is about, at the very end of the book the reader learns that the author’s (and thereby the reader’s) apparent original observations, plausible as they appeared to be at the time, turn out to be untenable. In fact, the original observations turn out to be untethered, in all key respects, from the reality that has been unfolding, up until the very last pages of the book.
That is to say, at the very end of the story you stumble across some information that transforms the meaning of the story’s key previous events.
There’s nothing unusual about such a story structure.
It’s a built-in feature of a particular genre of fiction that a twist occurs at the conclusion of the narrative, that leaves your head spinning.
That is an element in the perennial rituals that are associated with effective storytelling. I picture in my mind that such a story-twist has been a feature of storytelling going back tens of thousands of years.
The transformation of meaning that occurs at the conclusion of “Where the Crawdads Sing” denotes the underlying message of the novel. All events that occur in the novel are calculated to lead in a beguiling way toward the surprise ending. The novel is exquisitely well structured. Truly, it is a work of art. I recommend it highly.
The book’s underlying meaning is that appearances can be deceiving. They can be deceiving to such a great extent, in fact, that certainty about a great many things in life – and certainly many things that we encounter in fiction – is not fully justified.
From my perspective, certainty, within the self-contained world of fiction, is the name of the game, with regard to how this genre of literature goes about its work.
Certainty is not justified, in the world of appearances whether in fiction or nonfiction, because appearances can be deceiving.
A key point, which Erving Goffman and many others have underlined, is that impressions in everyday life may, at times, be managed for purposes of deception.
That’s another way of saying that appearances can deceive. This fact is readily evident when we are dealing, for example, with scams and scamming.
We are dealing with deception, as well, when we encounter phenomena such as ‘gaming the system.’ In such cases, we deal with subterfuge, which can be defined as a trick or a dishonest way of achieving something.
Over the past decade at this website, among the posts that have been most widely read are ones about Erving Goffman, as well as posts about scams and scamming.
Until I began using Google Analytics to check on what people like to read at this website, it would never have occurred to me that many people, aside from myself and a few others, would have an interest in such matters.