A Study of Narrative Form in the Short Fiction of James Kelman

Macarthur, John Douglas (2001) A Study of Narrative Form in the Short Fiction of James Kelman. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis looks at the way in which the ideological and philosophical views of Scottish author James Kelman have aesthetic implications for the narrative form of his fiction. It does so by a close analysis of his short stories. These constitute a major part of the writer's total output, indicative of the importance which Kelman attaches to the form, and they provide examples of some of his best work. The study seeks to remedy the critical neglect of Kelman's writing. The Introduction considers Kelman's connection with realism, particularly American realism, a connection which he has himself acknowledged, and identifies an affinity with Modernism, and thereby tries to place Kelman within a Scottish and international context. It further considers the short story form itself and its suitability for achieving Kelman's aims. Chapter Two investigates how Kelman's political views have consequences for the narrative options selected by the writer, especially his extensive use of the free indirect style and the 'ground level' perspective of his narrators. It further examines his awareness of space and position in relation to his characters. Some consideration is given to a group of very short pieces which may be termed 'prose poetry', and their experimental nature, particularly in respect of use of punctuation, is discussed. In Chapter Three language issues are focused on, especially the interaction of social class and language hierarchies. Kelman's 'swearing' is viewed as a feature of his realism and at the same time as a challenge to imposed social and literary values. Kelman's ability to manipulate language through register is looked at, prior to an examination of his use of dialogue to express themes of isolation and non communication. Chapter Four deals with the presentation of the interlocking ideas of community and place in Kelman's work. It charts the breakdown of community and examines two groups in detail, women and young people. The former is considered partly to assess the validity of accusations of Kelman's inability to deal with women in his work, and the latter to demonstrate the inevitable isolation of life, pointing forward to existential themes noted in the subsequent chapter. The extent to which breakdown in the community leads to the impossibility of political action in his fiction is then looked at. The idea of place is tied up with the notion of community and the thesis goes on to identify how Kelman's attitude to the urban/rural contrast differs from most writers, and how he deals with the concept of 'home' in his work. In no respect do any of these offer redemption or security. Chapter Five looks at the effect on Kelman's writing of another acknowledged influence, existentialism. The solipsistic nature of his characters points towards the issue of the failure of language in the philosophical context. This highlights the paradox in Kelman's work of the author's political views concerning language and literature, which are self assertive and empowering, coexisting with a philosophical world view expressed in his fiction which is nihilistic and sees language as powerless.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Margery Palmer McCulloch
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-76260
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 16:13
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 16:13
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/76260

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