Evading Culpability in Postmodernist Second Person Fiction: To Whom Does the ?You? Refer?

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In second person fiction, the narrator addresses another character as ?you.? The ?you? categorizes the narratee, or the imaginary person to whom the narration is directed, as a protagonist in the fictional world and a reader in the real world. By opening up the play of textual and extratextual worlds, second person narration dissolves the dichotomy of reality and unreality. Instead, second person fiction engenders a plurality of universes through the ambiguity of its reference: to whom is the ?you? of the text referring? Narratologists, philosophers and literary critics have attempted to answer this question with one overarching response: ?you? simultaneously refers to you the reader, me the author and/or narrator, he or she the narratee-protagonist, and we the socially constructed identity. By potentially addressing everyone, the ?you? directly implicates no one. Interior monologues in second person prevent the speaker from actively relating to an addressee. In communicating internally with the self, rather than an external narratee(s), the speaker forges an authenticating audience to exist in relation to. While the reader engages in the text as it unfolds, the protagonist evades first person culpability for his or her actions. In other words, the text is yours, not mine. Ultimately, the second-person point of view creates a tension between the passive protagonist in the fictional world, who speaks to no one outside of him or herself, and the active reader in the real world. You feel uncomfortable about this narrative modality: are you being addressed?


Dale Wright




Ford Research Endowment

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