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Today I will be focusing my presentation on our first text, Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. 

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I will be comparing the major themes of the text with a short story called The Year of Spaghetti by Haruki Murakami. These main themes that I will be discussing are mainly emotional STRUGGLES (isolation, loneliness, regret and denial). These themes build up and lead to one another throughout the book, and in the short story it is mentioned in a very abstract way. The two authors of Bright Lights Big City and The Year of Spaghetti uses different techniques and styles of writing to convey similar themes. I will be exploring how structure, language and voice influences the themes of the two stories, comparing similarities and differences.

In Bright Lights Big City, even though New York is a big part of the book, I feel like that it would be interesting to explore the feelings and major themes that also have a huge significance in the text. I think that Jay McInerney does a great job conveying the major emotions and themes that the character is feeling throughout the story. I also read the short story before and felt like it was the perfect example to compare the different styles of writing between the two authors with similar emotions being conveyed. 

Firstly, lets talk about the major themes in Bright Lights Big City.

So obviously his wife left him, and there is huge regret and sadness that comes with that. The fact that it was a failed marriage, gives sense of loss and loneliness. “You don’t like this role of a bird with a broken wing, especially since that’s exactly how you feel. The lame-duck husband. You’d rather be an eagle or a falcon, pitiless and predatory among the solitary crags.” (46) At this point, the narrator fears that he is seen as a miserable person whose life is incomplete since the divorce, like a bird with a broken wing who can’t fly anymore. Rather, he wants to be seen as a strong, independent being, despite knowing that is not a possibility. 

The narrator gets pulled into the world of sex, drugs, night life etc. He loses more of his confidence, self worth and self belief. Because of this, he looses his job at his prestigious magazine company. “Something changed. Somewhere along the line you stopped accelerating” P.32 The use of sentence structure and the negative, empty tone reveals the complexities and ambiguities of life. Life is not going according to plan for the narrator, and he feels almost rudderless, washed up at the age of 24.

We find out towards the end of the book that his downward spiral and the reason his mind was overloading and full of regret and dissatisfaction was because of his mothers death, and Amanda was used as an outlet to express his pain about his mother, as ones primal instinct is to defend your family, as if the narrator was in denial. His mother was also the reason to why he married Amanda, to make his mother happy. All this clouds his judgement for all his decisions he makes throughout the rest of the book, severing all ties with future potential relationships.

All this leads to him trying to find a coping mechanism for his problems, which starts off as it being through cocaine and alcohol, and then just the profound isolation he drives himself into. This isolation leads back to loneliness. I think that a very important thing to point out in terms of the language use is that since the novel was written in second person, the narrator remains quite unknown in the sense that he isn’t named. This further conveys the isolation, and it could be related to by anyone who is lost and isolated, to sympathise and even empathise with the narrator. 

Another thing to point out is the coma baby, a recurring symbol throughout the novel. There are a few interactions between the coma baby and the narrator. Through dialogue and thought processes of the narrator, the coma baby is acts as a symbol to represent the narrator as a isolated person, as if he has been residing in his mother womb, not going to face the harsh realities of life, not willing to put any effort into life, resulting in the regret and loneliness.

The parallel structure of the novel exaggerates the isolation faced by the narrator. For example, at the beginning of the book, the narrator feels out of place, walking back home from a night club, and similarly, he is walking home at the end of the book, needing to ‘learn everything all over again.’

Another big part of the book is the fact that there is a lot of contrast between imagination and reality. The narrator denies reality because its so bleak, which leads to his self destruction. The depressive human nature was like a never ending hole for the narrator, as he felt so out of place, not knowing who he is, and what he stands for, even to the extent of questioning his self existence, detached from the rest of the world.

Overall the authors intention and the point of all this is that the negative themes and emotions faced by the characters portray the harsh realities of the world/society that we live in today in an urban environment. I think that another purpose of the book is to covey that death is a shocking reminder of the painful realities of life.

SHORT STORY

I am using this short story to build on the themes and show how effective Jay McInerny conveyed his character’s emotions in BLBC. I should have got you all to read this short story, however since it was 6 pages I will explain what happened. It is called The Year Of Spaghetti. 

The story begins with a first person narration. The narrator tells us about his life, cooking different types of spaghetti every day. He describes the pot that he cooks his pasta in as a pot “big enough to bathe a German shepherd in.” He talks about his loneliness. Every meal he eats, he imagines someone coming to visit him, however no one ever does. It was quite difficult for me to understand certain parts, however I looked at it in a perspective that the author uses both literal non literal techniques to describe certain things. For example, “I cooked and cooked, as if cooking spaghetti were an act of revenge. Like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace, I tossed one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot.” The reader then could see that the the narrator had many regrets and mistakes in his life, and his type of loneliness was self imposed loneliness. Someone calls on the phone, and the narrator shuts down his friends ex-girlfriend by giving the excuse that he is cooking spaghetti, meaning he doesn’t want or like interactions. He is unwilling to help the girl, like everything in his life. This is similar to the narrator in BLBC, not bothered. The final paragraph of the short story is this: “Can you imagine how astonished the Italians would be if they knew that what they were exporting in 1971 was really loneliness?” The emphasis on loneliness is huge, and allows the reader to feel for the narrator. It was written very bluntly and straight.  

From the analysis that I did, I concluded that spaghetti was a metaphor for the narrators life, and the pot is a metaphor for the world/earth. The spaghetti was very lonely in the big pot, as if the narrator didn’t know his place in society or in the world, as a little spec in the big world. Heres another quote: The spaghetti was also and could not escape reality. The narrator talks about the fact that cooking spaghetti is a delicate process, and it is unable. Similarly, just like himself, he is unstable, cant control his feelings, and again, is lost in a big world, not able to find his place. Furthermore, when the friend called him, he stated that “My voice didn’t sound like my own”, further emphasising the fact that he cant recognise himself and is isolated.

Similarly, in BLBC, the narrator is lonely, isolated and helpless. However in BLBC, it is as if there is a false sense of escaping the pot, but with cocaine and alcohol.

BOTH

There are quite a few major differences and similarities of how the structure, language and voice influences the themes and the emotions that the narrator is facing throughout the two texts. 

Similarities include firstly, the emotions conveyed to the reader are quite similar by reading 200 pages compared to 6, meaning the authors had to have completely different styles and structure. The There aren’t too many similarities that I found, even though I was expecting more. The themes of the emotions of loneliness, regret, and hope appear in both texts. Also, the fact that both characters are trying to find a place in society, and how the authors conveyed that was very interesting to me.

Obvious differences include firstly, a long storyline of BLBC compared to a short descriptive piece, one a novel and the other a short story. Secondly, I feel like BLBC is much more relatable, just because the author finishes the book in a way that it has a whole storyline, meaning it is much more realistic as we live in a big city. On the contrary, the year of spaghetti piece is exaggerated and much more descriptive, leaving the backstory very abstract. This enables the reader to finish a lot of the story for themselves, which personally makes it harder to picture and connect with. Another difference is the emotions conveyed in the short story were much more full of hope and optimistic, and also that the narrator liked being isolated and alone at times, whereas in BLBC it was different. There was hope at times but there was also pessimism.

So yeah, I feel like the 2 types of strategies to express similar things was very interesting.