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The book Portrait of an Invisible Man, is a response by the brilliant Paul Auster to his father s death. His father dropped dead one day, unexpectedly, after being in perfect health. Despite the abruptness of his demise, Auster did not grieve and was ready to move on following the news. But, something troubled him and this concern would ultimately lead to the creation of this piece. He writes, What disturbed me was something else, something unrelated to death or my response to it: the realization that my father had left no traces, (Auster 51). With the passing of his father, Auster was filled with so many unanswered questions about him that he felt he had no choice but to write about him.
Auster writes, An obligation that began to impose itself on me the moment I was given the news. I thought: my father is gone. If I do no act quickly, his entire life will vanish along with him, (Auster 51). This undeveloped relationship between father and son filled Auster with an overwhelming and desperate need to search for father. This urge to examine him, his feelings about their relationship, and investigate both their pasts ultimately became the purpose of this piece. If, while he was alive, I kept on looking for him, kept trying to find the father who was not there, now that he is dead I still feel as though I must go on looking for him, (Auster 52).
Paul was disturbed at the fact that his father had left no traces, so what he sought to do with this piece was to memorialize his father so that he would be remembered. The manner in which Auster goes about this is through examining his memory of his father and his feelings toward both of their lives. Auster goes into detail of the type of man whom he alleged his father to be, from his behavior, odd mannerisms, and treatment toward other people. He paints a picture of his father through memories he had of his past.
Thus, memory seems to be the controlling theme of this piece. An example of this is when Paul tells the story of how his dad came to visit his newborn grandson. He poked his head into the carriage for a tenth of a second, straightened up and said to my wife, A beautiful baby. Good luck with it, and then proceeded to walk into the house For the rest of the visit that day, he did not look at Daniel, and not once, ever, did he ask to hold him, (Auster 61). Through stories such as these, Auster successfully portrays his father as an inconsiderate, self-centered, cold, stubborn and unsympathetic person. In the second half of this work, there is a contradiction between the father Auster describes in the first half and the second half of this book.
A model of this is when Auster works under the hot sun tarring roofs and knocks over one of the open tar barrels, spilling tar all over himself. He writes, When I got back to the office a few minutes later, my father was greatly amused. To my father s credit, he did not get mad at me or make fun of me. He laughed, but in a way that made me laugh also.
Then, he dropped what he was doing and took me to Woolworth s across the street, and bought me some new clothes, (Auster 92). Another story is when Auster opens a note from Mrs. JB Nash, who was a former resident of his father s building. In it, she gives thanks to Paul s father for being a nice man to her and her children during their time of poverty.
By going into the past, Auster effectively portrays his father as a kind, considerate, thankful, patient, and caring man. Paul recognizes his contradictory statements concerning his father, but dismisses it by stating, He was good, or he was bad, he was this, or he was that. All of them are true. At times I have the feeling that I am writing about three or four different men, each one distinct, each one a contradiction of all others, (Auster 94).
That s what makes this story so interesting, the willingness of Auster to describe himself and his father in a genuine and honest manner. There is certain realness to the story due to the fact that Paul is ready to depict his dad in all these different aspects. This is what makes the piece easy for someone to relate to the characters within the story. The fact that he struggles with this piece imposes an authenticity to it. He has a hard time articulating and sorting out his thoughts about his dad showing that he is being genuine and uncensored toward his perception of his father. The manner in which Auster approaches the death of his father is to put his life into words.
But, Paul encounters something that most writers meet up with at some point, writer s block. He struggles so much to express his father s life and sorting out his thoughts, that he begins to question the possibility of writing such a piece. Auster raises these questions when he breaks away from writing about his father to writing about writing. For the past few days, in fact, I have begun to feel that the story I am trying to tell is somehow incompatible with language, that the degree to which it resists language is an exact measure of how closely I have come to saying something important, and that when the moment arrives for me to say the one truly important thing, assuming that it exists, I will not be able to say it, (Auster 71). By Auster including his thoughts concerning writing about his father while writing about him, it makes the piece difficult to read because it is unconventional. Auster also includes these thoughts at odd times throughout the work.
Paul Auster s unconventional way of writing a narrative is especially visible in the organization in which he writes. He uses both paragraph and line breaks, documentary material, and a mix of narrative, reports, and reflections in his work. Auster does not rely on the typical straightforward narrative to represent his father s life. He jumps around from one story about his father to the next, and they don t appear in chronological order. An example of this is when he talks about his father s life before he died and then jumps to his life before Paul was even born. This makes the piece more difficult to read.
But, by doing so, Auster effectively portrays the difficultly he had with writing about his father. By escaping the traditional form of writing a straightforward narrative, he shows that knowing his father was not a straightforward business. This piece also resists the more conventional method of closure, or to have a last word on Paul s father. Auster makes an attempt at this by writing of his worst regret of all, which was, I was not given a chance to see him after he died. Ignorantly, I had assumed the coffin would be open during the funeral service, and then, when it wasn t, it was too late to do anything about it, (Auster 97). But after this, he includes quotes from a couple of authors, finally ending with his thoughts on his son.
By doing this, it seems that Auster gives up writing this piece and finally comes to the assumption that it is incompatible with language. Auster successfully achieves the purpose he set out to do with this piece, which was to save his father s life from vanishing along with his father. But, he never really paints a clear picture of him, due to his struggle with the work. He writes in an honest and genuine manner, but his father proved to be invisible, even to his own son.
He evoked so many different thoughts and feelings out of him, that even he never truly is able to sort them out. Auster not writing a straightforward narrative shows this struggle even more and makes the piece difficult to read. This struggle also caused him to question even the possibility of writing this work. His questions are answered by the piece never fully achieving closure. Auster s work is an unusual and difficult piece, and it seems that he writes the work as a way to experiment with other ways of thinking. But, by doing so, he adds intrigue to it due to its originality. 340
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