The Art of Unmasking Cryptic Secrets: Reading in Amos Oz's the Same Sea

By Mazor, Yair | Shofar, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

The Art of Unmasking Cryptic Secrets: Reading in Amos Oz's the Same Sea


Mazor, Yair, Shofar


The Same Sea, by Amos Oz, his last work prior to his recently published autobiography entitled A Story about Love and Darkness, is the most unusual work since his first volume of stories, Where the Jackals Howl.

While Oz's four decades of literary creation hve consisted of short stories, novellas, and novels, The Same Sea seems to breach this literary trend and aesthetic genre, being an intricate, perplexing cluster of poems or even magama (a litererary genre that was widespread in medieval Muslim Spain, consisting of partially rhymed and metrically measured narratives unfolded by a witty narrator). This deviation from the genre of prose-fiction, however, is also simultaneously a congruence with that genre.

Two literary terms are paramount to the forthcoming discussion. Those terms are the literary work's narrator and its implied author. The "real, biographical" author is not mentioned in the context of literary analysis, since he/she is not part of the "textual texture" of the literary work. Unlike the "real, biographical" author, both the narrator and the implied author are an integral part of the work's fabric. The narrator is a rhetorical device of communication, the one that delivers the literary text with its chronicles, plot, characters, landscape depictions, and so on. The implied author (this term was coined by Wayne Booth) is an imaginary figure that "dwells" in the most profound level of the text. The implied author can be defined as the total of all the characteristics of the literary work: aesthetic/artistic aspects, thematic implications, and ideological proclivities. In other words, every aspect of the literary work results from carefully calculated decisions on the part of the literary work's implied author.

The following discussion of Oz's The Same Sea addresses the implied author. Since one inclination is shared by all Oz's works, one may plausibly refer to an "umbrella" implied author that initiates, "sculpts," and activates that inclination. The implied author wishes to expose its main character's negative characteristics, disgraceful manner, and other personality flaws. To do this, the implied author makes use of aesthetic devices that operate as camouflage that disguise the characters' flaws, thus both revealing and concealing these flaws simultaneously. One can discern an ascending evolution in Oz's works: from story to story, from novel to novel, the implied author becomes more and more daring in exposing his characters' flaws.

In earlier texts, weaknesses were silenced or muted by being ascribed to unpleasant characters, some central, some marginal, who did not enlist the reader's sympathy. They were the shock absorbers, the receptacles for unsavory traits of offensive behavior. And since these characters showed the embarrassing qualities, the rest of the characters remained untainted and blameless. Who are those characters? Azaria Gitlin, for instance (A Perfect Peace), Michel Somo (Black Box), Matityahu Demkov (Where the Jackals Howl), Isaac Hamburger, Zachari-Siegiried Berger (Elsewhere, Perhaps), Batya Pinsky ("Hollow Stone"), and so on. If there were manifestations of ugliness or evil in the "likable" characters (such as Hannah Gonen in My Michael or Ruth Kipniss in The Hill of the Evil Council), the implied author made sure that he offset those less attractive aspects by infusing charm, mystique, or intense or savage passion into the depiction of those characters.

The novel Fima (The Third Condition) marks a point of departure in the broader spectrum of Oz's fiction. The protagonist, Fima, is a sort of sad clown, part philosopher, prone to pontification and intellectual ruminations, and part crashing bore, a pathetic ne'er-do-well, squandering his talents, sponging on his friends, and living at the margins of respectable society. Fima can fascinate his listeners with his acuity and verbal wit, but he can also exhaust them with his incessant droning; he is puerile, immature, inept, a total misfit. …

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