Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Embodied Subjectivity of a Half-Formed Narrator: Sexual Abuse, Language (Un)formation and Melancholic Girlhood in Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Embodied Subjectivity of a Half-Formed Narrator: Sexual Abuse, Language (Un)formation and Melancholic Girlhood in Eimear McBride's A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Article excerpt

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2014) is Irish author Eimear's McBride debut novel, winner of several literary awards and praised by most critics, who agree in its literary quality and richness. McBride wrote her novel about ten years before its publication, that is, during the Celtic Tiger years, a period in which there was a "predominance of narratives about siblings ... with women's writing particularly interested in stories of brother-sister relationships" (Bracken 25). The protagonist's bond with her brain-damaged and terminally ill brother will be one of the pivots of the storyline. However, the focus on her role as a sister fades into the background, when she experiences a pubertal sexual awakening that triggers a constant preoccupation about a body she believes has been profaned by desire and lust. Her crisis of identity is worsened when she is raped by her uncle, an event that causes her struggle to define herself, not only as a woman, but as an individual. Thus, as the Girl grows up, the physically and emotionally painful experiences she goes through and the patriarchal society in which she is immersed contribute to the fragmentation of her identity and the distortion of her sense of embodiment. Her dominating grandfather, her absent father, her ill brother and her predatory uncle are the male archetypes in this novel, while her mother, devoted to religion, is the only female model available for the protagonist. Trapped in an oppressive world, the Girl has only two options: obey or rebel.

McBride skilfully expresses the disintegration of the protagonist's embodied identity by means of different stylistic and symbolic elements. In this regard, the analysis of this novel-long stream-of-consciousness focuses on the narration of the conflicts with corporeality, the dissolution of subjectivity and the failure to regain agency over a powerless body. The first section is devoted to the author's appropriation of the stream-of-consciousness technique as an experimental narrative mode to represent the initial genesis or formation of the central character's subjectivity. Secondly, namelessness will be analysed as an authorial strategy to deal with the main character's identity problems in relation to girlhood; in fact, the novel will be approached as the consolidation of the girlhood narratives as a genre in the Irish literary tradition. Thirdly, the protagonist's distorted conception of sex and female sexuality will be studied as a consequence of the pain and powerlessness experienced in sexual abuse and the fragmented language of narration as a symptom of the un-formation of subjectivity. Finally, the main character's conflicts with her corporeality will be defined in terms of two dissociative disorders: melancholia and depersonalisation, two conditions that caused her feeling of shame and guilt and led to story's tragic ending, in which death is depicted as an alternative mode of being-in-the-world.

1. Experimental Narration and Half-Formed Subjectivity

Bearing Arthur W. Frank's conception of the wounded storyteller in mind, stories about physical suffering are narrated through the body. However, the narration of experience through corporeality can be rather problematic, since "the body eludes language" (2). In order to reflect the difficulty to translate the protagonist's embodied subjectivity into verbal language, the author has devised and experimented with different narrative, symbolic and linguistic elements, resulting in the writing of a novel-long stream of consciousness, in which the perspectives adopted by the narrator defy realism.

The first part of the book, "Lambs", starts with a brief narration about the world that existed before the nameless protagonist was born. The Girl narrates her "beginning", when she is still in her mother's womb, describing a world to which she still has no access: "Poke belly of baby that's kicking is me. Full in myself. Bustling hatchery. And I loved swimming to your touch. …

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