Analysis of “A Very Private Life”- Opening Paragraph by Sabiha Anum

 

 

Text

Once upon a time, there will be a little girl called Uncumber. Uncumber will have a younger brother called Sulpice, and they will live with their parents in a house in the middle of the woods. There will be no windows in the house, because there will be nothing to see outside except the forest. While inside, there will be all kinds of interesting things-strange animals, processions, jewels, battles, mazes, convolutions of pure shapes and colours- which materialize in the air at will, solid and brilliant and almost touchable. For, this will be in good new days a long, long while ahead, and it will be like that in people’s houses then. So the sight of the mud and grimy leaves outside would scarcely be of much interest.

Then again, windows might let the air in, and no one would want the congenial atmosphere of the house contaminated by the stale, untempered air of the forest, laden with dust and disease. From one year’s end to the next, they won’t go outside, and the outside world won’t come in. There will be no need; all their food and medicine and jewellery and toys will be on tap from mains; everything they could possibly require will come to the house through network of pipes and tubes and wires and electromagnetic beams which tangle the forest. Out along the wires and beams their wishes will go. Back, by return, will come the fulfillment of them.

Background

Born on 8th September, 1933, Michael Frayn studied Russian Language at Joint Services School for Linguists and he studies Moral Philosophy at Emmanuel College Cambridge afterwards. He worked as reporter and columnist for many reputable magazines and newspapers. He is author of several award winning books including Noises off, Spies, Copenhagen and Headlong etc. This paper is going to analyze the opening paragraphs of A Very Private Life by Michael Frayn at Phonological, Semantic, Morphological and Syntactic level.

Theme

The passage has shown a dystopia world which is materialistic as well. It describes a world in which material needs are important and human needs are matter of less importance. The enumeration of material things reflects the dehumanized nature of life. In that imaginary world, wishes and wills are important and not the social relations. The destructive imagery of the outside world, denunciation of society formation and lack of social life suggest that the fear of outside world would not allow the humans of that time to go for communal life. The passage revolves around the themes of fantasy, imagination, hyper-reality and life in a controlled, artificial and dehumanized world.

Phonological cohesion

Once upon a time, there will be a little girl called Uncumber.

In this sentence the technique of assonance can be spotted. The same vowel sound ɪ is repeated in the words will and little.

While inside there will be all kinds of interesting things- strange animals, processions, jewels, battles, mazes, convolutions of pure shapes and pure colours– which materialize in the air at will, solid and brilliant and almost touchable. In this sentence the technique of consonance has been used. The sound z is used at the end of many words in the same sentence.

So the sight of the mud and grimy leaves outside scarcely be of much interest.

In the sentence the technique of alliteration is used. The sound of s is repeated as highlighted above.

So the sight of the mud and grimy leaves outside scarcely be of much interest.

Assonance is used in this sentence. The sound is repeated in the words sight and outside and the sound Ʌ is used in the words mud and much. The sound (i) is used in the words scarcely and be.

 

Then again, windows might let the air in, and no one would want the congenial atmosphere of the house contaminated by the stale, untempered, air of the forest, laden with dust and disease.

In this sentence again the alliteration is used two times. Firstly in would and want, and secondly in dust and disease. Then consonance is used in words might, let, stale, want, atmosphere, untempered, forest (the sound t is repeated).

From one year’s end to the next they won’t go outside, and the outside world won’t come in.

In this sentence assonance is used in the words won’t and go, world and won’t. Another technique used is alliteration, in the words world and won’t.

There will be no need; all their food and medicine and jewelry and toys will be on tap from the mains- everything they could possibly require will come to the house through the network of pipes and tubes and wires and electromagnetic beams which tangle the forest. Out along the wires and beams their wishes will go back.

In this sentence alliteration is used at two places; in the words no and need, and secondly in the words through and the.

Back, by return, will come the fulfillment of them.

In this sentence again the alliteration is used in the words back and by.

The phonological features used in this text are not quite evident. This lack of phonological features creates the lack of rhythm and coherence. This lack of coherence and rhythm is significant because there is no coherence in the outside and inside world as well.

Semantic cohesion

The synonyms used in this passage are wish/will, stale/untempered/ contaminated/ disease/ dust laden/ mud/ grimy, brilliant/good, woods/ forest. The words used in this passage are mostly synonymous in nature. The synonymous nature suggests that the writer wants to reinforce the same idea. The writer has deliberately avoided the use of similar words to make his writing less redundant. This variety of the words used in the form of synonyms suggests that he wants to engage the readers and at the same time he does not want to be redundant. So, he has run and explained the same idea by deliberately avoiding the use of same words. Seven synonyms used to describe the outside world emphasize the fact that the outside world is something to detest. The other pair of synonyms is wish and will which suggests the only important thing in the lives of the people living at that time. Next pair of synonyms is woods and forest. This pair is actually used to describe the outside world. This pair suggests that the outside world is uncivilized, wild and uncultured. Another pair of synonyms used is brilliant and good. This pair is used to describe the world inside. This pair suggests that everything present in the inside world is perfect and far away from any flaw.

The writer has used only two pairs of antonyms. These pairs are inside/ outside and congenial/ contaminated. The first pair shows the extremes that the writer has drawn. He has described the world in terms of extremes. He has drawn the drastic comparison. These drastic comparisons and description in terms of extremes is further elaborated in the form of another antonym pair i.e. congenial/ contaminated. The inside world is congenial and far away from the flaws, while the outside world is contaminated. The first pair categorizes the world in the form of two extremes while the second pair describes the nature of those extremes.

The only example of the tautology used in the text is “long, long while ahead”. This repetition of the word long and the usage of word ahead suggest that the description is about the time in far future. This reference to the far future also puts question mark on the credibility of the information given in the text. We don’t know whether that time would come or not. In addition, it provides the justification for the hyper-reality portrayed in the text. We cannot question the hyper-reality because it is story of the far future that nobody has seen.

 Normally the stories are told in past tense. This story, however, is narrated in future tense. The deviation from the normal (anomaly) story telling style predicts the unusual that is coming in the story.

The choice of the words shows that the writer has used positive words to describe the inside world like good, brilliant and interesting. Again it reflects the writer’s intention to portray the inside world as something flawless and perfect. On the other hand, the outside world is described through the words with negative meanings like mud, grimy leaves, contaminated, stale, untempered air, laden with dust and disease etc, which reflects that the outside world is unessential and detestable.  Another set of words that reflects on the choice of words, the writer has made is wishes and wills. This set indicates that the only important thing for the people of that time is their wishes and wills. All they cared about was the fulfillment of their wishes, desires and wills. As long as they are being fulfilled their life would be perfect and happy. Their wishes and wills were not abstract, intellectual or based on emotions. They were based on material things. Hence the choice of words indicates that the world at that time would be materialistic world. The words like wires and electronic beams suggest the dependence of the people on mechanical and scientific inventions. This also shows that the world would be highly advanced scientifically.

A careful study of the text has shown that even the role relation in the passage complement the theme of the passage. In first sentence of the passage “a little girl” is the theme. In second sentence, “Uncumber” is possessor (of the little brother). We may also categorize her as recipient. In the same line “Sulpice” is the theme. In the second line “they” is agent, “house” is goal, “middle of the woods” is location, “parents” is the theme. In the first sentence of the second paragraph “windows” is source, “untempered air of the forest” is stimulus, “congenial atmosphere of the house” is patient. In the second sentence “outside” is goal. In third sentence “tap” is the instrument, “the mains” is source, and “network of pipes”, “tubes”, “wires” and “beams” are instruments. These role relations complement the theme of the passage in many ways i.e.  There is only one agent in the whole passage and the rest of the nouns are patients, stimulus, goal, themes or instruments etc, which shows that human beings of that world would be dependent on the instruments and scientific inventions. The sentence that contains the only agent shows the only normality present in that world i.e. family life, otherwise that future world denounce and rejects the communal and social life. The rest of the role relations suggest scientific dependence, fear and material nature of that life.

From the analysis of the passage given, one may safely establish that the futuristic world would be a dehumanized world, where communal life would be of no importance. The people of that time would be afraid of outside world as well. The writer has promoted the idea of the private life. His perspective is that the world in future would be contained, private, scientifically advanced and far from the social and communal relations.

Morphological cohesion

In the given passage, both types of morphemes have been used i.e. derivational and inflectional. The derivational morphemes used in this passage are touchable, grimy, materialize, processions, fulfillment, electromagnetic, possibly, scarcely. The analysis of this list shows that it contains almost all kinds of derivational morphemes including adverbs, adjectives, nouns verbs etc. This complements the theme in a way that the contained life in the world of future would contain all the things inside. It complements the theme that they would have all the variety of things in their life.

The inflectional morphemes used are parents, windows, animals, processions, jewels, battles, mazes, convolutions, shapes, colors, leaves, days, toys, pipes, tubes, wires, beams, wishes, mains, year’s. all the inflectional morphemes used are plural markers and almost all of them are used with the material things (except for the parents). The use of inflectional morphemes here complements the theme by telling that everything they wished and desired was there in abundance. They could ask for nothing else. These morphemes suggest the completeness in their lives.

Only three compounds are used in the whole passage; network, outside, inside. These three words are basically the key words and they assist the theme directly, since the whole passage is about the outside and the inside world, and their lives would be facilitated with the help of certain networks like the network of electromagnetic beams, the network of pipes and tubes etc. These three compounds actually reflect the main things in the passage.

There are three lexical groups that are used in this passage. Inside and outside show positioning. Pipes, wires, beams and tubes can be included in the group of tools or equipment. Forest and woods can be placed in nature. These three groups sum up the whole idea presented in the passage i.e. the drastic extremes present in positions of the two worlds, their life’s dependence on the tools and equipment and the denunciation of the world of nature.

Uncumber- the name of the protagonist- is a lexically foregrounded word. It is coined by using prefix “un” with the word “cumber”. Cumber means trouble and Uncumber means the opposite of trouble. The name of the protagonist comply with the theme in a manner that it indicates the life away from the troubles i.e. an easygoing life.

The language used is simple, plain and is spoken idiom. It reflects the generalization in the tone which shows that all the people of that age would have the similar life. The diction has a futuristic touch as well at some places in order to comply with the futuristic theme of the text. For instance the two proper nouns i.e. Uncumber and Sulpice are the words from future. So the diction has futuristic tone.

Syntactic cohesion

Except for the second sentence, all the sentences are written in surface structures. The second sentence is a deep structure. This analysis complement the theme in a way that only one trait of that life belong to the natural world i.e. family life, and that trait is described in deep structure. The rest of the traits reflect the life that is away from the nature and is extremely civilized; artificial. So, the description of all those traits is given in the form of surface structures.

The important phrases used in this passage are “ once upon a time”, “in a house”, “the middle of the woods”, “except the forest”, “while inside”, “then again”, “untempered air of the forest”, “laden with the dust”, “from one year’s end to the next”, “out along the wires and beams” etc.

Most of the clauses used are adverbial clauses. The purpose of the adverbial clause is to show the cause and effect relations.

The first sentence starts with a phrase and then continues with an independent clause. The second sentence comprises of two independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunction “and”, and the second clause is followed by a prepositional phrase “in the middle of the wood”. The third sentence also contains two independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunction “because”, followed by a phrase. The fourth sentence contains an independent clause followed by numerous phrases that enumerate the things important in their lives. The last sentence of the first paragraph contains a phrase sandwiched between the two clauses. The first sentence of the second paragraph starts with a phrase followed by two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction “and”, and ends with a phrase again “laden with the dust”. The second sentence starts with the prepositional phrase followed by two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction “and”. The last three sentences are complex sentences with so many embedded clause and phrases.

Most of the sentences used are compound and complex sentences. The reason for the compound and complex sentences is to show the complexity present there in the world of future.

Most of the sentences used are either declarative or negative. No imperative or interrogative sentences are used. The use of only the declarative and negative sentences comply with the theme since the whole passage is about explaining the merits of inside world and negating the importance of the world outside.

The excessive use of passive voices suggests the passivity of the life of that age.

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