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Page history last edited by David Hodges 14 years ago


     Parenthetical Statements

I may update this page from time to time, but for now I only want to mention something that Bruna made me think about in her wiki comment on "A Bend in the River."


Parenthetical statements are those that appear between parentheses (the punctuation marks that look as if you're cupping your hands around them).












Parentheses (the singular is parenthesis) always indicate an interruption in the flow of a sentence, but why the author would want to interrupt her own sentence is the question you really want answered, I imagine. One reason is to tell a secret (sort of). Another (particularly sneaky) reason (and one of my favorites) is to write as if you're speaking "under your breath" to a reader standing next to you, offering commentary on the very sentences being read. As a result, parenthetical statements seem personal and increase the intimacy of the writer/reader relationship.

A novelist (any writer, really) might also use parentheses to give the impression that his narrator (or any other character) is composing what he writes just as we read it. In other words, parentheses imitate the mind of a speaker, which often comes up with alternatives even as we speak.


They're also handy to indicate both a situation and its alternative (and to call extra attention to the alternative!) in a case such as: "He was a very (not that I would have loved him less if he hadn't been) handsome man."

In "A Bend in the River," V.S. Naipaul uses parentheses to create a special relationship between the narrator and his readers. When he writes:


[Nazruddin] was known among us (and slightly mocked behind his back) for his European manners, which he had picked up not from Europe (he had never been there), but from a town in the centre of Africa where he lived and had his business.


he is taking us into his confidence. Read the sentence aloud and you'll hear your voice change. The parenthetical statements are little secrets the narrator would be uncomfortable sharing with Nazruddin, but doesn't mind telling us. They mildly mock Nazruddin, just as his countrymen mocked him quietly to one another. Hold one hand up to your mouth as if you're going to tell only me that Nazruddin pretended to be European though he had never been there. That shape your hand makes looks very much like a parenthesis (the singular of parentheses).


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