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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 4, 2018

Re-imagining first-person narrative as a collective voice in John Edgar Wideman’s Sent for you yesterday

Steve Beaulieu


This article considers the “narrating-I” in African American fiction, reexamining its significance for narratological and sociopolitical theorizations of literature. First-person narratives can normally be understood as autodiegetic, in which the narrators present their experiences from their own perspectives at the expense of access to the viewpoints of other characters. However, African American narratives sometimes present their readers with first-person narrators who are seemingly more omniscient. Able to slip across the boundaries that demarcate their experience from that of others, these narrators can adopt the subject positions of other characters, shifting narrative focalization in ways that would normatively be impossible. Unlike “we” narratives that rely on the first-person plural to evoke collective storytelling, these works pluralize an otherwise singular narrator into a different sort of collective multiplicity. This paper argues that this plurality and multiplicity problematize the limitations of first-person narration, and in so doing resonate with issues surrounding the sociopolitical imagining of community. Through an investigation into the innovative narrative structures of John Edgar Wideman’s Sent for you yesterday, this paper thus hopes to contribute to ongoing conversations in narrative studies by reassessing its standard narrative frameworks, as well as argue for the applicability of narratology to contemporary sociopolitical thought.


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Published Online: 2018-07-04
Published in Print: 2018-06-28

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