Novel Without A Name Essay Ideas

Many authors agonize over choosing the perfect names for their characters—Jay Gatsby, Binx Bolling, and Scarlett O’Hara are a few character names that are distinctly memorable. But what about writing characters who are never given a name? While this literary device has been used for centuries, The New Yorker recently noted an uptick of unnamed characters in contemporary novels.

One way to use this literary device is to have an anonymous narrator who plays no part in the story, but who merely acts as an observer telling the tale. Or, in a work that is based on allegory, an unnamed character can be identified by a number, letter, job, or common trait to symbolize a hidden meaning.

Novels or stories with nameless protagonists are often dystopian, but leaving a character unnamed is also a way to show that he or she is experiencing a personal crisis of identity. Instead of the person’s name, we focus on how he or she is affected by a drastically different world, a different culture, a new job or new relationship. In Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog (2014), the protagonist uses a pseudonym; we never know his real name. A New York lawyer whose life is falling apart, the unnamed hero decides to improve his life by moving to Dubai. However, he discovers that his life is not better—in fact, he feels even more trapped.

By using a nameless character, an author can prevent readers from unconsciously attaching the identity of another person, ethnic group, or social background. This technique also reinforces a theme of lost or changed identity—of someone who does not want to be known or whose identity is ever-changing, so it cannot be known. But while the lack of identity may make a character seem unknowable, it can also make the character more accessible to readers.

Here are a few well-known stories with nameless characters:

  1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. A young, college-educated African-American man travels from the South to New York in the 1930s—and experiences racism and violence. Winner of the 1953 American National Book Award.
  1. Anthem by Ayn Rand. A dystopian novella set in a time when humans are identified by number. Rand hypothesizes what a purely egalitarian society would be like: Committees make all the decisions—whom to marry, what job to take, and what to learn.
  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a father and son walk through post-apocalyptic America—defending themselves and their few resources against marauders and cannibals. They have a gun with only two bullets.
  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. An eavesdropper tells the protagonist’s story of traveling into the Congo during Belgian colonialism.
  1. Everymanby Philip Roth. Fewer than 200 pages long, the story begins at the protagonist’s funeral and looks back on his life: jobs, marriages, divorces, illnesses, and retirement.
  1. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. This classic story is told by an anonymous narrator hoping to convince the reader of his sanity while describing a murder he committed.
  1. Fight Clubby Chuck Palahniuk. Surprisingly, the protagonist of this well-known book and movie adaptation is named in the film—but not in the book. He uses several aliases to attend different support groups…but his real name? “I have no idea,” says Palahniuk.

QUESTION: Would you consider using this literary device? How would you use it?

 

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In Novel Without a Name, author Duong Thu Huong characterizes Quan, Bien, and Luong as having been friends since childhood and all joining the war together, feeling proud to fight for the sake of the Communist Party. Yet, despite their unity as childhood friends who share the same Communist ideological beliefs, they have very separate experiencesduring the war though all three can't bear to let go of their hopes for glory. Duong uses...

In Novel Without a Name, author Duong Thu Huong characterizes Quan, Bien, and Luong as having been friends since childhood and all joining the war together, feeling proud to fight for the sake of the Communist Party. Yet, despite their unity as childhood friends who share the same Communist ideological beliefs, they have very separate experiences during the war though all three can't bear to let go of their hopes for glory. Duong uses the characters' separate experiences and hopes for glory to show the devastation and futility of the war.

Luong develops into the classic Communist soldier--all he says and does is for the sake of the Party. Due to his continued devotion to the party, Luong was quickly moved up the ranks to the position of deputy to Quan's commander. Similarly, Quan rises to chief and remains dedicated to the war effort throughout the book even though he becomes disillusioned with the war. Bien suffers the worse fate of them all. Plagued with post-traumatic stress disorder, he becomes imprisoned as a lunatic.

Most of the story concerns Quan's journey to free Bien upon Luong's orders. In part, Luong sends Quan to free Bien out of friendship yet out of the desire to do what is best for the war effort. He wants Quan to take time away from the war because he knows the war will continue for many years to come, and the war effort needs Quan's help. Though Luong's orders are a sign he still values his childhood friendship with Quan and Bien, Quan cannot help but recognize and feel the great chasm that has opened between them, since the war has developed them into completely different people.  Quan comments on the chasm between them when he asks Luong if the war will continue for a long time and Luong gives no answer; Luong is not permitted to comment on the predictions of the war effort as a commanding officer:

Time had slipped between us; we were no longer little boys, naked and equal. That time had passed, the time of diving headlong into rivers at dusk, for shouting and swimming, for splashing little girls. (p. 33)

Despite the differences in how the three characters progress, they continue to share two things in common. First, they continue to hold on to the belief that they are fighting in the war for the sake of glory. Even Bien, once released, refuses to accept a discharge from Quan because Bien still holds onto the belief that he will return to their village after the war having earned honor. Quan comments about how he can relate to Bien's feelings in the following:

Bien would rather hide in some godforsaken hole, in this immense battlefield until V-day--until he could march with the rest of us under the triumphal arch. (p. 109)

The second thing they share in common is that they all lose faith in the vision of a Marxist revolution, especially due to the horrors they face as a result of the war.

As a severe critic of the Vietnam War, Duong uses her novel and the characters in it to develop a central theme that paints the war as destructive and absolutely pointless. The chasms created between the characters and their loss in faith in the war's cause helps underscore the central theme concerning the destructiveness and superfluousness of the war. Their inability to let go of the hope for glory further underscores the notion that the war was begun based on superficial reasons.

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