Re: RARA-AVIS: Woolrich's "Fright" - 1st vs 3rd person narration

From: Patrick King (
Date: 20 Feb 2008

It seemed to me that the first person was used in FREIGHT when Marshall was imagining what was happening rather than in circumstances that were really happening. The scene between Marjorie and her father and Marjorie and Lance, for example, did not occur independent of Marshall's imagination. I was a little confused about the murder at the lake of the man Marshall supposed to be Wise. Marshall has to be one of the stupidest protagonists I've ever read about. The research he did was always dangerous for him and always led him to the wrong conclusion, while reading newspapers or making a few phone calls would have put his mind at ease. As suspenseful as the book is, it's equally funny in the way REEFER MADNESS is funny: one unfortunate circumstance leads to worse and worse and worse, while one logical step taken at any point along the way would have completely eliminated the problem.

Patrick King
--- wrote:

> As I read "Fright" I am noticing that Woolrich
> shifts between 1st and
> 3rd person narration. More precisely, he primarily
> wrote this novel
> from the 3rd person, although sometimes it seems as
> though the
> protagonist (Prescott Marshall) is talking about
> himself in the third
> person. Occasionally, however, Woolrich shifts into
> first person
> narration, usually when Marshall feels most paranoid
> or afraid and
> least in control of his circumstances. My
> impression is that this
> shifting serves to heighten the tension of those
> scenes where Marshall
> is at his most vulnerable, i.e. to make them all the
> more personal for
> both Marshall and the reader.
> Since "Fright" is my first foray into the works of
> Woolrich, and in
> light of the many comments made recently on this
> list regarding
> Woolrich's penchant for experimentation, is this
> shifting of narrative
> style a common technique in Woolrich's work? Is it
> a fairly common
> technique in noir in general? Is it always used for
> the same reason
> (to achieve the same effect) or are there different
> reasons for
> employing this technique? I find its use, at least
> by Woolrich,
> fascinating and ultimately very effective.
> Thanks!
> Harry

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