Dr. Dee Horne
February 6, 2017
Lacuna Presentation Outline
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, uses unique narrative strategies to illustrate how Harrison Shepherd is the answer to the metaphorical lacuna through the format of the text and the real historical events and figures.
A lacuna, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “An unfilled space or gap,” or “a missing portion in a book or manuscript” (“Lacuna”). Much of the Kingsolver’s novel deals with the missing pieces of a troubled time in history. The metaphor of a “lacuna” seems very fitting for all the events taken place within the novel. However, the character of Harrison Shepherd can also be viewed as an individual with his own “lacuna.” That is, a person of great mystery. This presentation will attempt to define how this character bridges the gap to the lacuna.
Kingsolver’s story is distinctively made of up of several different literary components. Letters, personal notebook articles, archivist’s notes, fictional and real newspaper clippings, and personal anecdotes by Violet Brown, all give an account on Harrison Shepherd’s life. Why write in this unusual manner? One way to look at it is to view the novel similar to a documentary film. For example, imagine that the protagonist was a real historical figure. When it would come to researching Harrison Shepherd in the history books, we would find him to be labelled clearly as a man who “…wrote two books, had no record of military service and was… a Communist” (Kingsolver 493). As Winston Churchill once quoted, “History is written by the victors.” While that statement isn’t always true, poor Shepherd would unfortunately be labelled as a fraud and a communist in the channels of history. Therefore, writing The Lacuna in this particular way makes it feel like all the missing gaps in the story of Harrison Shepherd are being filled in, giving the reader a full of testimony of who this man was. This story, in terms of it’s literary make up, partly symbolizes the allegory of “the lacuna” for the main character. Each snippet connects the reader to the main characters dynamic life.
Historical Figures and events:
Within this strong literary work is a rich plethora of historical content. Taking place in a time period that was influenced heavily by politics (1929 t0 1959), the reader gets to experience a more personal account with dilemma’s of the time. On her official website, Kingsolver explains her desire for this time period; “The Lacuna explores some shocking events that happened in our countries history. Some of the events are so unbelievable… I didn’t want these uncomfortable truths to be dismissed simply as an authors fancy.” (Kingsolver, “About The Lacuna”). She goes on to say, “Informing the reader about facts and events is an important part of what I do. But ultimately that’s not enough: I also want you to care. A history book can educate you, but oddly, a novel is much more likely to move you to tears, because it creates empathy.” (Kingsolver, “About The Lacuna”). The events within this story, help the reader connect the pieces to Shepherd’s life, especially when it comes to explaining his disappearance. However, these histories could not be of significance without the individuals that defined them.
Kingsolver intertwines Shepherd with many different characters who had actually lived during this time period. Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, as well as many others, each play a powerful role within the life of the protagonist. For example, Margaret Randall in her review of the novel states, “…ordinary people find their ways into the lives of their extraordinary contemporaries, sharing the dramas of the times. The fictional characters blend with their real counterparts, enriching and completing the story.” (Randall 26). Each of these character’s influences Shepherd with their own personal take on the current events of the time. One snippet from the novel explains the abuse and corruption of the news; “Lev clucked his tongue. ‘They tell the news only as the exception. Zola wrote that the mendacity of the press could be divided into two groups: the yellow press lies everyday without hesitating.” (Kingsolver 159). Furthermore, he states, “…the Times, speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary.” (Kingsolver 159). This fact on the how the news was manipulated during the 1930’s reveals to Shepherd that there is a genuine need for truth. He senses a gap and feels a need to try and connect people with what they are wanting. However, it is his close friendship with Frida that teaches him how to express the truth to the American’s needing hope, in a time where little could be found. Part way through the novel she says, “A story is like a painting… It doesn’t have to look like what you see out the window.” (Kingsolver 197). Her inspiration of art lead Shepherd to be the writer that he was. During his prosecution by Mr. Ravenner, he mentioned the purpose behind his writing within his rebuttal; “Here I found people bursting with hope but not many songs…They wanted stories…So I tried my hand at making art for the hopeful.” (Kingsolver 489). It is important to recognize that a drive for Harrison Shepherd was seeking out the truth both in his personal life as well as his writing. His ability to express his concerns through his stories was what allowed him to fill in the gaps between the fictional and historical figures.
Within the final excerpt of the novel, Violet Brown writes, “The most important part of a story is the piece you don’t know.” (Kingsolver 494). Within the allegory of The Lacuna we find this line to be a central theme in the novel. The life of Harrison Shepherd intertwined with the style of which this text is written and combined with real historical figures and events, adds a layer of truth behind an already established history. The final event of Shepherd disappearing within the lacuna leaves the reader with a cliff hanger. What has come of this defeated writer who lived such a remarkable life? That part of the story is up for debate. However, we can see much of his life is filled in through his journal entries and through the those historical figures he was surrounded by. It makes for a compelling first hand account of how people acted during a time of terrible crisis, which in many ways, alludes to we can act during our own modern day issues.
In your own personal opinion what do you think happened to Harrison Shepherd? Do you feel his disappearance into the lacuna is literal, metaphorical, or both?
Kingsolver, Barbara. “About The Lacuna.” Barbara Kingsolver: The Authorized Site, 5 February. 2017, www.kingsolver.com/faq/about-the-lacuna.html#17
Kingsolver, Barbara. The lacuna: a novel. New York: Harper, 2009. Print.
Randall, Margaret. “The Personal and the Political.” The Women’s Review of Books, vol. 27, no. 3, 2010, pp. 25–27. www.jstor.org/stable/27869721.
Simpson, J. A., E. S. C. Weiner, and Michael Proffitt. Oxford English dictionary. Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1993. Print.
Please make sure to check out my personal Monologue on The Lacuna Below!