First-Person Narrator and Present Tense
A first-person narrative is one in which the person telling the story refers to himself or herself as . In ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ the first-person narrator happens to be the main character in the story, Shanshan, although this is not always the case in stories narrated in the first person. Shanshan tells her story in the present tense, as if she is talking to the reader at the present moment. For example, at the beginning of the story, Shanshan announces, ‘‘I am thirty.’’ If Shanshan told her story in the past tense, as if it were a recollection of what had already occurred, she might have said, ‘‘I was thirty years old at the time.’’ ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten’’ contains recollections of past time periods, and Shanshan, from her present perspective, describes these periods in the past tense. In the end, she returns to the present moment and her present thoughts. Firstperson narration is often chosen by authors because it allows them to fully explore and convey one character’s thoughts and motivations. This type of narration does restrict the author’s ability to depict the thoughts of other characters; everything must be presented from the first-person narrator’s perspective, unless the author chooses to create an omniscient (all-knowing) first-person narrator who is not a participant in the story. In longer works of fiction, authors sometimes use the first-person narrative technique but alternate between various characters’ perspectives. In ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ Zhang uses first-person narration and maintains a single point-of-view character (the character from whose perspective the story is being told). However, by allowing that character (Shanshan) access to a diary, Zhang enables another first-person perspective (that of Shanshan’s mother) to be voiced.
Diary as Literary Device
A literary device is a tool the author uses to accomplish a narrative task. In ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ the author, Zhang, uses the diary of Shanshan’s mother to provide Shanshan with access to information she would not otherwise have about her mother and her mother’s lover. The diary also allows Shanshan’s mother, Zhong Yu, to speak at length in her own voice. Within Zhang’s otherwise first-person narrative, Zhong Yu is presented to the reader only through the filter of Shanshan’s memory. The recurring use of the diary device offers the reader a direct view of Zhong Yu’s thoughts and feelings. In this way, Zhang avoids the major limitation of utilizing first-person narration.
Some scholars, such as Judith Farquhar in her 2002 Appetites: Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China , have described Shanshan’s personal story as a framing device for her mother’s story as told in the diary. A frame narrative is one in which an introductory story provides the basis or introduction for another story. The inner story is told within the boundaries of the outer, or frame, story. In ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ the intermingling of Shanshan’s own thoughts and memories with her reading of the diary creates a situation in which Shanshan’s story and that of her mother are intertwined, so much so that one cannot truly be viewed as a frame for the other in the traditional sense.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Zhang Jie, Published by Gale Group, 2010