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Literary Analysis: "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat"

2134 words - 9 pages

A narrative is constructed to elicit a particular response from its audience. In the form of a written story, authors use specific narrative strategies to position the ‘ideal reader’ to attain the intended understanding of the meanings in the text. Oliver Sacks’ short story The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is an unusual short story because it does not display conventional plot development; the story does not contain conflict or resolution of conflict. The genre of the story is also difficult to define because it reads as an autobiographical account of an experience Sacks had with a patient while working as a neurologist. Although it is arguable that the narrative is a work of ...view middle of the document...

“There is no such thing as just a story. A story is always charged with meaning; otherwise it is not a story, merely a sequence of events.” (Fulford) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is based on a real experience Oliver Sacks had while working as a neurologist. Although the narrative is ostensibly an honest retelling of Sacks’ medical encounter with a patient, the narrative is a construction, a representation of the real events, not the actual events themselves. Brian Moon refers to representations as “…versions of reality that different cultures construct and which people work within.” (Moon) It is important to separate the events in reality from the representation of the events that is the short story. Analysing the elements and conventions of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat makes it more obvious that the story is indeed a construction, that elements have been chosen and omitted to create meaning: “... texts offer a selection which conforms to certain limited beliefs and values.” (Moon) The selections in the text are also organised into a plot. The plot is “... a set of events structured to achieve an effect.” (Moon) As The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat selects and organises material from Sacks’ perspective, the text is to some degree fictional and positions the reader in relation to the meanings in the text.
A narrative is constructed of signs, arranged into codes, which are interpreted and understood by the audience. People often take the process of understanding signs for granted because the process is more passive than active. Nonetheless, the process is complex because the signs present in narratives are culturally learned, rather than being inherent human knowledge. The practice of analysing this process is called ‘semiotics’. Semiotics dictates that all signs are constructed of a signifier and a signified. The signifier is the physical or tangible element of the sign, whilst the signified is the concept the sign relates to. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, the sign of the piano is constructed of the signifier, the written word “piano” and the signified, the concept or idea of a piano. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is what characterises different types of signs. Iconic signs are characterised by the relationship between the signifier and the signified being one of resemblance, such as a photograph. Indexical signs are those where the signifier ‘indicates’ the signified, for example smoke is indexical of fire and symbolic signs are those where the signifier bears no resemblance to the signified, the relationship is culturally agreed. It is important to note that even iconic signs are representations, for instance a photograph is not literally the signified, but a representation of the signified. These conventions of semiotics can be applied to the analysis of narratives because narratives, too, are representations. Although The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is ostensibly an...

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