Nights at the Circus Study Guide

Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus utilizes several different types of narrative techniques throughout its three very different parts.

London section

The story opens with a third person narrative set in 1899 London. However, this narrator is biased and deceives the reader. The narrator has an omniscient perspective towards Walser but, as regards Fevvers and Lizzie, the narrator can only give hard facts that could have been picked up from any newspaper at the time. The narration can more or less, though third person, be seen as presenting only Walser's perspective. However, the reader is also given a very biased autobiography from Fevvers in a first person past narrative using dialogue. Here, the London section uses the form of the two narratives to confuse the reader over who the true narrator is. Even though it is obvious that the main narrator is not Fevvers, she nonetheless controls the pace and direction of the entire section; she steals the power of narration from the narrator and uses it to focus on herself while the narrator is left to merely comment on the information she presents. This formal trick is used to present Fevvers' ability to dominate an audience and hold the center of attention.

Petersburg section

The narration of the Petersburg section is very similar to the narration of the London section in that is a third person narrative that is omniscient towards Walser. However, in this section the characters of the circus are introduced as well. Whereas in the London section, all past information is constructed by Fevvers and is contained within her story, in Petersburg the reader is given information about the characters from the actual narrator. Thus, the narration is used to show that even though Fevvers is present throughout the Petersburg section, she is not the focus. Rather, the narrator concentrates on the circus and the characters that make it up.

Siberia section

The exact style of narration in Petersburg is also used in Siberia with one exception: the first person perspective of Fevvers is also presented. Fevvers' internal dialogue is used to remove much, though not all, of the mystique surrounding her. Fevvers' perspective not only reveals her inner, human confusions, but shifts the readers focus from what she says to what she thinks. Still, by presenting only Fevvers' first person perspective, a unique treatment is applied to her that no other character receives, thereby distinguishing her in a similar manner to how her wings set her apart from the rest of the cast.

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