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Politeness in literary discourse: Own way and satisfactory ‘face’

The Politeness principle refers to our wish to get our own way and maintain a satisfactory public self-image or “face” (cf. Leech 1983). The application of this principle in literary discourse analysis raises objections related to the fact that literary discourse always imposes on the reader’s face due to the intimate topics discussed. A simple and straightforward response is that the reader can always decide to read or not to read a particular work. However, the interpersonal element is prominent in some novels and the relationship between narrator and reader is very important. Thus we can observe that the Politeness principle works here as in real-life situations. The author spends a lot of time addressing the reader, creating an intimate relationship with the reader. Examples are provided by literary texts, where the narrator addresses the reader directly and usually throughout the whole discourse of a novel or a short story. In literary theory, this kind of relationship between narrator and reader is called a sub-plot (Booth 1961). In the analysed collection of short stories, there is one which can serve as a good example of an intimate relationship between the narrator and the reader (italics used in original text):

(3) (DL: 108)

I want to tell you something, I have to tell someone. I have to talk. I suddenly understood you are the only person left who will know what I’m talking about. Has that happened to you? You suddenly think, My God, that was twenty, thirty years ago and I am the only person left who knows what really happened.

This method of directly addressing the reader continues throughout the whole short story. The final lines of the story imply the importance of talking to a close friend, for the narrator this very close and only person is the reader. The relationship becomes truly intimate, the narrator makes the reader feel special (there’s no one... except you) and her concluding words imply that talking helped her and recommends the reader to do the same some time:

(4) (DL: 116) (cont.)

And there’s no one I can talk to about it, no one I can tell. except you. Well, darling, do the same for you some time.

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