This section contains 1,266 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
Point of View
The novel is narrated from the first person subjective point of view - that is, from the individualized, educated, idiosyncratic perspective of its central character, Andy Palmer (see "Characters"), the point of view of an individual caught between idealized but distant visions of the future and longings for a hollow but familiar past. It is also the result of a lack of any real sense of how he's going to integrate both past and future into a present vaguely fulfilling only because lack of loneliness, said lack resulting from his intense but somehow superficial friendships.
Critics have interpreted the novel's complex, self-absorbed narrative perspective as a distillation of the "Generation X" experience of everyone born in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This has happened for two main reasons, the first being Andy's careful self-identification with the group he describes as "an X generation - purposefully hiding itself" (see Chapter 10). The second reason is that the other characters of the same age seem to share his point of view and his experiences (albeit manifesting it in different ways, like Tobias' superficial self-merchandising and Elvissa's self-gratification). The question, of course, is whether such an interpretation is fair, accurate, or correct. The answer is unfortunately unknowable without delving into the perspectives of far more individuals than are on display here. Ultimately, then, it seems the book's point of view is an expression of a THEORY, about the feelings, perspectives, habits and needs of a certain community within society, and the troubled, confusing pasts from which they emerged.
There are two key points to note about the novel's setting. The first is its place in time - the end of the millennium, the transition from the year 1999 into the year 2000. Historically, there was an almost hysterical reaction to the impending transition. Spiritualists believed it was the beginning of a new age of enlightenment, while technologists were afraid that the world's computers would be unable to accommodate the necessary changes to time-and-date keeping. Ultimately, people tended to see it as a chance to have a really big party, or as a powerful symbol of uncertainty as to where the world as a whole, and individuals struggling to survive and/or be notable in that world, were headed and how they were going to get there. This last is the context in which the action of the narrative, and the questing journeys of its central characters, plays out.
The second noteworthy point about setting is its geographical setting. Palm Springs is a city in California, renowned for its hot mineral springs, and is the setting for much of the novel's narrative action. The fact that the community is a resort city - that is, a community essentially founded on the industry of leisure and/or healing - can be seen as reinforcing certain elements of the central characters' life situations. For further consideration of this idea, see "Style - Setting" and "Topics for Discussion - In what ways do you think ..." Meanwhile, it's interesting to consider that the picnic scene early in the novel takes place in a suburb of Palm Springs, a run-down and nearly abandoned semi-ghost town. The significance of this is the thematically relevant suggestion that the lives and self-hiding practices of Andy, Dag and Claire are themselves run down, that their ways of doing things and perceiving themselves and each other are decrepit and ought themselves to be abandoned ... which, over the course of the narrative, they are.
Language and Meaning
At the time Generation X was published, its language was a revelation - not just the language of the narrative, which was undeniably clever and evocative, but the way language in the book is simultaneously self-revelatory and self-referential, defining the experience and identity of the characters at the same time as it portrays them as trapped in their own self-absorbed perspectives. These perspectives are defined by what might best be described as non-academic footnotes, pointed distillations of Generation X experiences into cleverly shaped phrases, some of which have found their way into contemporary common usage. Perhaps the most well known of these is the term "McJobs," footnoted as "a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no future job in the service sector..." and a clear reference to McDonalds, the billions and billions sold fast food empire. Such footnotes, also similar in style and content to bumper stickers and advertising campaigns, are found throughout the novel and essentially summarize, often in a manner both self-awed and self-mocking, the actions and attitudes of a particular moment in the chapter. Meanwhile, it's also important to note the significance of the chapter titles, all of which perform a similar function - illuminating, often ironically, the action and/or content of each chapter. For further consideration of the chapter titles, see "Topics for Discussion - Consider the titles of ..."
One final point to consider about language is the switch at the beginning of Part Two to a more diary-like perspective. While drawing the reader more intimately and immediately into the experience of the narrator, it also serves to highlight the beginnings of the narrator's (Andy's) thematically relevant transition from a story teller to a story liver. In other words, he's no longer telling the story to hide from himself, but to explore, understand, and ultimately free himself.
The novel's structure is essentially linear, moving from event to event in chronological order. To a certain degree Part One falls outside this structure, serving more as set up or exposition, exploring (in a self-absorbed detail quite relevant to the story) the nature of the characters and their relationships before the narrative sends them on their more plot-defined journeys of transformation. That said, however, the groundwork laid in Part One is ultimately essential for the full meaning and scope of that transformation to become apparent.
Parts Two and Three are clearly divided into stages of that transformation. Part Two takes the central characters into the apparently helpless, self-absorbed depths they need to be transformed from. The beginning of Part Three takes Andy and Claire on physical journeys (Andy to his home in Portland, Claire to Tobias in New York) that eventually prove to them the necessity of taking the emotional/spiritual journey into a stronger, more active sense of independence. In short, the beginning of Part Three marks the beginning of Claire and Andy's final, climactic process of transformation from people who hide themselves behind stories into people who reveal themselves IN stories. It's interesting to note here that Dag, the character who doesn't come to a thematically relevant transcendence of self hiding the same way that Andy and Claire do, doesn't take a physical journey but stays in Palm Springs.
The novel's final chapter is set on January 1st, New Year's Day - the end of the book, but the beginning of a new millennium in the life of the world (see "Setting" above) and the beginning of new life for the characters. In other words, structurally ending the book at a time of new beginnings makes the interesting suggestion that the life cycle and experience of Generation X is like that of every other generation that's inhabited the planet. What is new comes into being at the same time as the old is fading into eternal silence, an aspect of the universe's perpetual process of destruction and renewal that's also symbolized in the final visual image of the burnt, black, dead land and the soaring, white, almost unbearably alive white bird. For further consideration of this image, see "Objects/Places - The Black Field and the White Bird."
This section contains 1,266 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)