Behind The Scenes At The Museum By

Kate Atkinson Essay, Research Paper

E. M. Forster says that the first thing all novels have in common is that they tell a story. In your experience, what else do novels do? Discuss examples from the novel you have studied.

In addition to telling a story, novels also communicate a vivid sense of experiences and attitudes to the reader. They do this by allowing the reader an insight into another person’s, or group of people’s lives. Experiences and attitudes are clearly communicated to the reader through the style that the story is told in, the language used and the ideas that the novel introduces to the reader. This helps the reader to feel a part of the novel as they share experiences with the characters.

Novels make the reader aware of an idea, which they may not have thought about, prior to reading the novel. An idea in Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson is how attitudes can affect the way people relate, change and develop. We see the significance of this idea through the differing family relationships shown through Bunty’s seemingly uncaring attitude to her children and Patricia’s negative disposition towards her family and her life. Bunty revealed her regret of being burdened with a family through her daydreams, thoughts and actions, ” ‘Get down,’ Bunty says grimly. ‘Mummy’s thinking.’ (Although what Mummy’s actually doing is wondering what it would be like if her entire family was wiped out and she could start again.)” (Behind the Scenes at the Museum page 14) As a teenager, Patricia shows her aversion to being connected to her family by isolating herself from them and rebelling against society. Although Patricia’s facade appears to be one of toughness and self-containment, she, in fact, longs for the love and support that her family does not give her. To substitute for her family’s negligence Patricia finds a boyfriend who can make her feel wanted and loved. She confides her feelings about this matter to Ruby, who is too young to fully understand such emotions, “?’Romantic love’s an outmoded bourgeois convention!’? ‘But,’ she adds reluctantly, ‘it is nice to have someone who wants you, you know?’” (Ibid page 224) This, and other similar incidents, leave the reader questioning whether Patricia would have become so “full of darkness” if Bunty had displayed a different, perhaps more affectionate attitude, towards her children when they were growing up.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson explores the theme of how history repeats itself for women through generations. Women in the novel all faced the same problems and issues that their relations before them had. The female character’s actions, quirks and qualities illustrate this throughout the novel. One issue, which all women in the novel faced, was that of feeling unloved and uncared for, and wanting to escape the boredom and drudgery of their everyday lives. The prospect of life continuing as it was, was often too much to bear, resulting in the women taking any opportunity that offered escape from their current situation. The women took these chances without thinking of the consequence. They often overlooked the ensuing realities of the risk and although they escaped their original problem, the women were in fact no better off than before. Alice took the chance to escape from her husband and children, (who she was fed up with) and ran away with a French photographer, never seeing her family again. Nell spent much of her life trying to find someone who would look after her and make her feel wanted. For her, marriage was the means by which she could achieve this. She had two broken engagements (due to the death of both fiancees) before she was finally successful in her attempt to become married. Bunty tried to escape the drudgery of her life by escaping into a world of daydreams. She had an affair with Clive Roper, the next door neighbour, who was similar to the type of man Bunty dreamed about. The women in the novel believed that they did not have choices about what they could do with their lives. They did not take control of the situation or make pro-active decisions to change their circumstances. Instead, these women waited for opportunities to come along and took the first that came, in fear of it being the only chance they would get.

The style of Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson helps the reader to gain insights into other people’s thoughts and feelings. The novel is narrated by Ruby, as an intrusive narrator during the chapters and a limited omniscient narrator during the footnotes. The reader feels that Ruby is talking directly to them through the style she tells her story in and the language she uses. This makes Ruby’s experiences easier to relate to. The reader gains insights through Ruby into how she feels about situations and family members. The access to her thoughts and feelings makes her experiences more animated to the reader. The omniscient viewpoint reveals character by implication rather than by direct statement. We can see the limited omniscient narrator, Ruby, giving the reader an insight into another character’s life during Footnote (iv) – Bonny Birds when she lets Rachel’s point of view intrude on the story, “He’d be hers soon enough. She’d take Alice’s place – be a second wife, or near enough anyway. She’d have a man of her own, a household to be mistress of, a readymade family. They needed her because they were weak and she was strong.” (Ibid page 128) In this incident Ruby, the narrator lets us see the situation from Rachel’s point of view.

The language in Behind the Scenes at the Museum helps to maintain the reader’s interest through its directness. Ruby narrates the story as a child throughout the earlier chapters, as she is growing up. She uses a typical childlike tone yet uses a wide adult vocabulary of many polysyllabic and educated words, “So sweet did this memory seem to our benighted sister, that we never had the heart to disenchant her.” (Ibid page 164) By using this direct approach to tell the story, the reader gains a very realistic look at how Ruby saw life for herself and her family. Ruby’s character can be revealed through her childlike language, without the need for great detailed description from the author. Atkinson is quick to establish an intimate relationship with the reader through the use of conversational tone. The directness of the conversation between Ruby and the reader allows the reader to experience her perspective.

Atkinson allows the reader direct exposure to the experiences and attitudes of the characters through her use of language and style. The reader is introduced to the events which occur in Ruby’s journey of self-discovery and is able to gain an insight into the views of some of the other characters in the novel. Through her handling of style and language, Atkinson creates a credible story. This is done through the strong communication of themes and characters. The reader is given a clear view of the lives and thoughts of the characters and an understanding of the reasons behind why they may have acted or reacted in a particular manner. Atkinson lets the reader be taken away from the time and place they live in and transports them magically.


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