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Nonverbal Signals in Muriel Spark's "The Driver’s Seat"

Nonverbal Signals in Muriel Spark's "The Driver’s Seat"

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Published by FurieMarie
My essay for Contemporary Scottish Literature course. It focuses on the main character of the short novel (Lise) and describes her body language and otehr nonverbal signals, which are the only indicators of her emotions and thoughts in the novel.
ENJOY!
My essay for Contemporary Scottish Literature course. It focuses on the main character of the short novel (Lise) and describes her body language and otehr nonverbal signals, which are the only indicators of her emotions and thoughts in the novel.
ENJOY!

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Published by: FurieMarie on Jun 10, 2009
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05/11/2014

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Nonv erbal Signalsin Muriel Spark’s
The
 
driver’s seat 
 
 
Every work of fiction bears a message to the reading public buteach does convey the information in a different way. There are many means of communication, which usually combined together provide the addressee with thenecessary piece of information. Spoken and written language rank among thoseways of communication which can be controlled by the speaker to a high extend.Besides this, there are signals about which people who give them hardly know.There is the complex sphere of nonverbal communication, which can be used asa secret path to the gloomiest chambers of the human soul. At the same time, itcan be rather difficult for the addressee to decode the signal in the right way.This is also the principle on which Muriel Spark’s short novel
Thedriver’s seat 
is based. As Jonathan Kemp states in his essay “The Ineffability of Erotic Sociality in Muriel Spark’s
The Driver’s Seat 
”: “Everything is describedexternally, as if it were being viewed through a camera lens”.
1
 Indeed, the noveldoes not include any description of character’s emotions and it is up to thereader to decode the signals given to them. Therefore a number of interpretationsare available, because the novel does not provide a wider context. (If the story isconsidered realistic, wider context is really important for the analysis of suicidal behaviour, because, as Josef Viewegh points out in his work 
Sebevražda aliteratura
, presuicidal development can take several years or even decades.
2
Concerning Spark’s novel, events preceding Lise’s suicide and the real motiveshave to be deduced from details in her behaviour during only few days beforeher death.)The dominant non verbal signals appearing in the story are given byLise’s mouth, which functions as the indicator of her emotions in a particular moment. Lise’s whole personality is somehow concentrated to her lips, whichrepresent her character, her sense for detail and accuracy. Lises behaviouindicates that she wants everything to be perfect and under her control (whether it was reality in her life or just an unfulfilled wish finally satisfied by planningand committing her suicide, can become a topic for another essay and thereforeit will not be discussed here into much detail). Lise’s fight for “the driver’s seat”is commanded by her “final and judging mouth, a precision instrument, a detail-
1
Kemp, 2008, p. 545
2
Viewegh, 1996, p. 74
- 2 -
 
warden”
3
, by her lips which, generally, are firmly pressed together in difficultsituations and parted in moments when Lise is filled with positive emotions.The expression of Lise’s lips can be compared to the gesture of folded arms, which is generally perceived as an expression of a reserved personor of somebody with a negative attitude to their environment. In the novel,Lises lips are described as “normally pressed together with the dailydisapprovals of the accountants’ office”.
4
Similarly to a person with folded arms,which are subconsciously used as a barrier against the world that surroundsthem, Lise closes her mouth so that no one can get too familiar with her. At thesame time she uses it as a shield against problems so that she is affected by themas little as possible. Parted lips are also connected to breathing through mouthand thus receiving more air which is neither filtered nor warmed as it is when a person breathes through nose. Similarly, Lise wants to reduce and smooth theeffect of negative impulses from outside by closing her mouth.At the same time, keeping her lips straight helps Lise to conceiveher emotions. When she suffers a nervous breakdown in the office shortly beforeleaving for her holiday, she comes back from the lavatory and looks at her colleagues “with her lips straight as a line, which could cancel them all outcompletely.”
5
She is sorry because she was not able to control and hide her emotions for a moment but she immediately resumes her strategic position andrebuilds the barrier between her and the other people in the office.On the other hand, Lises parted lips indicate that she finds a particular situation enjoyable and therefore she slightly opens her mouth, and infact her whole self, “as if to receive a secret flavour”.
6
When the atmosphere is both body- and soul-friendly, Lise removes the barrier between her and the restof the world and does not avoid contact any more. This usually happens whenshe gives herself over to an activity which is a part of her suicidal plan,especially when there is a need to follow her intuition. At the very beginning,when she is looking for the right dress, in which she would draw people’sattention, her parted lips are accompanied by her eyes and nostrils which are “afragment more open than usual”
7
. Lises eagerness to achieve her objective
3
Spark, 1994, p. 9
4
Spark, 1994, p. 9
5
Spark, 1994, p. 10
6
Spark, 1994, p. 10
7
Spark, 1994, p. 10
- 3 -

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