Hessler 1 Chelce Hessler Booker Prize Winners Dr. Heather Levy Research Paper 12.05.
2013 Between Realities: A Perceptual Dissection of Offshore It is a common, almost innately human, hope to believe in the triumphant power of our own perception – that somehow if we are willing to devote ourselves wholly to an idea it will manifest as truth. But, in spite of our narrow, subjective lenses, there is an objective external reality, one that will ultimately triumph when pitted against our own finite, flawed vision of “truth.” It is this failure to accept what is when it isn‟t what we want, this instinctive and seemingly selfdefensive weakness, that plagues us; by eschewing genuineness, we sacrifice any chance of being genuinely happy, instead committing ourselves to a deep suffering rooted in our refusal to accept the disparity between what we are and what we want to be. In Penelope Fitzgerald‟s
Offshore, this blindness lies at the heart of each character‟s hardships
– Richard‟s denial in recognizing his deteriorating marriage and
Hessler 2 myopically dutiful social protocol, Nenna‟s inability to cope with her inadequacy as a wife and mother, Maurice‟s numb detachment, halfhidden by his superficial presence, even Penelope Fitzgerald‟s own impulse to create a world steeped in such bleak denial - all of these are circumstances of chronic desperation, wrought by the painful erosion of well-worn illusions and the underlying rejection of the pervasive nature of concrete reality. The concept of reality is a question of infinite complexity that has fascinated and bewildered thinking minds for centuries. Theories regarding the metaphysical nature of shared existence are rampant, and many contradictory theories have each proven to exhibit a reasonable degree of plausibility. That said, for the purposes of this paper, “reality” will be defined as an objective truth that exists external to the realm of the subjective (and thus without influence from the perception of the subject). In other words, “The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are” (“Primacy of Existence”). Though this definition, provided by philosopher and author Ayn Rand, may seem
With this working definition of reality now established. “The real is what does not depend on my idea of it“ (Fink The Lacanian
Subject 160). have similarly stated that reality “is a world that is resolutely independent of the ego‟s desires and needs” (Casey 9). we see him less as the glorified commander holding the ships and their inhabitants together at the seams. at first glance. As his narrative progresses. and more as an empty vessel offering himself to be filled only by his usefulness to others – a misguided
. simply. appears to be nearly immune to the plight of perceptual dissonance. Psychologists. you lose reality” (61). too. though. after spending years dissecting the theoretical micromechanics of human behavior and interpretation.Hessler 3 to be a harsh depiction that excludes rather than explains our autonomy. When you are caught in your perceptions and ideas. Richard. or. as Jacques Lacan said. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Your concept or perception of reality is not reality. Seemingly the sturdiest character in the uncertain lapse known as the Reach.
we can move forward to a more intimately examine the tragedy and brilliance of Penelope Fitzgerald‟s Offshore. intellectuals across varying disciplines have examined life and come to similar conclusions.
Richard does not think or question the reasoning behind his actions at all. the often extolled. 'What has happiness got to do with it?' (82). reporting and fit for duty. Binding altruistic obligation. the act of providing for his community is beneficially baseless. The dangers of such drastically unwitting obedience are dire. He does not help because it will cultivate a better living environment for him or his neighbors. such a servant of seemingly unshakable “duty. To Richard.' He looked at her in amazement. says Ayn Rand: The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher
. yet rarely questioned burden metastasizes in Richard. observe the following exchange between him and Nenna: [Nenna] knew that he was good. but little else. and on the whole Reach. 'I shouldn't be any happier.” he is.Hessler 4 cadet. and kept an eye on everybody. you know. or even because he thinks it will enrich the lives of those around him. Richard‟s rotely internalized dogma is laid bare in the brief and devastating damnation “Duty is what no one else will do at the moment” (Fitzgerald 6). In one passage early on. Rather. if everything on Grace worked perfectly. becoming a senseless substitute for purpose of being.
without regard to any personal goal. desire or interest.Hessler 5 authority. motive.
. but in the psychopathological sense of the term. he is self-centered.” (111) Indeed. All of his relationships and interactions throughout Offshore are imbued with obligation. nor can he fathom leaving the Reach in order to save their
. but because he does not understand that his unflinching sense of duty is what has caused it. (Rand 107) She further goes on to state that these tendencies are symptomatic of an overwhelming lack of harmony with one‟s own external reality: A disciple of “duty” looks inward. the anti-concept “duty” destroys the concept of reality: an unaccountable. i. “self-centered” in this context means: “self-doubt-centered. in contrast to reality and often to the detriment of his own happiness.e. Though he senses that his wife is unhappy with their lifestyle (a vivid reality that deserves to be acknowledged and acted upon). Richard‟s world is shrouded in doubt. not in the rational-existential. he can only dig himself deeper. concerned with a self cut off from reality.Hessler
…If one were to accept it. Perhaps the foremost portrayal of this is his fading marriage. he cannot reconcile this. supernatural power takes precedence over facts and dictates one‟s actions regardless of context or consequences.
in which he perceives that it is not only possible. Richard took off his slippers and put on his black shoes again. but she disappeared into the spare cabin. her dresses had to be kept. but because Richard refuses to acknowledge what he actually must do (choose between Lord Jim and Laura). and his personal duties by not giving up on the ship that is making her miserable. unfortunately. where.Hessler
marriage. „Why?‟ „You look so pretty. This creates an imagined predicament for Richard. I want other people to see you. This impossible. invented “reality” is obviously contradictory at the most fundamental level. Lollie. and they went out. the mark of obligation masquerading as love. he takes hollow half-measures in a weak attempt to ease her unhappiness: „I want to take you out to dinner. Sadly. but necessary for him to satisfy both his marital duties by keeping his wife happy. this divergence from reality seems least apparent
.‟ he said.' said Laura. I daresay they‟ll wonder why on earth you agreed to go out with a chap like me. (Fitzgerald 50) Even this scene is mired in a sense of bleakness.‟ … „You don't really want to go.
however. In a telling exchange between Martha and Tilda. that is at the root of his sadness. he finds himself thrust into a rare moment of clarity. She had her new coat on. yes.Hessler
to the people inside of the charade. Her delusions came. Richard finally sees just how far apart the life he thought he was living was from his actual external existence. Nenna too struggled to live in accordance with actuality.' 'Do you think Ma notices?' 'Oh. he recognizes that it
was the fallacy of perception. Straight away after he'd come back from work! Where's the relaxation in that? What sort of life is that for a man to lead?' 'What was she wearing?' 'I couldn't make out. on Grace. He sadly reflects “I couldn‟t really believe she wouldn‟t like [living on Lord
Jim]” (80). A few boats over. of his belief that they could be happy in spite of all the evidence otherwise. the young girls scrutinize the relationship: 'He looks tired all the time now. everybody does. I saw him taking Laura out to dinner yesterday evening. In this moment. but when Laura does eventually leave him.
.' 'But you saw the strain on his features!' 'Oh. and maybe for only this moment. In coming a step closer to realizing reality. not from a passive blindness.' (53) Richard continues clinging instinctively to his duties.
they can distort. transform. This deference is not uncommon. and independently look after herself and her boat. (Baumeister 2) The reason why people default to this particular form of coping is also the reason it is vitally damaging to human existence. Such processes are commonly called defense mechanisms. be a present and caring mother to her children. In such cases. The unknowing synthesis of reality provides people an ostensible escape from their truthful. undesirable conditions. “All Defense Mechanisms share two common properties: They can operate unconsciously. or falsify reality in some way” (“Anxiety and Ego Defense Mechanisms”). which manifests in a form that most closely resembles regression. However. it is necessary for the self to have some mechanism or process to defend itself against the threatening implications of this event.Hessler
but an unrelenting. psychologically speaking: …A particular crisis in self-perception may arise when an internal or external event occurs that clearly violates the preferred view of self. When Nenna is confronted with her own deficiencies in dealing with the situation of having to repair her broken marriage. she slips into a state of self-subversive panic. unconscious resistance at the core of her psychological being. the resolution of these circumstances often requires real action on the part of the
the universal feeling of
subject. the consequences of which she can only escape from by regressing further and further until she feels that she has devolved into a sufficiently comfortable state by eliminating all traces of the looming threat of adulthood. impulsively marrying Edward.is not just a relapse into infantilism.. Says Jung: “The patient's regressive tendency. her disinterest in her children‟s schooling and basic care. whose efficacy is wholly ruined by the fact that they are basing their concept around artificial constructs. the purchase of Grace. selfish. her hasty and painfully strained reunion with Edward. Abandoning her violin-playing. In an embodiment of the defense mechanism known as regression. Nenna begins to make choices that serve only her own fleeting. In Offshore this disparity becomes alarmingly apparent in Nenna‟s renunciation of her maternal role. her entire adult life becomes clear as a chronological composition of reckless decisions. but an attempt to get at something necessary. immature impulses with little regard to how they will affect anyone else. her legitimate wish to relinquish her parental responsibilities to Edward‟s mother – when examined as such.. erratic. her persistent and unfounded faith in his failing financial competence.. namely her children.
' 'Give anything.' 'Give you what? You're always saying that. she is consciously choosing to continue demanding unreasonably disproportionate attention from other people.' She didn't know why she wanted this so much. I don't know what meaning you attach to it. fueled more by anger than compassion. she was homesick for that. of protection. Her glimpses of recognition of her failures to exist as a functional adult being are a sign that at least. 'You don't want me. you'd have been with me all this time. the sense of security. “Nenna was a child again. All
.' Edward repeated.” (Jung 32) Nenna‟s regression is no secret to those who know her. even her marriage was going” (Fitzgerald 67).Hessler 11
childhood innocence. of trust. pleading interactions with Edward: 'Please give. of reciprocated love. this includes herself. it was the sensation of being given to. does not hesitate to spitefully articulate the pathologically skewed root of these needs. (75) Edward. in some part. 'if you did. not for themselves. Not presents. Disappointingly. either. This is most apparent in her desperate. She felt her responsibilities slipping away one by one.
is sadly misguided. in her regressive state. Even Edward‟s one effort to prove his affections. The gift.' 'I know. is not at all about giving or receiving. thwarted both by a lack of fortune and a lack of intimacy (poignantly captured when Maurice quietly points out. As Jaques Lacan said. and there was no-one to tell them this” (75). more specifically. Fitzgerald writes “…the marriage that was being described was different from the one they had known. His condemnation of the irreparable distance in their relationship is as hurtful as it is precise. practical needs and her juvenile. thus enabling her psychological deceptions to continue. Edward‟s lamentation of the bottle breaking shows just how ignorant he is of both Nenna‟s tangible.' 'What do I give her now?'” (110). James. warped psychological needs: “'I came here to give her a present. but about showing that he cares. “Just because people ask you for something doesn't mean that's what they really want you to give them” (Fink Clinical
Introduction 20). the bottle of perfume that he brings to Grace. a childhood token symbolizing love and adoration
that. it is about showing that he is willing to take care of her. “'I don't think Nenna uses scent at all'” (109). for Nenna.Hessler 12
you've ever cared about is being approved of. indeed bore almost no resemblance to it. like a little girl at a party' (75).
The most palpable suffering that arises as a result of this comes from Martha.Hessler 13
This divergence from reality.' (86)
. however necessary it may be to Nenna‟s psychological self-preservation. who has effectively reverted into a child role with her self-adopted adolescence. 'You look a mess. in the face of being emotionally and fundamentally abandoned by her mother. (Fitzgerald 17)
„Ma. is not without its truly innocent victims. Illustrations of this in the novel are both numerous and heartbreaking: The crucial. From Heinrich's point of view. where are your shoes?' asked Martha. moment when children realise that their parents are younger than they are had long since been passed by Martha. almost tragic undertone. must take the helm as the psychically oldest member of the houseboat. you hardly look like a mother at all. and circumstantially imperative sense of independence) but also Nenna. who. taking care of not only Tilda (who has hewn a remarkable. drawing her mother aside and speaking in an urgent.
and went down the companion. giving Nenna no reason to develop beyond her defense mechanisms. further cushioning and
. I‟m trying to get my mother to dress and behave properly. Louise. internalized and then regurgitated with grossly insulting piety: “It was quite wrong to come to depend too much upon one's children” (18). Armed at all points against the possible disappointments of her life. she had forgotten for some time the necessity for personal happiness. cementing Nenna‟s estrangement from reality is the following thought. worried at the gaps in her education. who seems to make all the decisions and the arrangements for her and the girls to move to Canada. Louise steps in as the adult figure. For Nenna.‟ (87) And perhaps most devastatingly: Martha left them. „Help me.Hessler 14
„Maurice. conscious of the responsibilities of protecting her mother and sister. (87) In sharp contrast. the rift between her reality and her “reality” has become so daunting that even when she does come to a resolution of sorts it is her sister.‟ said Martha. anxious about nuns and antique dealers. a reflection of hers offered like an acridly ironic shell of truth.
betraying in a casual hour what was never intended to be shown” (36). You. Maurice explains to Nenna: It's right for us to live where we do. Willis who's half an artist and half a longshoreman. reveal the depths of the pained understanding in which he has come to live. and “He told the sombre truths of the lighthearted. Seen by others as the dazzling entertainer. stagnated. Richard who can't give up being half in the Navy. In a telling passage. the consummate confidante. between land and water. my dear. but full of sorrow. then there's Martha who's half a child and half a girl. Maurice‟s role in the Reach is that of an odd sage. fragmented recognition thereof. brimming with wisdom. Lines like “Tenderly responsive to the self-deceptions of others. One of the most intriguing figures in Offshore is the endlessly enigmatic Maurice. but his solitary. a cat
. innocently sly and sincerely gentle. the only place in which she may ever learn to find solace.Hessler 15
reinforcing her dangerously unsustainable pseudo-reality. you're half in love with your husband. he was unfortunately too well able to understand his own” (36). making clear that what separates Maurice from the other members of the Reach is not his shared obliviousness to reality.
he had been going to do so. The Path. . though seemingly a journey of clarity and simplicity.' He stopped before describing himself. practice the Noble Eightfold Path. because sooner or later it will turn into suffering. all composite things are described as suffering…There is no point in celebrating joy. this cognitive process of realizing the nature of existence is seen as the ultimate (and only) way to end suffering by accepting it as reality. joy. this
. (29) As the path progresses and the learner evolves. Only suffering is real. if.. If you do. therefore. Wherever the Noble Eightfold Path is practiced. peace. Joy is an illusion. is actually tremendously formidable and demanding in its implications. the Four Noble Truths. Whatever comes together eventually has to come apart. indeed. the final aspect of the core of Buddhism. this internalized acceptance of suffering blooms into an enduring tranquility that instills the disciple with peace and wholeness. however. Suffering is a black cloud that envelops everything. „The question is whether you want to liberate yourself. Renowned Buddhist scholar Thich Nhat Hanh writes.Hessler 16
who's half alive and half dead . “The Buddha [said]. and insight are there‟” (56). If the process is terminated early. (38) In Buddhist philosophy. It is referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path.
his course for realization and actualization has been set. “The barge took a great roll. but when he imagined living without friends. people. Rather than strive to eliminate the concepts and fixations that have brought this suffering upon him. Hanh writes “Once the door of awareness has been opened. and so he stalls. It becomes clear that Maurice is living in a suspended liminality. but he finds himself paralyzed with fear after only the first few steps. you cannot close it. he clings to them because they are all he knows: “Maurice. a gruesomely constructed collage of halftruths that he cannot accept and half-deceptions that he will not surrender. “Only Maurice was made fast to the wharf” (11). in the way of business. instead leaving the student in a state of disorientation and depression in which s/he cannot cope with the suffering they are facing because they‟ve not yet learned how.Hessler 17
understanding will be severely deformed. The wounds of war in me are still not all healed” (16). Maurice has found himself at a crossroads. waiting for the job which never came.
. At one point. rather than too few. Fitzgerald even observes that of all the boats on the Reach. and Maurice could hear the hanger with his good suit in it. he sat down with the whisky in the dark” (Fitzgerald 107). knew too many. held captive by the grim truth in finally glimpsing his own suffering. sliding from one end of its rail to the other” (108).
Maurice. unable to take the whole weight of the barge. this premonition proves to hold a tragic. pulled free and parted from the shore. relics of correspondence between Penelope and those who she trusted most implicitly to understand her and love her. one begins to wonder what Offshore may have meant to its creator on a personal level. with the two of them clinging on for dear life. For Maurice. in fact. are. Maurice's anchor had wrenched clear of the mud. morbidly literal fate: With that last heave.Hessler 18
His rejection of reality has condemned him to a misery that he can neither embrace nor escape. and all of the characters to an extent. “Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. so intricately interwoven through their disassociation from reality. If we don‟t it isn‟t holy at all. why did she create these characters with these afflictions? Only in reading her letters. Nenna. and the mooring-ropes. It was in this way that Maurice. a work of fiction but rather more an instrument of catharsis to help the author cope with a time in her life that
. does one begin to see that Offshore is not. Of this Hanh says. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering” (20). first and foremost. put out on the tide. (Fitzgerald 111) In finding that the narratives of such ostensibly disparate characters as Richard.
According to her son-in-law. a brutally telling portrait of her impressions about her own flaws. home to Nenna. the houseboat. (27) With Fitzgerald‟s daughters. the printed letters begin “the year after Grace sank. Reality dances with imagination in a treacherous way. was actually a place where Fitzgerald herself lived and lost. when she was putting her life back together after eight years of free fall…” (14). the implication becomes obvious. as does Stripey the cat. but there
. Tina and Maria. games are being played with remembered facts. though not with the feelings beneath them. revealing that the fictional Grace. she does not speak explicitly to any insecurities about her maternal competence. He writes: [Offshore] was sometimes painful to read for her family.Hessler 19
has been commonly accepted as her “lowest point” (Dooley 37). Martha and Tilda. In the letters she writes to her daughters. the adult characters invented or composite. who edited the collection. All art. and the two little girls are called Tina and Maria in the manuscript. appears as itself. Fitzgerald identifies herself primarliy with Nenna. probably bought for its name as much as its cheapness. there is much in it that was recognisably the case: „Grace‟. originally being cast to play Tilda and Martha.
It is as though she feels that her love is a burden. It‟s so queer with no voice coming from your room” (67). And then I think of all you have to do…Getting old is not to be recommended. that Fitzgerald adopts. Do you wake every morning and check through a list of things that must be done before you go to bed again – mine is very trifling – …and one way or another I am terribly behind – terribly. “I‟m afraid I‟m not at all successful. of penance. and furthermore one that she feels no right in passing along. and naturally descends into dependence. she writes. As she ages. desperately aching to compensate for some perceived lapse in maternal presence or inappropriate dependence
. in not getting on your nerves: but I do love you very much.Hessler 20
is a tone of guilt. (114) The feeling of atonement and indebtedness that permeates these letters paints Fitzgerald as a figure of eternal contrition. who. I enclose the cheque feeling guilty as always at leaving everything to you to do. as a mother. To Tina. even. her tone becomes more explicitly wistful and apologetic: Dearest Tina. but it‟s so wonderful to have kind daughters – wonderful. had just gone off to school. at this point.
From Fitzgerald‟s son-in-law: I was talking one day to Maria about the (often furious) parental rows she remembers from the early years of her childhood. she created a world in which her feelings were substantiated by a fictionalized dramatization of the mother-daughter relationships she was troubled by. such a failure never occurred. over bills unpaid. and about how secure the children nonetheless felt in the love of two kind.
. intelligent and funny people who simply couldn‟t manage the world. or where they would be going to school. in the children‟s minds. The irony of this is that. but from her slanted perception of what constitutes a “good mother.” Unable to recognize that her emotions were in discord with reality. rather she is a projection of Fitzgerald‟s emotional concept of self – disorganized. there was a kind of adventure in it… (14) The suffering that Penelope Fitzgerald has endured results not from any legitimately poor parenting on her part. and Desmond‟s drinking. Offshore represents Fitzgerald‟s artistic confession and rationalization of sentiments that she cannot otherwise justify in the context of reality. Nenna is not Penelope Fitzgerald. despite their best efforts.Hessler 21
sometime in the past. so that it mattered less that they never knew where they would be living next. repossessions looming.
But reality persists. at last. the tangibly personified existence of the anxieties that Fitzgerald had carried for years. for the state of disillusionment one experiences when their deceptions are. Its deceptive warmth seems at times. In an attempt to both explore and escape from the feelings she could not reconcile in reality. a metaphor. Nenna‟s denial is tragic. the consequences of refusing reality are vastly at work. inescapable. you have to turn around” (Hanh 61). Illusion is an enticing and powerful force. leaving their hopes of happiness nearly shipwrecked. It is only through the invention of this being. it does not ask permission. Fitzgerald created a fictional character. but made sympathetic at last. you can see only its shadow. For the inhabitants of the Reach. ruthlessly ripped away. Many readers of Offshore have speculated about whether or not the two men aboard eventually die. a certain
. and disillusioning. perhaps. whose inability to cope with her reality evokes empathy. it was only through the lens of fiction that she was finally able to see the truth. The book ends with Maurice being thrown out into the ocean. but it is never malicious or cruel. “As long as the tree is behind you. nor does it require acceptance to exist. that she could finally see herself as someone worthy of forgiveness. If you want to touch the reality.Hessler 22
disappointing. not abstractly vilified.
In spite of a persistent reality. even in asking it. and as such. some people will simply always cling to the idea that they will never have to see the bitter void of finality as long as they keep focusing on the glimmer of hope amidst the waves. There is no after. Let me repeat: The book ends with Maurice being thrown out into the ocean. to take what is and invent what should be? People crave resolution. the ultimate fate of the ship becomes a curious question. So why might the reader feel compelled to create something more. no reality to be resolved. But. there is no life to be debated. and optimism is obstinate.
. the book exists.Hessler 23
condemnation of a life anchored in the fragile world of fantasy. In reality there is only this book. the book ends.
d. "Freud's Theory of Reality: A Critical Account.
Casey. Print. 1972.Hessler 24
"Anxiety and Ego-Defense Mechanisms. Undoing. and Denial.6 (1998): 1081-1184. Sublimation. Edward." Anxiety and Ego-Defense
Fink. 12 Nov. Jun. 4. "Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical Findings in Modern Social Psychology: Reaction Formation. Roy.
Baumeister.." JSTOR. No. 2008. Projection.
Dooley. The Review of Metaphysics. Web. Web. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and
. Displacement. 24 Nov. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 12 Nov.
2008. and Penelope Fitzgerald. So I Have Thought of You: The
Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald. n. Isolation. 2013.edu." Journal
of Personality 66. n. Terence. Bruce. Web. Volume 25. London: Fourth Estate. 2013.d. fortlewis.
: Princeton University Press. Princeton.J. 1995. N. Mass.: Harvard University Press.
. The Lacanian subject: between language and jouissance. Cambridge. 1997. Print. Print.
Ayn. "Primacy of Existence vs. Web. 1999. C. Who Needs It?. Print. n. The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching." Ayn Rand
Lexicon. 2013. Ayn. Penelope. Print. Hull.. New York: Broadway Books. Thich Nhat. Print. New ed.
Rand. New York: H. Offshore. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Philosophy.
. G.Hessler 26
Fitzgerald. and R.
Rand. 20 Nov. Ayn Rand Institute. 1987.
Hanh. Practice of Psychotherapy. Print. Primacy of Consciousness. F. 1993. C. 1982. London: Routledge.d.