Twisted: More on First-Person Narration from Bert Ashe

*Given its attention to first-person narration, this prompt may enrich your response to “Choose Your Door.”

What does it mean to present a first-person narrative? How does that work? Writing from the first-person—using “I”—means more than merely an autobiographical point of view. It suggests a cultural view, a political view, a world view and, more than anything else, a personal view: when a text is written from the first-person, everything that is described is consciously presented through the subjective, socio-cultural position held by that narrator. And one of the positions important to me, as narrator of Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, is that I insisted on being as honest as I could about what I know and what I don’t know. Like any other memoir, this is a remembered text; I didn’t want to make the events I described sound more concrete than I knew them to be.

So when I talk, in Twisted, about the time a young woman I was dating urged me not to grow dreadlocks, I describe it this way: “I wasn’t nearly ready to make such a drastic move, whether or not I had ever even met her, but the fact remains: No matter how much her words actually did count, whether her urgings were foundational or merely the basis for my own pathetic excuse not to do it, I didn’t grow dreadlocks” (20). Or, when I talk about Bob Marley, I don’t want to make his hair journey sound solid and linear when it simply wasn’t, so I describe him as having taken “various detours to dread, moving forward, sideways, back, then renewing his focus and getting locked for good. We can’t know for sure, but I have to believe that sometime in 1973, after years of indecision, he woke up one day, looked deeply into his bathroom mirror, and firmly and finally said, ‘I’m growing dreadlocks.’” Now, I’m pretty sure Bob Marley said no such thing, actually. But since I pointedly wanted to align his lock journey with my own—and I said that in my own bathroom mirror—I took my prerogative, as a first-person narrator, and, using the words, “I have to believe,” put the words “I’m growing dreadlocks” into Marley’s mouth, even though I also made it clearly obvious that I was doing so.

Those are the sorts of issues a first-person narrator must grapple with—unless he or she wants to simply present narrative events as unequivocal fact. Rigorous, interrogative first-person narration creates a text that is overtly and consciously—and obviously—being shaped and crafted by a flawed, imperfect, all-too-human persona.

Some readers, I would imagine, wouldn’t appreciate the uncertain and indeterminate nature of prose like this, since that uncertainty and indeterminacy might unsettle the reader. Other readers would, indeed, appreciate it, and would feel as if they were in capable narratorial hands, since, after all, life is messy and inherently uncertain in any sense. Which do you prefer? Why? If you even noticed, what’s your reaction to the “[r]igorous, interrogative first-person narration” in Twisted? And if you didn’t notice, what do you make of it, now that it’s been pointed out to you?

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