Chapter One Charlie’s Exploration of Emotional Dilemma in Romantic Narrative
1.1 Fragile Normalcy: Charlie’s State Boredom
Charlie, freelanced, grows up in a village next to Stratford, Warwickshire and lives in north Clapham after his mother’s death. He is the only child of his musician father and community-nurse mother. Although he is uncultured in his childhood, he has a passion for electronics. He can build simple computers and program them himself in his early teens. When he is seventeen, he is persuaded by his teacher to study physics, but he feels bored soon and takes an interest in imaginary people after reading some literary books, such as Orwell’s The Last Man in Europe and Tolstoy’s All’s Well that Ends Well.
Miranda, Charlie’s upstairs neighbor, is a doctoral scholar of social history. In appearance, Miranda is fair-skinned, with a long, thin face and light brown hair, and is very beautiful and lovely. In terms of personality, Miranda always comes across as a peaceful and gentle girl. She always seems calm no matter what happened, never surprises, and never loses her sense of proportion in the process of dealing with people. At the same time, she has her own views on history, public politics and literature, and never follows the crowd. Consequently, Charlie is impressed by this smart and lovely girl. He often finds opportunities to spend time with Miranda.
1.2 Precipitating Event: Charlie’s Awakening from State Boredom
In order to find out Charlie’s determination to change his life, it is vital to figure out the precipitating event, an event disrupting the normalcy directly and serving as “something provoking a ‘why’ question and associated activation of the motivational system”(Hogan 77).
One day, after a dispute over Thatcher’s decision to the expedition to the Falklands Islands with Miranda, Charlie goes downstairs and pours a glass of wine. As he is going to go to the bedroom for a rest, he hears the laughter of Miranda and Adam upstairs. Here, the laughter of Miranda and Adam serves as the eliciting conditions activating Charlie’s emotion system. Hogan believes that we will not react emotionally to simple perceptual facts. On the contrary, we will react to facts with some meaning and explain these facts in some way (Hogan 15). Accordingly, the reason why Charlie cares so much about the noise upstairs is that he loves Miranda, but Miranda might have betrayed him, which makes Charlie angry. In the dark, Charlie seems to have witnessed Miranda’s immoral act with Adam. Charlie’s imagination of Miranda and Adam is his expressive outcome of anger. From the perspective of narratology, this is a typical unnatural narrative. According to Jan Albert’s explanation, unnatural narrative refers to physically, logically and humanly impossible scenes and events. When Adam and Miranda are upstairs, the narrator Charlie is downstairs. It is impossible for him to witness the scene, but he vividly describes how he witnesses it. “This not only goes beyond the ability of human beings but also violates the principles of physics” (Shang, “Scientific-Ethical Selection” 66). Thus, McEwan’s use of unnatural narrative techniques aims to reveal the unnatural nature of this event, especially the chaos it has caused in the ethical situation. Besides, the employment of an unnatural narrative also highlights Charlie’s anger and sets the stage for the development of the story.
Chapter Two Gorringe’s Exploration of Emotional Dilemma in Desire Narrative
2.1 Fragile Normalcy: Gorringe’s Loneliness
Gorringe, a high school student, is a typical troubled teenager in McEwan’s works. He lives alone in a dingy bedsit in Salisbury, for his parents have gone abroad to work. They have intended to leave Gorringe to take care of their house, but finally, they rents a bedsit for him because they are afraid of Gorringe’s ability to look it after. Without his parents’ guiding in his adolescence, Gorringe gradually falls into the mire of loneliness. Actually, he wants to make friends with others, but nobody is willing to be a friend of him; thus, Gorringe only lives with his loneliness day by day.
Mariam, a student in the same school as Gorringe, is Miranda’s best friend in the novel, and the story of Mariam is narrated by Miranda via flashback. When Miranda is nine years old, a new classmate comes to her school. Her name is Mariam, a lovely girl from Pakistan with beautiful eyes and black hair. Considering Mariam’s arrival in a totally new environment, Miranda feels embarrassment and discomfort of Mariam, and she wants to be her first friend of Mariam and introduces the surroundings and classmates to her. She is fascinated by this unique girl, especially her quietness and intimacy. She loves her.
2.2 Precipitating Event: Gorringe’s Indulgence in Loneliness
Everything goes normal from now on until one thing horrible comes about, which could be regarded as a precipitating event according to Hogan, and the fragile normalcy is broken accordingly.
One night, Mariam comes back to home from school alone, which can be regarded as an emotional trigger to evoke Gorringe’s emotional goal of desire in a state of emotional dilemma of loneliness, for he has been attracted by Mariam’s charm of exotica at his first sight of Mariam and he wants to be a friend of Mariam. He never confides his affection to Mariam, and he think it is a good opportunity to express it. Since it is late and dark, Mariam is a little worried and she notices that someone is following her. As the man draws nearer, Mariam sees the man being Peter Gorringe, who is unpopular at school and lives alone because his parents have gone abroad. She is relieved for a while with no idea of Gorringe’s dragging her behind a brick shed where a lawn mower is kept.
At first, Gorringe makes a profession of affection to Mariam. However, Mariam rejects him and is scared by Gorringe’s rude way of dragging her. Triggered by the darkness of night and Mariam’s rejection, Gorringe’s pain of being isolated is stimulated. Gorringe feels an unprecedented emotion of being rejected by the world. He loses reason to restrict his desire. Consequently, his desire is distorted and drives him to rape Marriam. In this case, Gorringe’s crime seems to have been committed without enough awareness, thus with only partial responsibility.
Chapter Three Miranda’s Exploration of Emotional Dilemma in Parent-Child Attachment Narrative .................... 49
3.1 Fragile Normalcy: Miranda’s Spiritual Trauma ...................... 51
3.2 Precipitating Event: Miranda’s Awakening from Spiritual Trauma ................... 54
3.3 Pursuit of Family Love: Miranda’s Struggle Against Spiritual Trauma ............ 57
3.4 Idealized Normalcy: Miranda’s Spiritual Recovery ........................... 61
Conclusion ................................ 65
Chapter Three Miranda’s Exploration of Emotional Dilemma in Parent-Child Attachment Narrative
3.1 Fragile Normalcy: Miranda’s Spiritual Trauma
Miranda, a doctoral scholar of social history, is the protagonist Charlie’s upstairs neighbor at the beginning of the story. She is twenty-two years old with light brown hair and a slim face, young and lovely, ten years junior than Charlie. Miranda always smiles with her eyes narrowed, and it is a pleasant thing to talk with her, for she often deals with everything with ease. On the other side, Miranda is independent and smart, and she owns her particular view for history and society; as a scholar of social history, she is more cultivated than Charlie in history and literature. Charlie is attracted by Miranda’s specialty. He sometimes looks at her “in wonder”; and is pressed by Miranda’s “impression of being at ease with the possibilities” and her “pitch-perfect neutrality” (McEwan, 5). Obviously, Charlie falls in love with her deeply, and they gets into an intimate relationship later.
Mark, a poor boy abandoned by his parents, comes to Charlie’s house, for Charlie ever witnessed the act of Mark’s parents hitting and smacking him and gave Mark his address in case he suffered domestic violence again. Mark comes to Charlie’s house in a night when Charlie is talking about Gorringe’s orientation with Adam and Miranda. Mark wears filthy shorts and T-shirt with a brown envelope in his hand, which is a note written by Mark’s father. It reads “you wanted him”, so Charlie knows that Mark has suffered maltreating again. Mark tries to be brave and strong, while his inner struggle revealed from the impression of crying betrays him. Miranda comforts him with soothing tone and Adam tries to release Mark’s worries with a proposition to eat the breakfast.
This thesis takes the theory of Patrick Colm Hogan’s affective narrative as the theoretical framework; analyzes the characters’ exploration of their emotional dilemmas in Machines Like Me by the isolation of the affective narrative patterns and their emotional structure of fragile normalcy, precipitating event, pursuit of emotional goal and idealized normalcy, revealing modern people’s emotional situations in modern society; and reaches the conclusion that the rapid development of artificial intelligence has led to the emotional alienation of contemporary people confronted with an unprecedented emotional dilemma. Besides, the analysis of the affective narrative in Machines Like Me reveals that this is a work about how modern people pursue personal goal of happiness in an era when “our bright new toys began to rust before we could get them home and life went on much as before”; thus, it emphasizes the importance of emotions in one’s pursuit of a more delightful life.
The emotional goals of the three characters in Machines Like Me are all related to happiness: romantic love, desire and family love. Bearing the pursuit of emotional goal in their mind, Charlie, Gorringe and Miranda all overcome their emotional dilemmas in the end. First of all, pursuit of romantic love saves Charlie from his emotional dilemma in state boredom, which refers to a state of lacking meaning or purpose of life. It is a common emotional dilemma in modern society. Rapid and iterative update of high-tech products throws Charlie into a tedious and boring life without purpose and meaning. Triggered by the threats of an artificial human Adam in his intimate relationship with Miranda, Charlie begins to pursue his emotional goal of romantic love and find the meaning of life. Under the obstacles made by Adam, Charlie gradually realizes the importance of love and enduring efforts. In his pursuit of romantic love, he gets rid of the emotional dilemma in state boredom with a clear self-awareness and honest efforts, and eventually finds inner peace in a restless society and gets married with Miranda.