Sea Story is about the main character Harold who is raised
The storyline is arranged in a chronological order, beginning with Harold’s birth and childhood, to his meeting with the beautiful marine biologist Laura, and ending with his death. In between these events a rather radical change of the story’s perspective takes place. The point-of-view changes from Harold to his drift bottle which we follow on it’s journey.
The narrator is third person and omniscient. At first, the narrator seems limited to Harold’s point-of-view, because we don’t get acquainted with other’s thoughts.
”He thought she would never know how witty he was, how eloquent,….”
(Line 55, page 2)
Here we are explicitly given insight in Harold’s thoughts, but Laura’s and other’s thought are left to our speculation. With that said, the narrator freely disengages from Harold’s point-of-view to the drift bottle’s, and along with the bottles disintegration, the narrator becomes completely unrestricted:
“He held it up to the light, solemnly, and then dropped it into the water where it moved, apparently purposefully, away.
It travelled far. It rode south to North Anglia…“ (line 95-97, page 3)
Up until line 97 the point-of-view is with Harold, but then suddenly changes to the bottle’s.
”Harold married a fellow poet, […] Laura had died long ago, […] as the planet became more and more inimical to human life.” (line 131-135, page 4)
In this last paragraph the narrator is free of time and and other restrictions. Because it can choose who or what to focus on according to the needs of the story. Consequently, the narrator must be omniscient. Further more, it also makes the narrator unreliable, because it withholds information about Laura’s affection or the lack thereof for Harold, which I would classify as relevant information.
Harold is the protagonist of the story, but we are not told much about his looks, occupation, age etc. We know that he is connected to Oxford, has studied English literature and that he is a teacher. Accordingly, he is fond of Literature and poetry. This propensity is not unanticipated, due to what’s told about his childhood and upbringing. To wit Harold has followed his mother’s footsteps in becoming a teacher in literature. Not only his affection for literature is apart of his inherited disposition. Harold’s affection for the nature and particularly the sea, is founded on his upbringing in the coastal town Filey in Yorkshire, where his parents permeated him with, what could be called, “the spirit of the sea”:
“They took him walking along the beach, and scrambling on the Brigg and fishing from rocks and with lines over the side of rowing boats.” (line 9, page 1)
When he meets Laura he “falls in love at first sight,” then he becomes uncertain and in short of words. His reaction, and his search of her presence, is almost as taken out of a movie, he is shy to engage in conversation, and do not dare even think about her:
”He was full of desire and yet hardly dared to imagine making love to her.”
(Line 59, page 2)
Harold is naïve, he seems to believe that writing her will somehow seal their relationship – a relationship which has lasted only a few days. Just as well, he is naïve, he is an old-fashioned romantic. Sending a message in a bottle is this romanticized ideal of letting fate carry the message.
Byatt’s story relies significantly on poetic language and verse quotations and references. Both John Masefield and Robert Burns are recited in the story and a reference to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is made. In common they are all poets who are enamoured by the sea, which reflects Harold’s own affection. The quotations help us, the readers, to understand Harold’s aesthetic understanding and view on the nature and the world. We might even get the idea, when reading, that it could be Harold himself as the writer, although it is written in third person. When Harold thinks about his mother, the words of Marvell come along:
”The wind would blast them or wrap itself round them, and his mother would quote Masefield. “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.””
(line 19, page 1)
These words have made a great impact on Harold and they a part of him. This intertextual reference gives us a greater perception of his relation to his mother and of him as a person. Harold quotes Burns in his bottle message addressed to Laura:
“And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry –
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;”
(line 82-85, page 3)
Harold expresses himself through this poem, because it is the best way to encapsulate his feelings. What Harold doesn’t realize is the poem’s environmental issues. A metaphor which, an enthusiastic marine biologist, probably would not receive well. Quite ironically the message ultimately does indeed end up misinterpreted.
A great part of the short story is Nature
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