In his narrative The Long Voyage, Jorge Semprun tells about his voyage to a concentrated camp called “Buchenwald”, interspersing it with his memories of before and after the voyage. The peculiar detail about the book id the mode of its development: Semprun often uses switches between external to internal setting.
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What is more, this tool is used both for literary internal and external settings, e.g. physical locations, and for general notions, such as internal and external sides of politics. This shift plays an outstanding role in the plot’s presentation. It gives a chance for the author to compare and contrast many elements of the book including his external state as a character in the book and the stream of conscious in his narration.
The contrast between the external and internal, however, is not only used for intensifying the aspects of reality and its perception in different views; Semprun also tries to show the interdependence of global things and some particular notions. Showing that a person is just a small detail in the enormous system of the world, the author later transfers to the inner world of one individual, showing that it can be as great as a separate Universe.
The rapid changes of the setting, from internal to external, add an important complication to the narrative. Each change conveys a special message. In fact, the nature of human consciousness suggests that people think with images, and their order is never chronologically or logically organized. Thus, Semprun tried to express the stream of those images in his narrative, showing the importance of every thought.
Those images, however, are either described in detail, or rather blended. This points to the author’s inability or even unwilling to remember certain moments, e.g. those connected to his trauma. “…You can never erase this voyage. I dont know, really. For sixteen years I’ve tried to forget this voyage, and I did forget this voyage.” (Semprun, 23)
Semprun is addressing the reader here, subtly asking us to sympathize with what he’s feeling. After clarifying his emotions, Semprun then returns to continue his story with a series of dialogue between him and the guy from Semur, his companion throughout the narration.
This character, by the way, can be identified as fictional, as it was invented by Semprun to “keep him company” during the voyages’ repetition. The companion also helps the author to switch from internal to external, form the author’s thought to his companion’s vision of the thoughts.
The tool of contrasting the inside and outside also serves as an intensifier of author’s testimony. For example, in one of the episodes Semprun first describes the setting outside the boxcar, and then switches to the inside, describing how many people there are; he then expresses how unbearable it is to be one of them, and finally ends by describing the pain in his knee. “There is a cramming of the bodies into the boxcar, the throbbing pain in the right knee” (Semprun, 9).
Such development of vivid description from the general events to his very own feelings allows the Semprun to analyze every level of reality, showing the inconveniences, pain and fear, or simply his current emotions on each of them. What is more, it allows the reader not only to imagine, but also to feel the horror inside the boxcar. The impressiveness is supported by the contrast of fear and tension inside the boxcar and the beauty of the Moselle valley outside the window.
The people experiencing terror inside the vehicle observed the life of free and troubles people on their way, which intensified the effect. Such contrast is, however, rather dubious, as the “free” people outside the window were treated by Semprun as those who were politically dependent, and in perspective oppressed.
The reflections of the inside and outside change the traditional positions of both the writer and the reader. For instance, in some cases, the narrator seems to discover the development of plot together with the reader.
Indeed, in some scenes Semprun builds the narration in a way that shows his uncertainty in the situation, and the change of external and internal seems to help the narrator to find the solution. In other cases, the author seems to be watching the situation on the neutral situation, just like the described events are not happening to him.
He also uses statements, which were apparently made by him, but which are familiar to everyone who might read them: “What carries the most weight in your life are the people you’ve known” (Semprun, 29). This statement expressed by Semprun integrates the readers into the author’s world, with his unbelievable experience of knowing a number of people, and, most significantly, losing majority of them.
Indisputably, this allows us perceiving the world though the author’s eyes, which is untypical of most readers, who never had similar experiences. This makes the reader and the writer much closer than in traditional setting. When the author tells about the experience of fifteen years, the reader gets the feeling of being of the same age with author. Apparently, such effect is due to proper use of the mentioned tools.
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The relationship between inside and outside in the narration reflects various important notions. For instance, the notion of survival is presented in the contrast: in the most strict conditions people can be filled with desire to live, and this helps them to survive; on the other hand, even when a human has freedom, their inner world does not always survive.
This can be supported by the example of the German woman: both of her children were dead, and her own survival therefore was of no value to her. “”Both my sons,” she says, “both my sons were killed in the war.” She throws the bodies of her two sons at me for fodder, she takes refuge behind the lifeless bodies of her two sons killed in the war. She’s trying to make me believe that all a counter-balance for all my dead friends, for the weight of their ashes, she’s offering the weight of her own suffering.” (Semprun, 45).
Similarly, the author presents the notion of return. Having told about his will to return, he turns back to the global understanding of what is happening, and assumes that “perhaps one can’t take this voyage back in the opposite direction” (Semprun, 23).
Such conclusion serves as a contrast between the author’s thoughts and wills, and the real life; it reveals the very essence of human nature, which suggest that every individual has its own perception of the world, reflected in his mind; this perception, however, does not always coincide it the order of things.
As far as everyone is just a unit of a complex system, people cannot make the world work by their own rules. In this respect, the author shows how helpless he is in the flow of his destiny; he was not to decide whether to take the voyage or not.
Switching of the inner and outer is an effective tool used in the narration. In addition, it can be viewed as the author’s personal philosophy of world perception. Indeed, the contrasts of internal and external teach us to take into consideration the different factors of our life. In words of math analysis, they can be define as “dependent” and “independent” variables, which are either set by an individual, or appear according to the greater plan.
Semprun, J The Long Voyage New York: Overlook Press, 2005.