The Penelopiad: Do you think Penelope is a reliable narrator?

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The Penelopiad: Do you think Penelope is a reliable narrator?

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jun 4, 2014, 1:12pm

I'm wondering of any other readers found themselves lending more credence to Penelope's version of events, especially given that she kicks off the book talking about how she was wronged, and what she's about to share is the "real" story. I found myself predisposed to believe her.

But, as came up in another thread, she stands on some shaky ground from time to time.

jun 4, 2014, 1:12pm

For example: she spends a fair amount of time feeling guilty about the deaths of the 12 young women, and claims she'd intended to let Odysseus in on their collusion. I forget how much time passed (and don't have my copy handy to check), but she then spent some time pretending not to recognize Odysseus, rather than cluing him in. I know she had reasons for that, but it didn't quite add up for me.

jun 4, 2014, 1:54pm

The maids certainly don't think so:

E: "Only the twelve, my lady, who assisted,
Know that the Suitors you have not resisted."

P: "Point out those maids as feckless and disloyal..."

After all, Penelope's a match for Odysseus in the art of deception.

Redigeret: jun 4, 2014, 2:19pm

Stem: Is Penelope telling the 100% truth?

Nuværende optælling: Ja 0, Nej 8, Ved ikke 1

jun 4, 2014, 5:47pm

I think Penelope believes she is telling the 100% truth. We all do this to a certain extent. When we tell a story, we tell it from our viewpoint which we believe. And the next person can tell their version of the story. And as they say, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

jun 4, 2014, 8:39pm

When it comes to intentions, there is no truth, only stories. Intentions are about believing you are inherently good; often, no matter what mischief you make. So I suggest, as Sartre did (you are what you do), that instead of wasting your time trying to tell if people mean well, judge them solely by what they do. Here, Penelope allowed/urged her maidens to sleep with her suitors. It provided her with some information, and also worked against her stated purposes (when the unweaving was revealed). Though she knew that Eurycleia was smart, devious, and didn't care for her maidens, she allowed Eurycleia to paint for Odysseus the picture of what their actions had been in his absence. What was her motivation? About that, all we can ever do is theorize. The most straightforward answer: they'd been sleeping with HER suitors. As to the story that "Athena put her to sleep" at the crucial moment when she could have saved them, I give it the same truth-value as Leda's telling Tyndareus that she was pregnant because "While you were away fighting, Zeus came to me in the form of a swan."

jun 5, 2014, 12:00pm

This vote widget is pretty cool!

Redigeret: jun 8, 2014, 10:37am

She is telling HER truth.


With a side of rationalization.

But that is my truth ;-)

Redigeret: jun 10, 2014, 9:46am

So because Penelope could have been more straightforward, that made it okay for Odysseus to hang the maids?

BTW, hanging is a more ignominous death than having your head sliced off.

jun 10, 2014, 10:58am

Well, I'd say that Penelope looks to have a few conflicting drives. On a dubious excuse scale, these rank high: "I could have saved them, but Athena put me to sleep." "I could have told Odysseus something in case my malicious nursemaid tries to turn his head, but it was more important to let him be impressed with how smart he is for my not being able to see through his disguise."
. The whole thing about the maids servicing the suitors to get info for Penelope seems a little contrived. She couldn't stop them from eating her out of house and home, but she somehow could have stopped them from sleeping with her maids? That's contradicted directly by the Iliad text. To both Homer and Atwood she appears to be not well in control of the forces buffeting her. The implication to me is that Odysseus needs a good story about how great his wife did in his absence, but women, no matter how capable, are seen as basically helpless. The behavior of the maids is a metaphor for the never mentioned but presumed infidelity of Penelope, and their slaughter is her punishment for that infidelity.

jun 15, 2014, 9:32am

No narrator (fictional or non) can do anything other than tell their own truth. Does anyone ask this question about Odysseus in book discussions of the Oddyssey? So why ask it of a version narrated by a woman? (Because women's perspectives are assumed to be "irrational"/"emotional".) The whole point of this book/series is to look at "old familiar" stories from a new/different perspective. What (nonexistent) "100% TRUTH" do you think you are looking for?

Stem: Does any narrator tell the 100% truth?

Nuværende optælling: Ja 2, Nej 7

Redigeret: jun 15, 2014, 9:39am

>IreneF post #10

That supposition would seem to argue post hoc ergo propter hoc . . .

Redigeret: jun 15, 2014, 11:47am

>11 LucindaLibri: I don't think the original question is supposing or suggesting female thus irrational/emotional thus unreliable. The unreliable narrator question is a common one for descussions about modern books, although unreliable narrators have been around since antiquity. The Wikipedia article gives a decent overview of the concept— "An unreliable narrator is a narrator... whose credibility has been seriously compromised."

The question isn't so much What is Penelope's truth? as it is Does Penelope a) knowingly lie, b) knowingly conceal elements of her story for the purpose of deception, or c) is she oblivious to important elements of the larger story? Given the "testimony" of the chorus, I think we should definitely conclude that Penelope is unreliable. Whether she is a deceiver or just clueless because of her class role is another question, and one which is not fully provable.

jun 15, 2014, 12:04pm

Is the Odyssey really told from the point of view of Odysseus? I thought it had an omniscient narrator.

jun 15, 2014, 6:13pm

It's been a very long time since I read Odyssey, but my impression was an omniscient, but not unbiased narrator.

jun 16, 2014, 11:13am

>11 LucindaLibri: That's definitely a problem in the telling of women's stories, be it in literature or their everyday lives. That said, I don't think that's what's going on here. I posed the question for a couple reasons a) The Penelopiad is the work at hand, and b) Penelope is presenting her story as a correction of events of which we've heard another side before (presumably).

jun 21, 2014, 9:30am

Just pointing out that there is rarely a "truth" about anything . . . there are always multiple truths or versions of the truth . . . and even omniscient narrators are rarely unbiased. A "correction of events" doesn't necessarily need to claim ultimate truth (and it's been a while since I read the Penelopiad, but I don't remember this one doing that). They are most often someone's attempt to say "that other version doesn't reflect my experience at all, here's how I saw it". In the hands of a good story teller, the alternative version may deviate from "truth" in many senses, but may still get to the "Truth".

(I've been reading an account of Baseball's Creation Myth that includes mention of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain's career as a journalist . . . as you might imagine, he loved to "invent the truth" . . . that doesn't change the value of the stories.)