Midnight and I’m a First-Person Narrator

[an analysis by Tiffany Crider]

In the story, “Midnight and I’m not Famous Yet,” by Barry Hannah, we meet a narrator trying to discover what it means to have fame. He meets a photographer and takes him under his wing. Through their friendship, the narrator reminisces on his thoughts of celebrity, and when he finally receives attention, it comes as punishment. However, the punishment reveals itself as a reward, and the narrator returns home a lieutenant. In a moment of what should have been triumph and celebration for the narrator, we see him, instead, mourning the lost fame of his friend, the photographer.

Barry Hannah makes the choice to give the reader a point of view from a narrator who speaks directly of his experience and often directly to the audience. This choice of point of view unifies the text and creates a piece of irony. In this piece, the narrator explores this idea of celebrity, yet throughout the piece, I didn’t even remember his name! Only upon reviewing did I see that the narrator has a name—Bobby—a name only mentioned in the beginning of the piece. Although his name doesn’t stick with this reader, his voice does. Because the author chooses to give story through the narrator’s point of view, we have a very well characterized, although mysterious, character. In addition, his friend, “Tubby,” comes to life as well. Interestingly, this author seems to give the narrator full reign over the story. The story no longer belongs to Barry Hannah but to Bobby Smith, and he does whatever he wills with it.

Without this particular point of view, the structure of the piece would exist differently; therefore, the piece itself could not exist. The narration allows for flashbacks, for tangents, and digressions. For example, Bobby tells of John Whitelaw, “our only celebrity since the Civil War. In the picture he wore spectacles. It struck me as something deep, brave, might, and well, modern […] maybe I sympathized too much, since I have to wear glasses too…” (308). He then moves into a memory of a time that he and his family saw Johnny Whitelaw. The importance of Whitelaw lies in the desire within Bobby to have recognition as something more than “the class joker” (307).

Because of the narrator’s perspective, he brings the readers into the scene without intruding. On a few occasions, Bobby switches from first person narration to second person. Typically, second person sends off bells and whistles in my head, but during my first read of this story, I didn’t notice. I was there in the scene with Bobby and Tubby. In fact, through the middle of the piece, the narrator consistently switches from first person to second person, as if the two of us were having a conversation. It seems that this choice to give Bobby both the first and second person narrative beckons the reader to become part of the story. Perhaps we are meant to engage differently than with a third person omniscient narrator. If Bobby tells me these things specifically, I am invited to participate in the piece actively, not passively. Bobby does not just relay the facts to the reader; he brings us in as if he knows us already.

I saw two tanks come out of the other side […] then you saw this white glare on one tank where somebody on our team had laid on with one of the phosphorus shotguns […] the other tank ran off a gully into a hell of a cow pond. You wouldn’t have known it was that deep (311).

In this passage, he switches from “I saw” into “then you saw” with ease, bringing the reader into the story, not questioning whether or not we were, in fact, there.

In addition, this point of view allows metaphors that give the story more substance than a third person omniscient could. Metaphors, here, describe how the narrator views the situation. For him, crying does not simply show emotion. Instead, “sobs” come “up like rocks in [his] throat” (312). These things are personal to the narrator. A third person omniscient narrator might claim to know how Bobby feels about crying but such a narration would not hold the same weight as this does. In the same section, he remembers Whitelaw, a famous golfer. He recognizes, while he faces the danger of death, that Whitelaw “had the beloved American right to the pursuit of happiness” because here, in this moment, he and his friend had nothing more than “the pursuit of horror” (312). Here, this introspective narrator reveals answers to the readers that he knows we have wanted to ask: what is this story about? And he does so through his own workings of what it means to gain fame.

This introspective and reflective dreamer tells a story that allows us to come to the conclusions implicitly. He mesmerizes the reader with this mysterious, endearing, and someone disturbing story. As a result, we don’t realize what has been told until we realize it.

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