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BlogJanuary-Feb-March, 2015
The Influence of The Book of Mormon

Whether "influence," always a loaded word, is the accurate one, is a homework assignment for another day.

For today, let the following observation suffice: There are echoes of the intro to The Book of Mormon (1830) in the intros of both F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March (1953). First, TBOM:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

Okay. Now let's examine Gatsby's intro for the nine-millionth time:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.

Before moving on to Augie, let's enumerate the parallels in the first two intros:

1. First person male narrative.
2. Deference to a biological father's wisdom.
3. Early evocations of "privilege," that is, the notion that the narrator is aware of how "highly favored" his life has been so far.

Now, on to Augie:

I am an American, Chicago born--Chicago, that somber city--and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving of the knuckles.

Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing you hold down the adjoining.

My own parents were not much to me, though I cared for my mother.

Look at super Saul dishing it! How I dig his lack of hyphenation! Glaring, here, is the absence of the father. Glaring, too, is Augie's assertion that he's self-taught. Especially in contrast to the paternalistic openings of TBOM and Gatsby.

But what else? Check the rhythms of the passages. Check the use of the phrase "make the record." In these two traits, you can see why I'm comparing (and raising the "influence" question) between the opening of Augie and the opening of TBOM. In the latter, Nephi states, "I make a record" twice, once in each of the first two paragraphs. In the third paragraph he states:

And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

Now let's stack Nephi's statement on top of Augie's:

I am an American, Chicago born--Chicago, that somber city--and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.

One hallmark of first-person storytelling--what all three male narrators are doing here--is establishing your bona fides to tell the story.

You assert: Here's who I am, in a nutshell; here's where I came from; and here's why you should believe the tale I'm about to tell. I'm not just anybody. I've witnessed a few things in my time.


Ilan Mochari is the author of the Pushcart-nominated debut novel Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2013). The novel earned rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. It was also featured in the Boston Globe and on Boston's NPR station. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Keyhole, Hobart, Stymie, Midway Journal, and elsewhere.
Another story received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train competition. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
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