Questioning Validity in Austerlitz Through Grammatical Pecularities

When I was reading Sebald’s Austerlitz I was surprised to have noticed an absence of quotation marks. Because of this lack of quotation marks, I felt that the story of Austerlitz the narrator was giving to us lacked validity.

Through evocative language in the narrative structure, Austerlitz’s recollection of his past was brought to a rich imagery, subsequently immersing the reader into a search for a closer connection to him; however, the exemption of quotation marks and the reiteration of his past behind the voice of the narrator throughout the story halted the recovery of Austerlitz’s past being told in his own voice. Despite providing a vast amount of detailed information about himself to the narrator, the absence of quotation marks evident throughout the novel questioned the validity of Austerlitz’s memories being said through his own words; consequently, this uncertainty distanced the reader from fully knowing the protagonist. While the rich imagery of Austerlitz’s memories provided through his storytelling drew us closer to seeing him at a personal level, the lack of quotation marks prevented us from truly knowing him; without the presence of quotation marks surrounding the sentences supposedly spoken by him, the sentences seemed more as if they were the narrator’s interpretations of the protagonist’s depiction of his past. Hence, Austerlitz’s description of his past seemed rather incomplete for the way how Sebald structured the sentences invoked a sense of lacking assurance that the protagonist truly said those statements. As a result, this connotation evoked through Sebald’s style of writing prevented readers from fully understand Austerlitz; without knowledge of whether the words belonging to the protagonist were valid or not, Austerlitz’s past remained lingering beneath the shadows of uncertainty. Moreover, the recollection of his story through the voice of the narrator further crumbled the possibility of the reader coming to fully know the character. By having his past recounted through the narrator, Austerlitz’s voice lost its authenticity, and subsequently the uncertainty of whether the narrator’s portrayal of the protagonist’s past is valid or not becomes further emphasized. 

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