Critical Analysis of T.C. Boyle’s Carnal Knowledge





Critical Analysis of T.C. Boyle’s Carnal Knowledge

The short story, Carnal Knowledge, by T.C Boyle comprises various aspects of irony and humor that narrate the story. The author, Boyle, presents an illustration of the circumstances facing Jim as he tries to pursue his love interest, Alena. Consequently, the author utilizes irony and humor in order to explain the events facing Jim as the pursuer. The interplay of these techniques allows the reader to understand the lengths that Jim would go to in order to secure Alena. Furthermore, Boyle, while using these two features, enables the reader to understand the things that people would partake in order to satisfy their inner urges. The ironic situations present in the narrative influence the general theme to be humorous. Therefore, Boyle’s use of irony and humor influences the attention of the reader towards the short story.

The use of humor begins with the story’s title, “Carnal Knowledge”. This title influences the reader to acquire an abstract view of the narrative’s nature. The first term, “Carnal” pertains to the body or the flesh. It also implies the physical and temporary aspect of a being. Furthermore, it also entails bodily desires, which comprise sentiments such as lust. The subsequent word, “Knowledge” implies awareness or familiarity. Collectively, carnal knowledge may imply awareness of bodily desires for the reader. Thus, the narrative depicts the humorous relationship between these aspects. Furthermore, the reader is also able to understand the effect of these desires on the key character.  Additionally, the term, “Carnal Knowledge” enables the reader to relate comically with the actions that Jim does in order to secure Alena due to his primal desires.

The first instance of the interaction between humor and irony is evident where Jim meets Alena for the first time. Jim was lonely. From this, the reader understands that Jim desperately wanted a female associate. At first, Jim encounters Alena through her dog, Alf. The dog pees on him and he becomes exceedingly angry. This is evident where he states that, “I was on my feet now, murderous, glad to see that the thing was hobbled-it would simplify the task of running it down and beating it to death” (Boyle 253). However, the humorous aspect of irony presents itself when he sees the owner, Alena and rapidly, his feelings of anger dissipate. Jim says that, “I turned and saw Alena Jorgensen poised on the boulder behind me…but she was a pretty impressive site” (Boyle 253). Upon seeing Alena, he suddenly changed from angry to lustful.

Further instance of humor and irony is evident where Jim denies that he had plans only to be close to Alena. After Alena’s dog peed on Jim, Alena decided to wash his stained shirt for him. After asking whether Jim had any plans, Jim sought to think about the daily routines that he usually engaged in such as watching movies, visiting his mother and visiting the singles’ bar. Ironical humor presents itself where Jim cancels and denies having any plans in order to accompany Alena to her house. Additionally, Jim also states that, “Fifteen minutes earlier, I’d been dozing on the beach, alone on my birthday, feeling sorry for myself, and now I was ensconced in a cozy beach house, in the presence of Alena Jorgensen and her spill of naked leg, drinking a beer” (Boyle 255). Thus, he informs the reader of the ironic turn of events on this day.

At Alena’s house, the reader can also note the interplay between humor and irony. Even though Jim was uninterested in animal affairs, he pretended to be deeply engrossed in Alena’s story. From the point Alena expresses her anger with the research conducted on her dog, Jim seems interested and shocked of Alena’s sentimental elucidation. However, the irony is present to the reader where Jim acknowledges that, “If I was moved up by the emotion she’d called up, I was moved even more by the sight of her bending over the box in her Gore-Tex bikini” (Boyle 255). Alena may think that Jim expressed genuine sentiments towards her emotional story but to the reader, Jim is actually interested in Alena’s body contours.

Ironical humor is also obvious where Jim, after presenting a dinner proposal to Alena, states that, “‘I don’t eat meat myself, ‘I lied’, ‘or actually, not anymore’-since the pastrami sandwich, that is” (Boyle 256). Earlier, Jim ate a pastrami sandwich. However, in order to have Alena, who was a vegan, Jim lied that he was a vegan himself. Additionally, at this point, Jim is considering restaurants that Alena will agree to enter. His reason for this is due to Alena’s stance as a vegan. Thus, he further lies to himself. This is ironical and humorous to the reader. At this point, the reader is able to see the conflicts that Jim faces concerning the type of food offered. For instance, Jim thinks that, “Restaurants were running through my head-would it have to be a veggie? Could there be a whiff of grilled flesh in the air? Curdled goat’s milk and tabouleh, tofu, lentil soup, sprouts” (Boyle 256). The reader sees the strain Jim endures in order to satisfy his desires.

The manner in which Jim stresses to live by Alena’s radicalism indicates considerable irony. The activities the character participates in, even though good-natured, conflict with his thoughts. For Alena, animal rights activism is indeed a passion. However, for Jim, the only thing that mattered was the gratification of his physical passions. This is apparent when Jim surmises that, “I marched out there on the sidewalk-feeling exposed and conspicuous but marching nonetheless-for Alena’s sake” (Boyle 256). Furthermore, Jim expresses his embarrassment for engaging in the activism. This is humorously ironical since Jim availed himself for activism even though he was afraid of undergoing embarrassment. Supporting this assertion, Jim declares that, “Of course, my feet hurt and I was running sweat and praying that no one from work would drive by and see me there on the sidewalk with my crazy cohorts and denunciatory sign” (Boyle 257).

The narrative also presents more proofs of humor and irony based on Jim and Alena. Even though Alena seemed to accept Jim as an activist, her thoughts regarding Jim focused on her satisfaction as well. This is ironical since the reader assumes that Jim was the only character that was not genuine. However, after Jim, during one of the protest rallies, gets knocked out by a chauffeur, Alena treats him and says that, “You are one of us now” (Boyle 258). This statement by Alena is rather ironical. The reader is able to learn that Alena never considered him as a member of their faction. Her interest in Jim was purely physical. She never intended for Jim to be among them. More irony is also evident where Alena still wants Jim to be part of them even though she never planned for that.

In conclusion, T.C Boyle’s Carnal Knowledge illustrates the strains that people would experience in order to gratify their desires. In this case, Boyle presents an instance that illustrates the lengths Jim would go to in order to curb his lust and loneliness. Additionally, the use of literary aspects such as irony and humor assist to communicate this theme. This is because the interplay between these features allows the reader to engage in the story. By communicating the thoughts of Jim, Boyle enables the narrative to develop progressively. Thus, the reader cannot deny the interaction between those two literary elements in narrating the short story.





Works Cited

Boyle, Tom Coraghessan. “Carnal Knowledge.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 252-264. Print.









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