Literary Technique Comparison (Gail Godwin and Karen Van Der Zee)

Gail Godwin and Karen Van Der Zee are both prominent writers in the U.S.  Karen Van Der Zee was born and raised in Holland but now lives in the U.S and has contributed more than 30 novels to the popular Harlequin. Gail Godwin was born and raised in Alabama. She studied at the University of North Carolina and the University of Iowa. They are both writers of fictional stories, and though they both live in the U.S, each has a unique style that gives the reader a feeling of their delicate humanity with all of its sorrows and joys. Karen Van Der Zee has written about sorrow and romance in her story “from a secret sorrow” while Gail Godwin writes about sorrow in her story “a sorrowful woman.”  Though both the writers write about sorrow and love, each depicts a distinct way of telling their stories.

Karen Van Der Zee tells a story about a man and woman in love. The man wants to marry the woman but the woman is barren and thus afraid of marriage. All in the entire story ends with the couple married and happy. Gail Godwin tells a story about a sorrowful woman who could not stand the sight of her husband and son. She lives with her sorrow deteriorating every day until her death. Though at the end of story her life becomes better, she dies all the same.

Karen depicts the theme of true love. She writes about a sorrowful story where true love overcomes the sorrow.  Faye is being consumed by sorrow. She is barren and carrying anyone’s child has become a dream to her. Kai is in love with Faye and he proposes marriage. Faye loves Kai but she fears that Kai will see her as a failure for not bearing children. After much debate, the two agree on marriage.

The issue of love appears prominently in this story. The two are in love but the issue of barrenness is creating sorrow. However, love wins at the end and the marriage happens. True love in this case has won. Godwin also writes about love. She woman in her story is filled with sorrow to an extent of notwithstanding the sight of the husband and son. Her situation deteriorates and communication becomes written. However, though filled with the sorrow, she still loved the husband and the boy. Godwin wrote,

“One night when the husbands note had been extremely short, loving but short, and there had been nothing from the boy, she stole out of her room as she did to get more supplies, but crept upstairs instead and stood outside their doors, listening to the regular breathing of the man and the boy asleep” (Meyer, 2000).

The woman is worried that her husband’s note was short and the boy did not send any note so she went to check on them. This is a sign that she still cared about them despite her sorrow. Both Karen and Godwin seems to have a common theme of love overcomes sorrow.

Karen Van Der Zee uses short sentences written in the present tense. She uses a dialogue tone though there is some form of narration. The narrations are short and written in present form. A dialogue makes the reader to easily understand the events and makes the story move fast. In my view, it is easy to read and understand Karen’s story as compared to Godwin’s story. The use of the conversation element makes the reader feel like they are conversing with another person. She chooses words that elicit sorrowful emotions from her audience.

For example, when Faye was telling Kai why she could not marry him, she said, “Because….because I can’t give you children! Because I can’t get pregnant” (Meyer, 2000).  As a reader, you get a feeling of the sorrow that Faye was going through.  Karen seems to enjoy using a conversational tone. The whole story portrays a conversation between Faye and Kai. Gail Godwin on the other hand uses a narration tone written in the past tense. In addition, her work is well organized in paragraphs.  She tells about a family that existed a long time ago. She elicits a feeling of despair with her words. For example in the first paragraph, she writes, “the site of them made her so sad, she did not want to see them ever again” (Meyer, 2000). Imagine a woman who has this kind of feeling towards her husband and child. She must be in total sorrow and despair. There are elements of romance in her writing. For example she writes, “the husband undressed her, abandoning her long enough to rock beneath the eiderdown for her flannel gown”. This elicits a sense of love and caring to the leader.

Both the authors have used the third-person omniscient narration perspective. This perspective is also known as the all-knowing point of view. This is where the narrator has knowledge of what is happening or has already happened including everything the characters think or feel. It is arguable that the narration style is third-person and not omniscient but I feel the authors seem to have a fast knowledge of what is happening or happened. Karen for one seems to know all about Faye and Kai. She knows where they met and how they feel about each other. It is good to note how she quotes their exact words in the story.  It is as if she was part of their communication. She has written everything that transpired in their conversation word by word.  Godwin also opens with the words, “once upon a time” meaning what she is writing happened a long time ago. She is narrating what happened many years ago and has a vast knowledge of what happened. Both authors are just narrating and so not part of the story.

There are several narration techniques in style used by both authors. Among them, include metaphors. Metaphors are used in storytelling to compare two things in an endeavor to make the reader have an improved understanding of what the writer is attempting to pass. Metaphors make implied comparison between two unrelated things but share a common characteristic. Both the writers have applied metaphors in their work. Karen opens her story by saying” Faye could feel the blood drain from her face” (Meyer, 2000). Faye blood did not literally flow from her face. This is a metaphor explaining how she felt at that moment. It implies that she felt weak.

Godwin also uses metaphors in her story, she wrote”she turned and saw the child’s eyes approving her movements”. The child’s eyes did not literally approve her movement since they are not capable of doing so. She implies that the child was staring at the mother as she moved around the house. She also wrote, “The force of the two notes slipped under her door that evening pressed her into the corner of the little room”. Of course, the notes did not generate such force; this is a metaphor implying the notes were big and joyous.

Another technique in style used by both authors is similes. Similes unlike metaphors compare two attributes or things that are in no way similar. They are used to emphasize a description. Similes often use the words “like” or “as”. They allow the reader to understand what the writer really meant.   In Godwin’s story, when the man was complementing her wife, the man said, “You look like a cloistered queen”.  The man is comparing the woman to a cloistered queen to put an emphasis on how she looked. Karen also applies similes in her work. When Kai went into Faye room and sat on the bed, Karen wrote, “Her heart was pounding like a sledgehammer”. This is a simile emphasizing on how Faye’s heart was pounding loudly.

Karen has used the imagery technique. Imagery helps the reader to visualize a moment or a thing. It uses a figurative language. Karen wrote “her words were underlined by in the silence that followed, a silence loaded with a strange, vibrating energy, force in itself, filling the room”. This appeal to the senses of the reader to visualize and feel the silence that engulfed the room.

There are some elements of back-story narrative technique in the plot of Godwin’s story. Back-story technique is used when the authors deems it important for the reader to know something that has happened prior to the events described in the narrative. It enables the reader to make a better connection between the events described. Godwin opens her narrative by informing the reader “once upon a time there was a wife and mother”. This informs the reader that there is a husband and children involved. When Godwin talks about the husband and the boy, the reader is able to make the connection. Karen seems to concentrate on the present. Her narration has neither flash-forwards nor flashbacks. She describes the events as they occur.

It would be impossible not to address the ways each story refers to intense emotional pain. Karen portrays that Faye cannot get pregnant and so is rejecting Kai marriage proposal. You can feel the pain in Kai heart caused by the rejection. He says, “Oh God, Faye,” he gowned, “I love you” (Meyer, 2000). Kai is in emotional pain. Godwin narrates about the family experience. The woman seems to be losing connection with the husband and child. Though there is little description of the emotional pain they all are going through, as a reader I can feel it. For example the phrase, “I don’t think I can see him anymore, she whispered sadly to the man”.  You can feel the pain the woman has as she tells her husband that she does not think that she can see the child again.

The two narratives seem to have a similar theme of love overcoming sorrow though written in two distinct ways. There are several narrative techniques in style and plot applied in both narratives. These include similes, imagery and metaphors among others.




Meyer, M. (2000). The compact Bedford introduction to literature. Boston, MA: Bedford/St.         Martin’s.



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