The Unnumbered Commentary Essay

The setting of ‘The Unnumbered’ and description of Nio coupled with the use of narrative hooks develop existing conflicts in the plot and also establish a new internal conflict and help characterise Sam North’s protagonist.The relationship between the setting and North’s main character is significant because Nio is depicted as a lone bystander, creating the effect that he typically resides on the fringes of the life around him rather than partaking in it and thus is depicted as an unlikely protagonist. The impression of Nio as an observer of action rather than a part of it is created through descriptions of him ‘looking over the handrail’ at the action. Nio desires someone to ‘step through’ the figurative barrier between he and the action ‘into his life’, therefore this barrier can be seen to be a significant blockade around the ostracised Nio as it assumes a physical entity.

It is clear he observes the busy traffic of the North Circular for some time because he notices the many brands of cars that pass and other features like the ‘odd pair of hands on a steering wheel’. This initial lack of action within ‘The Unnumbered’ indicates that Nio lives a boring life and renders him an unexciting as a central character. Indeed this lack of conflict between Nio and the setting of ‘The Unnumbered’ serves to reinforce the idea that Nio is accustomed to his life on the sidelines; this, coupled with the indifferent atmosphere expressed through the opening narrative of the passage consisting of few opinions and largely based upon Nio’s factual aids the overall effect of highlighting the lacklustre nature of North’s unlikely protagonist.The lack of action in the first half of the passage coupled with his romanticised description of his vicinity creates the impression of Nio as an introverted character, more of a thinker than a doer, as well as alluding to his dissatisfaction with life on the sidelines and expectancy from the idea created that he is waiting for something or someone. Nio is seen an introverted character; this can be ascertained from his introduction to the novel by himself, no relationships with other characters established. Further to this, no direct or indirect speech is recorded in the initial body of text, and rather North describes Nio neither saying nor doing very much, just thinking a lot about menial things. The romanticised description of said menial things as seen by ‘his mind’s eye’, such as the roads as ‘pearly grey’ with ‘codes of white lines’ illustrate how mysterious Nio finds the unexplored area of land and how he holds it in high regard.

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This description also expresses a desire to be more a part of the action rather than just observing it from a distance. From his observance, it also seems that Nio is waiting for something to happen. This is clear from his recall of specific information and formation of long lists such as the one found on lines 27-29, which creates the suspicion that Nio is looking for something or someone. This suspicion is further developed from descriptions of his ‘mind..

.waiting’ which provokes a mild frustration at Nio’s lack of purpose and lack of clarity about what or who he is waiting for.The inclusion of narrative hooks at strategic points as the passage develops builds the tension and suspense for new conflicts to unravel within ‘The Unnumbered’. This is made clear by hooks like ‘would her grave be next to his?’ where North reveals that there is a women Nio is thinking of to absorb the reader but not revealing any more specific information to build the tension and desire to continue reading. North continues in this vein for a paragraph of conditional tense including phrases such as ‘would [a gravestone] describe them as beloved?’ to establish the idea of unrequited love and thus evoking sympathy for Nio’s character. The use of rhetorical questions also adds to suspense, and the third person narrative is cleverly used by North to the effect of making his protagonist appear more enigmatic and evoke a desire to learn more about this woman in his thoughts.

Hooks such as ‘Then his reverie was interrupted.’, in a paragraph and sentence of its own to emphasise physically on the page and with the syntax that this is a turning point in the passage, evidenced further by the change in tone from passive recall of thoughts to edgy narration expanding to detail each movement of Nio and his new setting inside the North Circular.Description of Nio’s heightened senses displays his fear of the emerging conflict, and also depicts him taking steps closer to the action for the first time in the passage; this also marks the development of Nio’s character as his interaction with others is described by North. The unexpected conflict signalled by the single sentence narrative hook aforementioned is immediately established with an active verb; ‘the cry lasted too long’. This marks a stark contrast to the slow pace of the development of Nio’s thoughts whilst looking at traffic and it is clear that Nio too experiences an acute change in the atmosphere of his vicinity and is overwhelmed by what surrounds him. ‘Exhaust fumes caught in his throat’ and similar descriptions depict how Nio is beleaguered by the things around him and symbolises how he’s overwhelmed by this unexpected situation. This attitude is further portrayed through his movements such as ‘he ambled closer’; such a slow walk is not fitting for an urgent situation, and thus illustrates how Nio does not know how best to act to cope with it.

His attempts to interact with ‘the girl’ depict him as an awkward person with little confidence or impulsiveness as he fights ‘his instincts’ about how to act in case they were not ‘the right thing to do’; this reinforces how Nio is unsure of himself and how to act in this unfamiliar situation and does not have the comfort of his familiar setting, his ‘domain’ to soothe him. Nevertheless, despite Nio himself feeling drastically different when present in the action that he was previously observing from a distance, the fact that the girl did not respond to his shouts suggests that his presence did not have a great effect on the situation, and that he is still seen as a bystander if seen at all by others. Through Nio not being courageous enough to take the opportunity that he waited for and to get involved with the action he observes so well, he establishes an internal conflict within himself best summarised by the quote ‘the desire to help but he couldn’t know what was for the best’; this tone effectively captures the divergence in Nio’s own mind about how to act for the best and make a decision, which eventually results in no action being taken at all.

With the passage ending with a rhetorical question, it leaves no conflicts resolved nor any signs of them resolving themselves soon, as the closing statements of Nio’s thoughts are still wrought with uncertainty and self-doubt portraying his internal conflict. Although the passage ends where it starts, with Nio isolated and watching ‘the cars passing by’, he himself has nevertheless made a transition and developed as a result of witnessing the conflict of the as yet anonymous girl. This is evidenced in the text, where ‘it felt like a spring cocked in him’ symbolises his change in mindset and suggests that in future he will no longer just observe but take action.


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