- The Multiplicity of Implied Authors and the Complex Case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Given the nature of literary theory, it should come as no surprise that not all theorists understand the implied author in precisely the same way.1 As Nünning points out, there is “no widespread agreement about what the term actually designates” (239). Some writers highlight the implied author as a “core of norms” (as Wayne Booth put it [rhetoric 74]). Others emphasize the relation to the real author, as when Phelan characterizes the implied author as a “subset” of the real author (45). Still others, for example, Rimmon-Kenan (77), stress the reader’s role in constructing an idea of an author. These approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But some work is required to reconcile them.
In the following pages, I will first try to clarify the idea of implied authorship and its relation to what might be described as the receptive or readerly intention of the real author. In the second section, I will take up the cognitive processes involved in such intention, arguing that the unity or consistency of their outputs is greatly overestimated. Rather than a single, consistent authorial or implied authorial intent, our cognitive architecture actually predicts that we will find partially contradictory ideas and attitudes. These partial contradictions affect not only theme and emotional response, but even some story elements, such as characterization. This is not to say that there is no unity. There are certainly strong tendencies toward continuity within most works. We may reserve the phrase “implied author” for the intentions that manifest or guide that continuity. For the more local, partially discontinuous intentions, however, we may refer instead to “implicated authors.”2 These implicated authors vary with the [End Page 25] context, cognitive models, and different implied or implicated readers that orient an author’s imagination at any given time.
Following these theoretical discussions, we will turn to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This is, in my view, a great work of world literature—for its stylistic and narrative polish, its emotional force, its thematic complexity. It is also a work that involves often extensive discontinuities in implicated authorship. That section will isolate some of the main tendencies across such implicated authors and their relation to the larger unities of implied authorship.
The Implied Author and the Varieties of Authorial Intention
However else one characterizes the implied author, it seems clear that he or she is something inferred by readers. Of course those who defend the concept argue that authors imply what readers infer; I will return to this point below. We might begin our consideration of the topic with this simple point. When someone reads “A Modest Proposal,” he or she is likely to find the apparent advocacy of cannibalism in some degree incredible. He or she then infers that the text is not really suggesting that Irish babies would make a savory rump roast or leg of child. If we begin with the way the human mind works, we can, I believe, begin to understand just what is inferred here. When faced with some anomalous phenomenon, the first thing our mind does is infer, not a norm, but an explanation. If we follow this general principle here we will say that the implied author imagined by the reader—in other words, the inferred author (in Seymour Chatman’s phrase)—serves to explain some aspect of the text. When there is no anomaly in the narration, then we do not need to infer an author who is distinct from the narrator. But in the case of “A Modest Proposal” and similar works, we do.
So, the inferred author is an explanatory posit. It is what we construct when, for example, we come upon gaps in Iser’s sense. That explanation involves the reasons for the anomaly or gap. We explain the narrator’s view that Irish babies should be served up in meat pies by saying that the (inferred) author intended to communicate something about the condition of the Irish peasantry at the time and about English attitudes toward the Irish.
But here a problem arises. Anyone who...