Michael Lanham talks Multiplicity in “The Immortals” by Martin Amis

The short story I chose for my craft analysis is The Immortals, by Martin Amis. The story is centered around a nameless individual who we know only as the Immortal, an individual who recounts the history of the world, and to a lesser degree the history of mankind, through the lens of his immortal “life”. Ultimately, he is resigned in that his only good company throughout history will soon be extinct.

The setting in which the story takes place is post nuclear war and the world is in sad shape. The humans, or what there is left of them, are in dire circumstances. They are mad with delusions, unable to bear viable offspring, and lack the physical immunity to survive in a world ravaged by nuclear holocaust.

The character of the Immortal is by his very nature, and because of his unique situation, utterly alone and suicidal. He sees the end of humanity drawing near. We can surmise that the main struggle of the protagonist is the isolation and inherent loneliness which is the bane of those who live forever. The one sentence which resonates the most and clarifies the theme of the story comes when the narrator laments “Soon all the people will be gone and I will be alone forever.” In this sentence the author encapsulates the mood of the narrator and the tone of the story throughout.

The aspect of the writing which I seek to analyze, and which is necessary for the foundation of the piece, is point of view. By utilizing the narrator in the way that he does the author is able to draw the reader into his world and character. It is if as the reader and the narrator are speaking with each other conversationally. This works because the narrator is so desperate for companionship that even if the narrator were alone, we, as the reader, get the sense that the narrator would nevertheless speak in this manner. If any stranger were to approach him, a reader could assume his story would be told in the same informal manner. One almost has to question if in fact the Immortal spends his time reliving the past, and his existence, over and over like a continual loop.

This brings us to another element of that serves the story well. Multiplicity. Italian author Italo Calvino defines this aspect of storytelling as the “multiplication of possibilities.” Indeed, throughout the story, the narrator presents us with “a combination of experiences, information, and things imagined” that is the trademark of a multiplicitous writing style. Indeed, if multiplicity includes telling the story from more than one perspective, as Calvino suggests, then the author accomplishes this towards the end of the story. In passing, the Immortal mentions that he too suffers from the delusions of the last, insane, dying humans. As the narrator says “Sometimes I have this weird idea that I am just a second rate New Zealand schoolmaster who never did anything or went anywhere and is now noisily dying of solar radiation along with everyone else.” Now, we as readers, are not really sure who the Immortal really is. The possibilities have been multiplied. The story can now be interpreted in different ways, from the perspective of an ageless “god” or that of a raving lunatic. Different experiences give us different perspectives. This is multiplicity. And it is, in part, why the Immortals is a story that worked so well for this reader.

As the narrator says “Sometimes I have this weird idea that I am just a second rate New Zealand schoolmaster who never did anything or went anywhere and is now noisily dying of solar radiation along with everyone else.” Now, we as readers, are not really sure who the Immortal really is. The possibilities have been multiplied.

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