The Development of the Narrator in Neil Gaiman’s the Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Table of Contents

  • Background of the Study
  • Methods of the Study
  • Previous Study
  • Biography of Neil Gaiman
  • Synopsis of The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Intrinsic Elements
  • Character
    Protagonist Character
    Antagonist Character
  • Plot
  • Exposition
    Rising Action
    Falling Action
  • Development of Narrator
  • Narrator at the Beginning
  • Turning Point (Event that Caused the Change)
  • Conclusion

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a unique and interesting novel written by a well-known author Neil Gaiman. This novel tells the story about a middle-aged man experiencing his life with the existence of the newcomer, Ursula Monkton, while he was seven years old. The purpose of analyzing this novel is to identify the characters, plot, and the development of the main character throughout. The writer uses library research and contextual method to analyze the psychological development. The result shows that lonely and isolated person could, in time, express himself to deny the social dynamics.

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Background of the Study

Isolation is a defense mechanism in psychoanalytic theory first proposed by Sigmund Freud. It is characterized as a mental process involving the creation of a gap between an unpleasant or threatening condition, and other thoughts or feeling. His theory stated that by inserting an interval the person was letting it be understood symbolically that he will not allow his thoughts about the activity to come into associative contact with other thoughts. As a defense against harmful thoughts, isolation prevents him from allowing these conditions to occur.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells about the early life of a middle-aged man who encountered a nightmare he would never imagine. The act of isolation finally comes to an end while a woman-shaped “flea” made her appearance. There writer decides to analyze the development of the Narrator, as the protagonist, as he feels it is an interesting matter of how someone who sticks with isolation, never worried of anything the world throws to him, finally opens his mouth and begins to act for the sake of his life. There should be something triggered this, there should be something that pulls off the string.

Methods of the Study

The writer uses library research to gather data and contextual method, using psychoanalysis theory to analyze the extrinsic element.

Previous Study

Based on the writer’s research, there are two studies that used The Ocean at the End of the Lane as the object of the study. In order to prove the originality of this study, the writer will elaborate the previous study. Irina Rata (2017) wrote an article entitled Memory and Identity in The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This study focuses on how the memory works on the protagonist and the impact toward his identity.

The other one is a journal written by Laura-Marie von Czarnowsky, entitled “Power and all its secrets”: Engendering Magic in Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It focuses the research on the fiction and fantasy part. The study regarding to the development of the protagonist has not been made yet. Therefore, the writer could has an option to analyze this topic of the novel.

Biography of Neil Gaiman

This biography of Neil Gaiman was taken from and Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and continues his life in the United States near Minneapolis today. His writing career began in England as a journalist. Duran Duran, his first book, was a biography that took him three months to write and his second was a biography of Douglas Adams, Don't Panic: the Official Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion.

Neil Gaiman is considered as one of the creators of modern comics, as well as an author who works on many genres and reaches audiences of all ages. According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, he is listed as one of the top ten living post-modern writers and is a productive creator of literary works.

Neil Gaiman writes books for readers of all ages, including the following collections and picture books for young readers: M is for Magic (2007); Interworld (2007), co-authored with Michael Reaves; The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (1997); The Wolves in the Walls (2003); the Greenaway-shortlisted Crazy Hair (2009), illustrated by Dave McKean; The Dangerous Alphabet (2008), illustrated by Gris Grimly; Blueberry Girl (2009); and Instructions (2010), illustrated by Charles Vess.

Synopsis of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The narrator is a middle-aged man who just attended someone’s funeral. Then he drives around the town where he grew up for he wants to avoid the social niceties implicit in such an event, and finds himself drawn to a farm where he once had a friend named Lettie Hempstock. He finds himself asking the old woman there if he could sit by their duck pond, recall the past, and then proceeds to start this extraordinary tale.

He is a pretty lonely kid (not even a single friend shows up for his seventh birthday party), who loves to live in the world of books. His parents have come across hard times financially, and are forced to rent the room to raise their income. One of the boarders, an opal miner from South Africa, decides that their car is the perfect vehicle in which to end his life.

Somehow the boy and his father found the corpse with Lettie Hempstock nearby, a mysterious, so called eleven-year-old girl who lives on the farm at the end of the lane with her mother and grandmother. The boy is sent with her while the police sort things out with the dead opal miner, and it's there that he realizes these women are not altogether ordinary. They do, however, make some really good food.

Long story short, strange things begin to emerge upon him, such wake up choking an old coin. Somehow he seeks out Lettie since she seems to have all the answers. The two of them go on an adventure to discover the clue of this disturbing event, however things go south during the process. The thing, that Lettie's Grandmother refers to as a 'flea', manages to make the boy a doorway from her world into theirs, somehow make herself a form of woman and introduces to his family as Ursula Monkton—their latest boarder and childcare provider.

His whole family is enthralled with her, especially because she has perfect timing. However the boy knows there is something wrong. She tries to make sure that he never leaves their property again, and in the process possesses his father to attempt filicide. The boy somehow escapes being drowned in his own bathtub and runs to the Hempstock farm.

The Hempstock women—Grandmother, Ginnie, and Lettie—then try to remove the magical doorway that Ursula has embedded in his body, yet a part of it rooted deeply in his heart. So when they finally convince Ursula to take the doorway back to her own world, she says she can't without taking his life.

Being out of option Lettie summons the 'varmints' to finish her off, hunger-birds that act as inter-dimensional cleaners who eat things as a way of preventing them from proliferating where they do not belong.

Unfortunately, after they eat Ursula Monkton the varmints decide that they cannot go back to their own dimension until they eat the piece of the doorway that is left in the boy's heart as well. When they go after him, Lettie sacrifices herself to save his life. Grandmother and Ginnie come to the rescue and banish the varmints, but not before they manage to kill Lettie. When Ginnie brings him home to his parents she causes him to somehow forget all the strange, wonderful, and terrible things that have happened, and he's now convinced that this whole time he's just been at a going-away party for Lettie, who is going to Australia to be with her father.

Intrinsic Elements


Character is one of the important elements in literary works such as a novel. The appearance of character is important for it influences the story through its personality, motivation, and attitude. In Michael Meyers’ opinion in The Bedford Introduction to Literature (1990:61), character is important in a fine fictional work because a character helps to develop the plot.

There are many types of character in literature; however the writer will only describe a couple for the limitation of the purpose of the study. According to Pickering and Hoeper (1962:24), protagonist is usually easy to identify for he or she is the essential character without whom there would be not in the first place. It is the protagonist fate on which attention of the reader focused. In another word, protagonist is the most essential character in a story since there will be no plot without it. The conflict happens in a story is always related to the protagonist.

While there is a character to be the main focus of the plot, there should be also someone against him to build the plot. It is antagonist. Perrine and Thomas state antagonist could be forces arrayed the protagonist whether it is a person or things (1988:20). The important part is antagonist is the character whom against the protagonist.


An author creates a work of fiction that makes a reader accept it as real world in the novel although it is something new for the reader. Readers are brought into the author’s fictional world by the plot. Plot is the author’s recipe to arrange incidents in a story. Authors or writers have a right to select and determine the events that they will use to shape the story through plot. Events can be arranged in chronological arrangement begins with what happens first, second, so on, until how the story is related and end.

In James L Potter’s opinion in Elements of Literature, structure of plot can be divided into five structures that consist of exposition, raising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion (1967:33-36). Exposition is a situation in which a potential conflict can be perceived. After the conflict is perceived, the built up actions are brought to the climax (raising action). Climax is a point in a narrative in which the conflict comes to a head, is strikingly intensified for a time. In order to settle the conflict that emerges and reach its climax, some actions have to be done. This part is called falling action. Finally, the story is closed with a resolution of the conflict.

Protagonist Character

The Narrator is a character remains nameless throughout the entire book. At the beginning of the story, he was seven years old. He has father, mother, and a sister. He does not have friends and his only familiar, a cat, is killed. “I do not remember ever asking any of the other children in my class at school why they had not come to my party. I did not need to ask them. They were not my friends, after all. They were just the people I went to school with.” (1:12). He is also somewhat fearless of the unusual events, yet is paralyzed with fear of his father. He befriends Lettie Hempstock.

Antagonist Character

Ursula Monkton, according to the narrator’s story, is a woman-shaped flea. She takes advantage of the boy’s mother being at work and make an affair with his father. She threatens the boy and has used a hole in his foot as her door into his world. Ursula doesn't want to disrupt the lives of the people she meets, and she's not trying to be a malicious harpy. On the other hand—her motivation is to make everyone happy: 'She finds what they think they need and she tries to give it to them. She's doing it to make the world into something she'll be happier in. Somewhere more comfortable for her. Somewhere cleaner.' (10:80) The only problem, of course, is that she doesn't understand how to do it properly. In the beginning of her appearances, Ursula suspects all of the money troubles in the boy's neighborhood, and so she tries to give everyone money.



Neil Gaiman began the story as the middle-aged Narrator recalls his past when he randomly wander in the city and ended up in his childhood neighborhood. It was his seven years-old party with no attendants, though he it does not bother him as he has no friend at all.


Somehow there is a worm make his way into the boy’s body through his foot, making its inter-dimensional doorway to his world and change form into a woman. She then introduces herself to his family as Ursula Monkton, a boarder and child caretaker, and start impressing the family. She also prevent the boy from going out of the house as she plans to take their life away.

Rising Action

The Narrator’s family is enthralled by Ursula, provides her a full control of them. The boy’s mother take a job out in the city to support their finance, his grandmother lock him up in the attic room, preventing him from escaping, and his father attempts to kill him.

Falling Action

The Narrator escapes the house via window and makes his way to the Hempstock family as he thinks there should be something they could do to solve this nightmare. The Hempstocks come to rescue and put the Narrator in a magic circle which makes him untouchable.


The Hempstocks somehow summon varmints to finish Ursula Monkton. Unfortunately, these varmints could not send back to their realm for they have to eat the inter-dimensional doorway that Ursula made in the boy’s body. As they trying to attack him, Lettie Hempstock tried to fight and ended up being badly hurt, close to death. Later, Ginnie Hempstock takes her to the ocean and vanished. Her grandmother takes him to home safely.

Development of Narrator

Narrator at the Beginning

At the beginning of the story, the Narrator has been described as a seven years-old boy who lacks of conventional friendship. His mother organized a party to celebrate his birthday and not a single person shows up, not even her father, her sister, or his school friends. He says at one point: “I lay on the bed and lost myself in the stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.” (1:11)

However that could just be a self-defense mechanism he's put in place to avoid the angst he feels over being lonely all the time. The fact is he feels sad for nobody came to his birthday party, yet he chooses his books collection over them.

Either way, this is a deliberate choice the author makes. Having the narrator almost totally isolated I am able to understand why he's so willing to go along with Lettie's adventures regardless of how strange and otherworldly they are. If he had been the type of kid with thirty friends, who plays rugby or cricket—it is England here, then when Lettie shows up with her orange sky and talk of 'fleas' and 'varmints' he would be like, 'I am sorry, I have another crazy business to attend'.

When he sees the dead opal miner laying on his comic book, his only thought is whether he'll be allowed to retrieve it. I am pretty sure that is not what most people’s first reaction would be, especially kids. He is seven and pretty calm about discovering a corpse in the backseat of his family car.

In the same way, when he discovers the worm-version of Ursula Monkton carved into the sole of his foot, he just calmly tries to pull it out: “I pulled perhaps an inch of this worm—pink and gray, streaked, like something infected—out of the hole in my foot, and then felt it stop. I could feel it, inside my flesh, making itself rigid, unpullable. I was not scared by this. It was obviously just something that happened to people…” (5:37)

No panic over unusual parasites, running, or screaming for help. He remains calm as a little kid who is extremely tough accepting of whatever life throws at him.

Turning Point (Event that Caused the Change)

One thing throws him for an action is when his father gets mad at him. For some reason he just cannot stand being yelled at by his dad—it scares him so badly that he gets paralyzed with fear. Why this is become the particular trigger that makes him finally feels fear? There is no particular clue throughout the story, yet it does become important when he is fending off the mirages while sitting in the fairy circle and he has to face down an irate shadow-father.

Although up until this moment his father's anger has been the only thing to truly terrify him, he realizes that he has faced down even worse things in the last days. So when his father blusters and bellows for him to get into the house (which would make him leave the protection of the fairy circle) the boy says: 'Does it make you feel big to make a little boy cry?' (12:93). Not only does this serve to make the shadow-dad give up, but also it's a turning point for the kid. Now that he's told off his dad, he can face anything the world throws at him.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a unique supernatural novel by Neil Gaiman. He implicitly explained isolation as the main focus of the story. The Narrator shown as a lonely boy who has no friend, even he admits the students in his school are just some people who he studies with. He often found himself drowned in books. Hempstock family is the only place for the Narrator to escape from his nightmare for they live in separated part of the town.

Ursula Monkton’s appearance is the key of Narrator’s change in behavior. He realizes that there something wrong, start to break it down and experienced nightmares as the result. Finally, the soft spoken Narrator opens his mouth for words and takes many actions to figure out the situation.

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