'Traits don't change, states of mind do': Tracking Olive in Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Chloe Harrison*, Marcello Giovanelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge consists of thirteen interrelated chapters, each one involving to some degree the novel’s eponymous character. Readers are presented to Olive both mediated through other characters’ viewpoints, and with more seemingly direct access into Olive’s mind and motivations. The novel’s chapters move across different time frames and thus present its characters in various stages of change. Strout’s narrative style means that the reader, as Guaccero (2010: 412) suggests, is required to keep track of ‘the sense of multiple self-states that unite to form her [Olive’s] continuity and coherence over time’. In this paper, we explore the process of tracking Olive by integrating several cognitive stylistic frameworks to examine how multiple representations of Olive and her life are processed in reading the novel. Drawing explicitly on the concept of mind-modelling, we provide, to our knowledge, the first stylistic analysis of character across a short story collection. We further argue that tracking Olive is a process that places particular demands on readers: Strout shifts our attention across numerous iterations of events and characters in a way that invites constant readjustment of our understanding of Olive and the significance of her actions and relationships with others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-446
Number of pages19
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number3
Early online date9 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022, The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Elizabeth Strout
  • Olive Kitteridge
  • characterisation
  • mind-modelling
  • short story cycle


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