June 27, 2011
The Importance of Ascertaining the Speaker: Focalization and Narration in The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and “She Lived in a Story” by Guillermo Samperio
Stories gain a deeper meaning and connection for their readers through the eyes in which they are seen and the voices through which they are told. Point of view, especially multiples points of views, in a story offers varying perspectives and insight into the happenings of a narrative. In literature, this point of view reference is referred to as focalization; it can be thought of as the eyes through which a story is being told. In addition to the various ways in which a story can be seen are the multiple ways a story can be told, which deals with narration. Each character or narrator brings their own unique voice and makes a distinct claim as to how they prefer readers to interpret a story. Mastering narration in writing allows authors to toy with the ability to manipulate how their stories are told; subsequently, understanding the ways in which narration works aids the readers in better grasping the story in a more profound way. The closer readers come to comprehending narration and focalization in a story, they closer they come to being in tune with the author’s vision. In Miguel de Cervantes Saavdera’s classic novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, and Guillermo Samperio’s contemporary short-story “She Lived in a Story,” both authors rely heavily upon focalization and narration to tell their tales in a way that is memorable for their readers.
Focalization, according to Manfred Jahn’s “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative,” is the way a story is presented to its readers. Jahn describes external focalization when “the primary candidate for a text’s perspectival orientation is the narrator” (Jahn N3.2.1) and internal focalization as when information from a text is restricted to a character’s field of perception (Jahn N3.2.1). A focalizer is, “the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text” (Jahn N3.2.2); essentially, the focalizer is the eyes through which we see the story. In a given story, there may be multiple focalizers, which are referred to as variable focalization. Both Cervantes and Samperio utilize variable focalization in that there is, “the presentation of different, episodes of the story as seen through the eyes of several focalizers” (Jahn N3.2.4).
In Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra’s novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, mastering the concept of focalization is key to understanding the story as it jumps back and forth between external and internal focalization or from a narrator’s point of view to that of a characters. This constant switching between an unclear narrator and a character’s perspective causes uncertainty and questions the validity of the events that unfold. This idea that the unreliability of a novel stems from the external focalization of the story is evident in Don Quixote de la Mancha. The narrator speaks blatantly of this uncertainty when he/she writes, “but this doesn’t matter much, as far as our story’s concerned, provided that the narrator doesn’t stray one inch from the truth” (Saavdera 25). A bit further on in the novel, he/she then again states, “… and if anything worthwhile is missing from it, it’s my belief that it’s the dog of an author who wrote it that’s to blame, rather than any defect in the subject. At all events the second part began like this according to the translation:” (Saavedra 76). The previous quotes support the concept that due to the external focalization or the narrator’s perspective, the readers gain a sense of inaccuracy or unreliability about the story. Don Quixote de la Mancha, when told from a narrator’s point of view, leaves much to be desired and leaves the readers questioning whether or not they should take the written words for face value or not. When Saavedra wrote, “but this doesn’t matter much, as far as our story’s concerned, provided that the narrator doesn’t stray one inch from the truth,” leaves his readers with a feeling of being perplexed. Questions as to why this had to be stated or who the narrator actually was begin to take rise. Referring back to Jahn stating, “the primary candidate for a text’s perspectival orientation is the narrator,” when discussing the external focalization, helps to dissect Cervantes’ quote; the narrator is the primary eyes through a reader sees a story. Establishing that there is an unreliable narrator in Don Quixote is integral to understanding that the audience is expected to be uncertain towards the events that will unfold throughout the story.
This notion of unreliability caused by the narrator in Don Quixote is continued by Don Quixote himself; Don Quixote’s untrustworthiness stems from his unstable mind. Clearly suffering from some sort of delusion, Don Quixote is removed from reality and thusly, all that he says and sees is unintentionally a step away from the truth. In Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote treads the line between reality and fiction through his countless adventures with his sidekick Sancho. The idea that imagination can overtake reality is discussed as Cervantes writes, “the idea that this whole fabric of famous fabrications was real so established itself in his mind that no history in the world was truer for him” (Cervantes 27). This quote reinforces the power of the mind so much so that fiction becomes Don Quixote’s reality. He is no longer able to separate reality from fiction. What he reads is the world around him and the history of the past. The alliteration, namely the use of the word “fabric,” indicates that there’s an element of structure. The fabric is part of a greater whole- the pieces of the imagination weave together to make or overtake his mind. “Famous fabrications” can be stories there were already written; these stories were taken at face value by him and became real. Don Quixote misinterprets the world before him and causes trouble for himself and those around him. For example, when Sancho states, “for God’s sake! Didn’t I tell you to be careful what you were doing, didn’t I tell you they were only windmills?” (Saavedra 64) we learn that Don Quixote’s mind works in ways that are different from the average person. He mistakes large windmills for giants ferociously attacking him; this is only the start of the countless mishaps of Don Quixote. For the readers of Don Quixote, they are seeing his world through his eyes through internal focalization and thus are given an altered view of reality. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GksQygQnk4
“She Lived in a Story” by Guillermo Samperio is a creative, modern take on story telling in that focalization is toyed with in a nontraditional sense. Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” incorporates the literary style of focalization to create a story of intrigue and depth. Focalization allows readers to gain a specific perspective such as from that of a narrator or character. It allows an author to present his/her writing from certain point of view or focus. Readers can interpret the story as being either heterodiegetic (external) or homodiegtic (internal); heterodiegetic in that the point of view is from an outsiders’ perspective and homodiegetic in that it is coming from a first-person’s point of view. Within Samperio’s story, the focalizer, or point of the view of the person the story is told from, switches from the original narrator Samperio, to his character Segovia, to Segovia’s created character of Ofelia. This makes Samperio’s story variable in that it contains multiple points of views and different events occur. Having a story told in this way stretches its ability to transcend its readers standard notions of what a story should be; it turns the story from a conventional tale to experimental and challenges what readers expect. The multiple points of views of the characters within the short-story allow readers to gain separate insights into the story and to really see through the eyes of the characters. Segovia writes about Ofelia, “When she turned into the alley where her house was, she could feel the enormous eye on her hair, her face, her scarf, her sweater, her slacks. She stopped and felt a kind of dizziness similar to what you experience in a dream where you float unsupported and without any way of coming down” (Samperio 59). From these lines we can see that Segovia is describing Ofelia’s situation in great detail. Although it isn’t told from the first hand, first person point of view, it still has an eerie feel to it that Segovia is able to convey to the readers. It conveys an almost foreboding tone, as if the narrator at the moment knows something that will happen to Ofelia as he describes the events of the present moment.
Point of view allows readers to see through the eyes of a particular character or narrator and is essential to having a deeper understanding of the writing at hand. In Guillermo Samperio’s short-story “She Lived in a Story,” Samperio creates a matrix story with the creation of his character Segovia; Segovia creates a further extension of his story by Samperio by creating the character Ofelia. Ofelia is referred to as the hypernarrative of these sets of stories in that she in the extension of Segovia who was an extension of Samperio; she is a by-product of the original work by Samperio. Ofelia writes, “I write that he writes a story that I live in” (Samperio 60). With these lines, she reaffirms the idea that she realizes that she is created by Segovia, and thus she tries to write about her awareness of this situation. By taking charge and penning her own story, Ofelia accepts a position in which she can now take charge. Ofelia’s point of view is now stemming from a place of realization that she knows she’s a creation of Segovia’s; this unique perspective changes the tone of the story that readers would only be able to see through the eyes of Ofelia. She can decide what goes or doesn’t go and how the story is executed. Her realization that she is a creation from another story twists readers’ standard concepts of what happens within a novel; usually, these two realms would remain separated. However, Ofelia’s awareness of the situation changes the story and the readers’ understanding of what is going on. As readers, we begin to see the fact that she flips the situation so that she is now the one incorporating Segovia into her story and not the other way around. As readers, we first see the world through Samperio’s eyes or the narrator’s external focalization. We are then introduced into the world of Segovia through his eyes and then thrown into Ofelia’s world, another level of internal focalization. Ofelia doesn’t realize she is a character within a story as she writes her own. Each of these characters are unaware of each other, with the exception of towards the end when they finally meet; their variable points of view intertwine to make “She Lives in a Story” unique to its readers.
Seeing is only one aspect of storytelling, the other is speaking or the way the story is told. Who tells the story is essential to voice a reader hears while reading. According to Jahn, “a narrator is the speaker or ‘voice’ of the narrative discourse (Genette 1980 : 186). He or she is the agent who establishes communicative contact with an addressee (the ‘narratee’), who manages the exposition, who decides what is to be told, how it is to be told (especially, from what point of view, and in what sequence), and what is to be left out” (Janh N3.1.1). In addition to ascertaining who is speaking, readers can also focus on overt and covert narration; an “overt narrator is one who refers to him/herself in the first person” while a covert narrator, “in contrast, is one who exhibits none of the features of overtness listed above: specifically, s/he is one who neither refers to him- or herself nor addresses any narratees, one who has a more or less neutral (nondistinctive) voice and style” (Jahn N3.1.4). Subsequently, a narrative can be classes as being either homodiegetic or heterodiegetic. According to Jahn, “in a homodiegetic narrative–, the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is present as a character in the story” and “in a heterodiegetic narrative–, the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story” (Jahn N3.1.5).
Saavedra’s Don Quixote switches back and forth between covert and overt narration. The narrator exhibits instances of overt narration, referring to him/herself, “… and if anything worthwhile is missing from it, it’s my belief that it’s the dog of an author who wrote it that’s to blame, rather than any defect in the subject. At all events the second part began like this according to the translation” (Saavedra 76). This talk of “my belief” is an instance of referring to one’s self through the first person point of view. The narrator then flips to covert narration as he/she discusses the story as it unfolds, removing him/herself from the narration and focusing solely on the story. Readers are unaware as to who the narrator within Don Quixote actually is, so the story is told through a heterodiegetic view point in that the narrator is not a character, as far as the reader can tell. While we are given a sense of overtness, at times, by our narrator, we still feel a bit removed in that the narrator isn’t a character and not directly involved in the storyline. In Don Quixote, narration and focalization intertwine to create a unique vision and sound through which the story is seen and told. Had the narrator been more overt and homodiegetic, the feel of the story would have changed completely for its readers; less focus would have been placed upon the Don Quixote, Sancho, and the other minor characters within the novel. It would have appeared to be a story unfolding before our eyes and not as a classic tale being told by an unacknowledged narrator.
Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” differs greatly from Saavedra’s novel in that the narrator becomes a character and lives within the story. In Samperio’s tale, readers experience both homo and heterodiegetic narration; the story is heterodiegetic when being told through Samperio’s voice, simply because he is not a character within “She Lived in a Story.” However, when Segovia or Ofelia begins to take over the narrative, being that they are characters, the narrative switches to homodiegetic. Additionally, the narrator or speaker switches between overt and covert narration depending on the character and the point in time within the short-story.
Samperio writes, “The change bothers him because he understands that the next step is to know that he is not being watched, but that he lives inside a gaze, that he is now part of a new way of seeing” (Samperio 61). With this quote, the characters are removed from the story and a heterodiegetic narration is created. Segovia realizes that he is a creation of Samperio and that additionally, his creation of Ofelia has her own sense of being that is the “gaze” that he feels. Segovia also has instances of being a homodiegetic narrator and overt narrator as well, however. He states, “I know very well that I still love inside the gaze. I hear the sounds that are generated within it, like the noises of the city that rise to the top of the Latin-American Tower” (Samperio 60). With this quote, Segovia takes on the first person point of view in referring to himself with terms such as “I” and adds a personable touch to the story. Rather than talk about a story, he talks about his story. This level of narratology is used by Samperio to create a deeper, more relatable degree to “She Lived in a Story;” Segovia is a character, but a character of substance with feelings, emotions, and awareness.
Understanding focalization and narration within literature are essential to understanding the author’s original vision and voice. Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha incorporate both internal and external focalization and varying levels of homodiegetic and heterodiegetic narrative and covert and overt narratives, as well. These multiple and changing levels shape the stories into complex, interesting tales that are memorable to the readers who can discern each difference and appreciate the creativity in the author’s decisions to create their stories so specifically. To better understand the focalization within the texts, a deeper research into the diction being used would be useful to better understanding the characters and the times in which they lived. Both Samperio and Saavedra manipulated focalization and narration to their advantage to create stories of distinction in the literary world.
“Coldplay – Don Quixote – New Song (HQ).” YouTube.com. coldplayGDL. 31 August 2009. Web. 30 June 2011.
De Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. 1605. Trans. John Rutherford. Columbus, MT: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Jahn, Manfred. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.” Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres. Cologne: U of Cologne Press, 2002. Web.
“Point of View shot dissolves into a zero focalized POV in Scorsese’s Goodfellas.” Youtube.com 17, May 2011. Web. 6, July 2011.
Samperio, Guillermo. “She Lived in a Story.” TriQuarterly. Trans. Russel M. Cluff and L. Howard Quackenbush. 85 (1992): 59. Print.
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