June 18, 2011
Focalization in Don Quixote de la Mancha
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 as 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 (N3.2.1). In Miguel De Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, mastering the concept of focalization is key to understanding the story as 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” (Cervantes 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:” (Cervantes 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 Cervantes 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 began 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; here, we are told that our narrator may not be reliable, and thusly, whatever we may read is questionable and should be treated as such. Readers should be wary to believe anything read at face value. This supports the quote, “if anything worthwhile is missing from it…” since it deals with the same lack of reliability on the part of the narrator. Readers are told what they are reading should, for the most, be the truth but that certain parts of the story may be missing as well; it’s as if the narrator wants to justify the lack of credibility that might arise from this version of Don Quixote.
De Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. 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. <http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm>