6 July 2011
Focalization and Characterization: The shaping of a “Good” story in Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra’s, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha and Edgardo Vega Yunque’s The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle
Introduction: Importance of Narratological Terminology in Literature
All literature tells us a story; there is a beginning, middle and an end. There are characters, a narrator, a setting, various events and most important there is a point of view in which the story is told. The theory and study of narratives and narrative structure is known as Narratology. Stuck in the moment of reading a good book, a reader shouldn’t have to stop the book and figure out what the hell is happening. For this reason readers and writers use Narratological terminology to get a better understanding of the reasoning behind the structure of a story.
The way a story is structured is very important to the understanding of the book itself. When a reader knows the way the author wants the story be told it makes it easier for the reader to pick up the point of the story. In Narratology two key points are focalization and characterization. The person who tells the story or the way the person wants the reader to perceive the work is known as focalization. Characterization is important in the creation of the personalities of characters. Round and flat characters can be found in almost any work of literature.
In this article I will be focusing on two books, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, and The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, by Edgardo Vega Yunque , along with some great footage off of youtube that will help me illustrate the interaction between a reader and an author, a reader and a character and a reader and an narrator. I will use “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative,” by Manfred Jahn, as a guide for my article to help me demonstrate the use of focalization and characterization in understanding the importance of the roles of characters and their point of views and how that shapes a story.
Narratology: What it is and Why Does it Matter
A narrative almost always is created to present a story. The person who tells the story is the narrator but the narrator isn’t always the only person telling the story. There are characters within the story that play roles and through the action of events of these characters the story can be told. Narratology, as stated by Jahn is “the theory of the structures of narrative. To investigate a structure, or to present a ‘structural description’, the narratologist dissects the narrative phenomena into their component parts and then attempts to determine functions and relationships” (Jahn N2.1.1). In this article we will be taking a close look at some passages from the Don Quixote and Omaha Bigelow and the role focalization and round and flat characters play in the shaping and understanding of these two stories.
Focalization is the point of view in which the story is told. In Jahn’s words it is “a means of selecting and restricting narrative information, of seeing events and states of affairs from somebody’s point of view, of foregrounding the focalizing agent, and of creating an empathetical or ironical view on the focalizer” (Jahn N3.2.2). A focalizer is the person whose point of view is used to articulate the story. According to Jahn a focalizer” is the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text. A text is anchored on a focalizer’s point of view when it presents (and does not transcend) the focalizer’s thoughts, reflections and knowledge, his/her actual and imaginary perceptions, as well as his/her cultural and ideological orientation” (Jahn 3.2.2).
Focalization is broken down into two main categories of internal and external focalization. Internal focalization deals with “the narrative events are presented from a character’s point of view” (Jahn 3.2.1). External focalization is when “the primary candidate for a text’s perspectival orientation is the narrator” (Jahn 3.2.1). In this article we examine the shift between the focalization of Don Quixote and Cervantes. We sense the change in the point of view when the narrator suddenly becomes the character.
Focazliaztion isn’t the only aspect of Narratology that plays a pivotal role in the structure of a book, it is also very imperative to observe the characters and their roles. Characterization “investigates the ways and means of creating the personality traits of fictional characters” (Jahn N7). Flat character/staticcharacter is “a one-dimensional figure characterized by a very restricted range of speech and action patterns. A flat character does not develop in the course of the action and can often be reduced to a type or even a caricature (e.g., “a typical Cockney housewife”, “a bureaucrat” etc.)’ (Jahn N7.7). A round character/dynamic character is a “three-dimensional figure characterized by many, often conflicting, properties. A round character tends to develop in the course of the action and is not reducible to a type” (Jahn N7.7). In this article we will see the transition of Maruquita Salsipuedes from a flat to a round character in her journey.
What is Focalization really? How Does it Look?
To get a better understanding of focalization we can look at this youtube video of Darrell Miller snowboarding down Cora Couloir in Wyoming. In the start of the video we have an internal point of view of Miller. He is on the board and the images we see are what he sees through his eyes. The camera then shifts from an internal point of view to an external point of view where the outsider camera is showing us Miller snowboarding. The entire video plays with the idea of the changing point of views of the camera. The footage alters back and forth between an internal and external point of view. This gives readers an understanding of the importance of point of view, when it comes to seeing or reading something. When a reader is given different perspectives the story becomes all that much easier to depict.
“In My Point of View Don Quixote is a Knightly Hero” – Cervantes
Given a story like that of Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the way the narration is done plays a very crucial part in the understanding of the entire piece. As we have learned from our reading of Manfred Jahn’s, “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative” the mood of the story is created through the narration of the story. After a thorough read of Jahn’s constant depiction of point of view, we as readers have learned that focalization is the way a story is told and in Jahn’s piece he writes, external focalization is when “the primary candidate for a text’s prespectival orientation is the narrator” (Jahn N3.2.1) and internal focalization occurs when information from a text is restricted to a character’s field of perception (N3.2.1). In chapter 9 of Don Quixote readers are introduced to Cide Hamete Benengeli, who is a fictional character but is given a role that plays a huge part in the way readers understand Don Quixote. We are also introduced to Cervantes, the character who is in search for the truth behind the tale of Don Quixote and here we get his point of view:
“All these thoughts left me feeling puzzled and eager for exact and authentic knowledge of the complete life and works of our famous Spaniard Don Quixote de la Mancha, the light and mirror of the chivalry of that land, and the first man in our times, in these calamitous times of ours, to devote himself to the toils and exercise of the knight-errantry, and to the redressing of wrongs , the succouring of windows and the protecting of maidens who used to ride about, up hill and down dale, with their whips and their palfreys, carrying their maidenhead with them; for unless raped by some blackguard, or by some peasant with his hatchet and his iron skullcap, or by some monstrous giant, there were maidens in those times gone by who, at the age of eighty and not having slept a single night under a roof, went to their graves with their maidenheads as intact as the mothers who’d borne them.” (Cervantes 74)
This passage exhibits the importance of focalization in this book. Cervantes wants to write of Don Quixote’s tale through the reality of his doings not through some falsely claimed chivalry. In this passage the character of Cervantes is given an internal focalization, he is made into a character. From this character the writer himself is separated. When Cervantes is turned into a character in his own book he able to look at Don Quixote through a different set of eyes. Like he claims in this quote above the character of Cervantes wants to write of Quixote in all its truthfulness. He can criticize other characters and or other events because he is a character within the story so readers would read his view. If it were through the words of a writer saying things about others readers might not want to read or be as interested. When he introduces the made of character of Cide Hamete Benengeli, who is an Arabic historian and writer of Don Quixote. Cervantes writes that he found the manuscript of Cide Hamete Benengeli at a shop. In Cide Hamete Benengeli version of Don Quixote, he is written about as a knight who isn’t anything like Quixote. He isn’t given the same recognition as Cervantes thinks he deserves. Cervantes feels Cide Hamete Benengeli version is a poor and bad representation of Quixote. Cervantes as a narrator is the external focalizer because he creates the story and within his story he creates a character of Cervantes. The narration goes back and for between the external and internal view of the story and similar to “She Lived in A Story” by Guillermo Samperio. In Samperio’s piece he creates a character of himself to do the things that he can’t do as a narrator. When he was a character he was able to look at Ofeila through a different eye. The same goes for Cervantes, as a character he is surpassing the restrictions of a narrator. He is criticizing the works of other writers on the translation of Don Quixote and he is giving prove to readers that literature can be written by anyone and it will always have opinionated point of views.
What are Static/flat and Dynamic/round Characters and What Do They Look Like?
Round and flat characters are usually the characters that stand out the most. The flat character is the one who doesn’t really go through any change or growth but still he is very vital to the story. The round character is one who faces a challenge in the story and is shown going through a change. The flat character is the one who relies on the round character. In this video from youtube we can see the character the roles of a round and a flat character being portrayed by these two men in the video. The video is a slapstick but you can see how the Hans who is shown to be the round character is constantly being poked fun at by Greet who is the flat character. The round characters are usually the sidekicks. We see Greet making Hans do all these crazy and wacky things for him so he can have a laugh. They are the perfect examples of a round and flat character.
Maruquita Salsipuedes Does Really Have Magical Powers; She Changed from a Flat to a Round character!
Often times when reading a good book, a reader comes across the path of character traits that have been characterized best as flat and round characters by Manfred Jahn. In “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative,” Jahn, states that a flat character is “A one-dimensional figure characterized by a very restricted range of speech and action patterns. A flat character does not develop in the course of the action and can often be reduced to a type or even a caricature (e.g., “a typical Cockney housewife”, “a bureaucrat” etc.). Flat characters are often used for comic effect” (N7.7). He defines a round character as “A three-dimensional figure characterized by many, often conflicting, properties. A round character tends to develop in the course of the action and is not reducible to a type” (N7.7). In The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, by Edgardo Vega Yunqué we see a transition of Maruquita’s character from a flat character to that of a round character. In the quote below we are given a conversation between Maruquita and her mother about the change in Maruquita.
“Who are you?” she finally said. “Did SBS do some more Star Trek magic and put Mr. Spock’s brain inside you? And you cut your hair, aren’t wearing makeup, and took off your earrings. Are you an extraterrestrial who has taken over my daughter’s body?”
“No, nothing like that has taken place,” Maruquita replied. “I’ve simply taken matters into my own hands. I got tired of playing the P.R. homegirl bozo, and I’m ready to assume my rightful role in the development of our people.”
“But you’re so different,” Flaquita said, her voice at once tremulous and awed by her daughter by her daughter. “You seem so bright, so articulate, so self-assured.”
“I figured it out Mom.” Maruquita said.
“Figured what out?”
“It’s quiet simple.”
“Maybe for you.”
“It’s like this. I can change into a monkey or a squirrel and even a peacock of imposing presence and beauty, a presence that represents power and esthetic pleasure. If I can change into such representations, I can change in to anything.” ( Edgardo Vega Yunque 322)
At the start of the book when we are introduced to Maurquita’s character she seems to be this very simple, easy-going, and restricted character. She is shown as like a sidekick to Omaha. She isn’t given much of recognition or respect. She has a limited role in the story. The main character seems to be Omaha. When he goes on to cheat on her and makes her into a fool, Maurquita’s character is shown as this powerless person. She isn’t able to stop him from all his wrong doings. Throughout the book she is portrayed as an uneducated, foolish girl, who has no purpose in life. The characters of other females are thrown in the story as a taunt. The other females are all described as educated and hardworking individuals. Maurquita’s character even becomes highly jealous of the character of Winnifred, who Omaha loves. Towards the end of the book we see a change in Maurquita. She changes her appearance as well as her education level. She has the power to change into anything and that’s what she does. She transforms into an educated young women. She becomes more mature, changes her look to a more motherly look. She uses her powers to take revenge on Omaha. We see this change in Maurquita’s character because she gives up trying to break Winnifred and Omaha’s relationship. Her character transforms and develops a power that she didn’t have at the beginning of the novel. She is more confident about herself and that is what makes a round character, someone who develops as a character.
Round and Flat Characters and Focalization Do Relate
The creation of characters in a story is very essential for the author because it gives the author authority. He is able to create anything, he has the power to take his story and create his characters in any way he chooses to. Authors that place themselves within their texts like Vega and Cervantes did in their books, prove the effect an author/narrator has. In Don Quixote, Cervantes is writing a story within a story when he talks about why he chose to write Don Quixote. Similarly in Omaha Bigelow, readers get the same sense when Vega is introduced in the book as a writer who is writing the story of Omaha Bigelow. Here we see the power of the author over text.
The use of focalization is obvious in these two books because we see the constant point of view shift between a narrator and a character. This works well and connects with the characterization part of the book as well. In order for the point of view to change there needs to be characters within the story who are willing to accept the change. When we look at Omaha Bigelow the characters of Maruquita and Omaha are like that of Don Quixote and Sancho. Don Quixote and Omaha are the flat characters who are the main characters. Maruqutia and Sancho are the round characters and are similar in that they are both like the followers of the other two. They are like the sidekicks, who do whatever the flat characters do. The author purposely creates these round and flat characters so the focalization makes sense. If there is all these different perspectives in which the story can be told and viewed through the reader must be able to differentiate between these different point of views and the best way to do that is through the characters.
Looking at Don Quixote through the character of Don Quixote varies than that of Sancho. While Don Quixote thinks of himself as this great knight errant who is out on an adventure Sancho think Don Quixote is this crazy guy but still follows him because that’s what a round character does. In Omaha Bigelow, the character of Omaha and Maruquita are very different from one another. While Omaha sees everything for his own advantage Maruquita is out to help others. In the beginning she helps Omaha and then in the end she transits herself to help her daughter and create a better family for her daughter. The fact that these characters have these different personalities makes their point of view valuable to the story.
Coming to a conclusion we learn that writing a story is like a work of architecture. You need a base foundation and then allow your ideas to grow upon that. It is extremely important to use the work of Manfred Jahn in “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative” to be able to create a story that has meaning behind it. Focalization and characterization are the main ingredients of a good story. You need characters with personalities that will make the story worth reading.
Once you have a good idea you can then go on to take all the steps required to finish that story. A story should be something that comes from the heart of its creator. Reading the great works of Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, and The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, by Edgardo Vega Yunque, readers learn the fluidity of different elements that work together to create such memorable works.
De Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. 1605. Trans. John Rutherford. Columbus, MT: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English Department, University of Cologne.
Samperio, Guillermo. “She Lived in a Story.” TriQuarterly. Trans. Russel M. Cluff and L. Howard Quackenbush. 85 (1992): 54-62. Print.
Vega Yunqué, Edgardo. The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. Woodstock, New York: Overlook, 2004. Print.
“Point-of-View Snowboarding-Cora Couloir.” Youtube.com, 17, Dec. 2008. Web. 1 Jul. 2011.
“Slapstick-flat versus round characters.” Youtube.com, 12, Jun. 2007. Web. 1 Jul. 2011.