Anthony Riojas 6/20/11
Stick shift characters: Samperio’s shift in characterization
Properly implemented characterization is the backbone of any well written story, because even with a an interesting plot, and multiple levels of discourse, uninteresting characters will derail the story all together. A character must be interesting to read, but more than that, their purpose must be clear. This means each one must fall into an individual category of characterization as mentioned by Jahn. These varying character types along with the unique characterization levels tie in with the setting and space in Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story”. He created a successful story, by tying these elements together seamlessly. The initial and most important focus is on the characters and how they are characterized. Within the second paragraph in Samperio’s story the first form of characterization is made apparent when Samperio writes:
Guillermo Segovia had just turned thirty-four; he had three books of stories, a novel and a series of newspaper articles published domestically and abroad, especially in France where he had received his degree in literature. Returning to Mexico six years before his speech at the Academy, he had married Elena, a young Columbian researcher, with whom he had had two children. On his return, the writer took a job at a newspaper, while his wife worked at the National University of Mexico. They rented a small house in old Coyoacán, where they lived comfortably (Samperio, 55).
This method is known as block characterization. Jahn describes this as “The introductory description of a character, by the narrator, usually on the character’s first appearance in the text; a special type of explicit characterization.” (Jahn, N7.4). This form of characterization gets readers better acquainted with a character and the importance of the description upon introduction is so that we can gain a better understanding of their traits and mannerisms. Block characterization is essentially similar to meeting, greeting, and shaking hands with a person when first meeting them. This passage serves as the handshake with Segovia so that we may learn about him and gain a better comprehension. This serves purpose in all stories, but this one particularly because it helps to make the reader aware of what to expect and anticipate the character may do later. It also helps to explain why they may have made certain choices as the story progresses. This, as Jahn also described, is obvious explicit characterization, ( in this case narrational, explicit characterization) which is “a verbal statement that ostensibly attributes (i.e., is both meant to and understood to attribute) a trait or property to a character who may be either the speaker him- or herself (auto-characterization), or some other character (altero-characterization).” (Jahn, 7.4). Jahn also says that the descriptive nature of explicit characterization is used to not only introduce, but to “individualize, and evaluate a person” (Jahn, 7.4).
Although the story begins with block characterization, Samperio’s story is notorious for it’s various shifts, whether focalization, or pace, and characterization is no exception. The story shifts from one type to another in a rather smooth transition, by avoiding subtlety with the reader. Samperio executes this shift by blatantly telling the reader when writing about Segovia’s idea to write a story with a self aware character. When Segovia writes:
With Plaza Hidalgo at her back, down narrow Francisco Sosa avenue, Ofelia was walking. Her slender figure was dressed in gray woolen slacks and a thick black sweater which because of its bagginess seemed to hang from her shoulders. A violet scarf encircled the woman’s long neck. The white skin of her face was a tenuous light that stood out against her dark hair, which brushed her shoulders as she moved (Samperio, 57).
This is still explicit characterization, but the difference is at first the story made use of narrational explicit characterization, whereas this passage contains figural characterization. In figural characterization “the characterizing subject is a character. On the level of explicit characterization, a character either characterizes him- or herself, or some other character.” (Jahn, N7.3). This means that, they type of explicit characterization has changed. Whereas before Samperio (the narrator himself) was providing the character descriptions, now Segovia, a character within the story, is doing so for us. This serves as an important feature to the story because it shows a subjective view of Ofelia through Segovia’s eyes as he describes her in his writing. This creates an aspect of humanity through characterization as the reader gets to see firsthand how a writer portrays his character and his opinion of her. By describing a character through the eyes of another, Segovia creates another dimension for these characters, thus making them interesting to read and analyze.
Samperio, G. “She lived in a Story”
New Writing From Mexico. Russel M. Cluff, Howard Quakenbush. Northwestern Univesity, 1992. 55-62
Jahn, M. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative”.
English Department, University of Cologne. 2005