Anthony Rioja 7/6/11
Two Halves of a Whole:
Correlation between characterization and awareness
Characterization is an important narratological concept because it is one of the foundations that shapes characters, emphasizes their development, and also affects how the reader perceives individuals within a story. Without proper use of characterization, the characters themselves become less memorable, and it is being memorable that makes it easy for readers to relate, not to mention that good characters (to some degree) make up the story itself. It is important to note this because it provides the basis for an engrossing story and keeps the flow of the story at an interesting level by witnessing growth and change, such as in Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” as well as Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
The goal of this article is to analyze, from Samperio/Cervantes (and other examples), and prove that the stream of consciousness and the level of awareness are dependent on the type of characterization used in both literary works. The two can be used individually, but it is when used in combination that they form the foundation for a memorable story and help to develop the characters throughout.
Stream of Consciousness (character awareness)
In fictional literature is it almost never made completely known to the characters themselves of their fictitious existence. Even when the audience is aware that characters have no real control, literary figures are usually ignorant to it. The characters believe they have some form of control over their daily lives and generally they are oblivious to the existence of the author or narrator. This applies to the heterodiegetic narrative, whereas in the homodiegetic since a character is a narrator they are merely unaware of the author’s control. This technique of creating self-aware characters is known as breaking the “stream of consciousness”. The stream of consciousness describes “he disjointed character of mental processes and the layering and merging of central and peripheral levels of awareness” (Jahn, N8.8). These levels of awareness refer to how much the character knows of their environment. In other words, the central level of consciousness is the character being aware of their environment and the world around them. Peripheral awareness is a character being aware of others. By breaking this consciousness, a character can become aware of other presences. Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” makes us of this technique, such as when Ofelia is made aware of her author Segovia, and vice versa.. In the story it becomes evident of the character’s self-awareness when Ofelia states “I write that he writes a story that I live in” (Samperio, 60). This quote not only emphasizes the realization of the lack of control, but also the acceptance that there is no control. Within this one passage, there is a relinquishing of power in a sense. It is relinquishing power because the characters neither try to gain control, nor fight back, they merely accept that someone else, an author, controls their very existence and determines their every action. This is uncommon in that normally with heterodiegetic narration, the character is unaware they are being watched or even controlled. This breaks the illusion and the barrier between spectator and character.
Samperio’s short story manages to break the stream of consciousness, but it also switches the stream by redirecting the internal focalizer, “the character through whose eyes the story is presented” (Jahn, N1.18). The story does this by changing the point of view so that the reader is observing the narrative from a new homodiegetic narrator. There is also an interesting twist as the characters are aware of the switch in the focalizer. There is a very important break in consciousness for Segovia as well as a viewpoint swap when Ofelia says:
I feel like I’m disinhabiting Guillermo Segovia’s story. And he cannot pretend that my text might be entitled something like “Guillermo Lived in a Story”; now I write that Segovia, already scared out of his wits moves toward his study at the same time that I begin to live in just on Coyoacán, while he gradually inhabits two, three, many Coyoacáns (Samperio, 61).
It is in this passage that there is a pivotal change as Segovia is no longer narrating the story within the story, but Ofelia has become the internal focalizer at this point. Ofelia is now narrating and controlling the sub-story. This reinforces the break in the consciousness stream by having the character within the story’s story become aware of an outside presence. This notion is further supported with the switch in point of view by having the focalizer become the focalized. This passage shows exactly where the stream of consciousness is broken. It is here that the reader can see the shift in the peripheral level of awareness in both main characters. The central level of awareness is also blurred in that, everything they each knew of their environments becomes discredited. Both Segovia and Ofelia at some point within the story begin to question their reality as the lines of confusion are drawn. They have difficulty discerning what is real or whether they ever had any control. They both eventually come to accept that there is an even greater authoritative force controlling the existence that controls the sub-existence. This change in perspective also demonstrates a change in the controlling force within the story. The story within the story begins with Segovia in control, manipulating Ofelia’s every move and thought, raising her paranoia level while doing so. As the focalizer changes Ofelia not only becomes narrator, but controller as well, dictating Segovia’s every action up until the story’s end. Eventually both characters relinquish control and Samperio is shown to be the final say in the characters’ fate.
When compared with that of Don Quixote, we immediately notice the difference in narration. Although the story is also told by a heterodiegetic narrator, initially, much like in the Samperio work, in Cervantes’ novel the narrational style remains the same throughout. The self-proclaimed “knight errant” never becomes aware of the narrator’s presence. Even when the narrator directly references the first part of the novel and, in a sense, reminds the reader that this is a story when saying:
This gave great satisfaction to the curate and the barber, for they concluded they had taken the right course in carrying him off enchanted on the ox-cart, as has been described in the First Part of this great as well as accurate history, in the last chapter thereof. So they resolved to pay him a visit and test the improvement in his condition, although they thought it almost impossible that there could be any; and they agreed not to touch upon any point connected with knight-errantry so as not to run the risk of reopening wounds which were still so tender (Cervantes, 2.1).
This line which not only makes reference to the first volume of the story informs us that we are bearing witness to a story. It creates dramatic irony not only in what is said but in how it is said. When reading it carefully one must notice that the narrator said “first part” and referred to the story as a “history”. He/she could have just as easily said “taken the right course in carrying him off enchanted on the ox-cart as they did earlier” (to re-phrase it), but instead he directly referenced the novel and explicitly threw the fact that it is a story in the open. It is important to note that even when the narrator does this, we become aware that we are bearing witness to a work of fiction, but Don Quixote is still unaware of the higher power that is not only controlling is fate, but describing it to an audience as well. This is an interesting contrast to the Samperio example which starts off similarly, but due to multiple shifts in narration and the use of the stream of consciousness also.
Another interesting contrast to the Samperio story is that Cervantes’ work does in fact contain shifts in point of view, according to the article “Manipulation of Narrative Discourse: From Amadis de Gaula to Don Quixote”, by Shannon M. Polchow. Polchow brings up the notion that the story that takes place in part one of Don Quixote is relayed by not one narrator but by several. She makes a reference to an article by George Haley, in which Haley writes:
The characters in this corollary tale are all involved in the mechanics of telling and transmitting Don Quijote’s story. Their adventures, not as violent as Don Quijote’s but no less exciting for that, are the search for source materials in Manchegan archives, the creation of a continuous narrative from fragmentary and sometimes overlapping sources, the translation of the continuous narrative from Arabic to Castilian, the recasting of the translation and the publication of the revision, with intrusive commentary at every stage. (Haley, 146) (Polchow, 72).
According to Polchow, after researching Haley’s article, there is a single voice that holds the narrative position, meaning that it is never made obvious that there was a change in gender or narrative voice. She also mentions the added complexity when trying to draw a relation to the narrator that was present from the beginning of the story. Although Don Quixote himself is only given a central level of awareness and never becomes conscious to any of the narrative voices, it is in this notion that we see the major similarity to Samperio’s work. The continuous narrative as mentioned by Haley, contains multiple shifts in the point of view, and here is where the commonality lies. The shifts in perspective help to demonstrate the level of consciousness, which proves Quixote’s lack of peripheral awareness, however; these shifts also indicate the key difference, which is that the focalized remains the same despite a change in the focalizer. The article also brings about the possibility of the narrative being compared to an orchestra and the “narrative soloist” is Cervantes, and that the remaining narrative voices are merely “fine-tune Cervantes’ polyphonic composition” (Polchow, 73).
Use of Characterization
Properly implemented characterization is the backbone of any well written story, because even with 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 more 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 its 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. 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.
(interesting to see character change side by side, literally)
Cervantes does not stray from the typical introductory technique that we witness in the opening paragraphs of Samperio’s work. Much in the same way Guillermo Segovia is described, Don Quixote is as well when Cervantes writes:
He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman (Cervantes, 1.1).
It in this introduction that block characterization is also used to give a rather unflattering description of the soon to be hero. It is interesting however, when compared side by side, to view how the narrator seems to perceive the protagonists in each work, subsequently affecting how the reader may come to view them as well. This is because in this opening there are multiple levels of characterization used. Whereas Samperio’s short story placed a bit more emphasis on implicit characterization, which is “a (usually unintentional) auto-characterization in which somebody’s physical appearance or behavior is indicative of a characteristic trait.” (Jahn, 7.5), to describe Segovia (making it apparent of his intelligence and arrogance through his behavior and speech), Cervantes, as we witness in the opening lines of the first chapter, chose the route of explicit characterization, which usually “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). The difference according to Jahn being the matter of intent on the part of explicit characterization. Samperio meant to emphasize that Segovia was a scholar and a writer, but more than likely did not intend to make him sound like a pompous, arrogant fool. Conversely, it is clear that Cervantes meant to paint a certain picture of Don Quixote from the very beginning, as a washed up old farmer.
It is apparent based on the evidence provided and the quotes from several authors that in these particular instances, the type of characterization had a direct correlation to the level of awareness. If not yet convinced, consider this idea: both characters are by definition (according to Jahn) round/dynamic characters. This means 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.” Using this as a basis, and seeing that both characters do in fact develop through the progression of their respective stories, it can be asked: why were their levels of awareness different? The cause for the difference lies in the use of characterization. Samperio uses explicit figural characterization during the shift in point of view, and implicit block characterization upon the story’s introduction. Cervantes however maintains the use of explicit block characterization at the beginning of the story, then upon the shift in point of view (but not in focalization), switches to narrational implicit characterization, in which Don Quixote’s attributes are described more through behavior (such as analyzing his personality when attacking windmills, or being knighted by an innkeeper). It might be proposed that the difference in narration are responsible for the character awareness, but this is refuted due to the styles being vastly similar (omniscient, and heterodiegetic), and that the narration only focused on forwarding information to the reader. The characterization technique is essentially what built the individuals (with emphasis on Segovia and Quixote) from the ground up, as we saw them grow, one within the world around him and the other beyond that; learning of the controller of his fate, Samperio.
It has become evident that stream of consciousness (levels of awareness) is not only dependent on characterization, but rather the two are co-dependent on each other because they play off of one another. They almost bounce back and forth in the manner a rubber ball thrown between two walls in close proximity would. The function of one is to play off of the other and circulate to perpetuate an idea through the story. If further research were to be conducted, one could possibly analyze other literary works, possibly ones as “experimental” as these, to see if the co-dependency holds true, or if it was merely chance that these works stuck to the theory.