In Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative, Manfred Jahn argues that a chorus character is “a convention in drama, an uninvolved character (“man in the street”) commenting on characters or events, typically speaking philosophically, sententiously, or in clichés” (Jahn N7.8). In other words, a chorus character may not be a profound character but whose role heavily relies on the advice he or she offers to other characters. In Severo Sarduy’s Cobra, the Guru, Rosa, and the Grand Lama fill the roles of chorus characters. Primary characters, such as Tundra, Scorpion, Totem, and Tiger sought the advice and wisdom of the Guru, Rosa, and the Grand Lama on their spiritual journey. Rosa’s advice is identical to the Guru’s and their vague words tended to be left unheeded. The Grand Lama’s advice, however, offered resolutions to Totem, Scorpion, and Tundra’s spiritual anxieties. However, because Tiger’s anxiety wasn’t founded in worldly crises, the Grand Lama was unable to suggest a solution and instead, Tiger’s spiritual fears were left unresolved.

Spiritual Identity In Cobra

November 15, 2011

Throughout Severo Sarduy’s Cobra, numerous characters are on a journey to find spiritual enlightenment. Though they are chasing the same dream, the characters find themselves on very different roads. For instance, while some characters undergo transformations, Tiger and Scorpion often seek the advice and guidance of others, such as the Guru and Rosa, in order to make sense of their realities. The identical advice that the Guru and Rosa gives Tiger causes him to come to a halt in his spiritual journey. Hoping to gain a better perspective, Totem and Tiger also consult the Grand Lama. In seeking his own personal advice, Tiger asks “Which is the true road to Liberation?” (Sarduy 147). Unlike Totem, Tundra, and Scorpion, Tiger seeks ultimate freedom and prosperity beyond what he knows. Totem, Tundra, and Scorpion’s concerns become eased by their counselors since their anxieties are based primarily in the present and real world. Unlike Tundra and Totem who had received instructions from the Grand Lama, Tiger’s question is left unanswered and he is left to make his own decisions and discover his own spiritual identity.

Manfred Jahn argues that psychonarration is the “textual representation of a character’s conscious or unconscious mental states and processes, mainly by using forms of ‘narrative report of discourse’ or ‘narrated perception’” (Jahn N8.11). In other words, a character’s thoughts, whether or not they are aware of them, can be understood through their behavior and diction. In Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, the character of Saturn or Salvador Plascencia presents readers with two distinct sides of the same person. Saturn, until presented as Salvador Plascencia, is an all knowing entity, constantly watching over the other characters, with far too much power. In this depiction, readers are more inclined to believe that Saturn possesses such a power because he often introduces a section as a heterodiegetic narrator. However, it is only until Saturn is presented as Salvador Plascencia that readers are able to understand who Salvador Plascencia is. Depicted with more human qualities, we learn that Plascencia is trapped in his own melancholy, which arises from him being in a love triangle. He has become so distraught and detached from the characters that he even withdraws from the war that has been waged on him.

In Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, readers are exposed to the points of view of numerous characters. Most tend to be homodiegetic narrators, or characters present during the events of the narrative, and who accounts the events. From these numerous characters and their own points of view of the same event, readers are presented with multiple focalizers. In Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative, Manfred Jahn defines multiple focalizers as a narrative that utilizes a “technique of presenting an episode repeatedly, each time seen through the eyes of a different (internal) focalizer. Typically, what is demonstrated by this technique is that different people tend to perceive or interpret the same event in radically different fashion” (Jahn N3.2.4). In essence, if a narrative contains the use of multiple focalizers, it presents readers with the perspectives of several different characters in the same situation. For example, while Saturn frequently narrates the beginning of a section, he establishes the setting and which characters will be participating in the scene. For instance, Saturn establishes the setting in which Federico de la Fe and Little Merced encounter the mechanic. While Federico de la Fe is there strictly for business and to continue his journey, Little Merced is more curious of her new environment and the possibility of her acquiring limes. Similarly, while the mechanic observes them, he remembers a time when he was younger and would crawl underneath the shells of the mechanical turtles.

Throughout Salvador Plascencia’s The People Of Paper, the characters strived to escape from the watchful eye of Saturn. Saturn, who reveals himself to be Salvador Plascencia, engages not only readers, but his characters as well. Readers, having been enthralled by his unique and unpredictable narrative structure, are further lured into a world possessing a dual nature. The dual nature of the narrative heavily revolve around the characters’ paranoia and fear that an outside source lingers in their every thought and action, possibly interfering or even influencing their behavior. However, Plascencia’s character is caught up in his own melancholy, which arises from his position in a love triangle. The characters who wage war on Saturn, do so in the hopes that he will step back and allow them to have their own freedom. The war, which seems relentless at times and stagnant at others, constantly remains a one-sided war. The characters fight against Saturn, who rarely shows any reaction. To combat his watchful eye, whether it be unconscious or conscious, the characters resolve to encase themselves in the lead made from the mechanical turtles. This act not only establishes the characters as defiant beings but also reveal the dramatic lengths that they will go to in order to preserve their freedom and privacy. In Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived In A Story”, the character of Guillermo Segovia strived to escape the gaze of what he believed to be an unknown entity. Because the uniting trait between these characters is their fear of the unknown and their lack of privacy, their fear can also be related to the following clip taken from an episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor, a time lord and alien, is encased in an indestructible element in order for the people of earth to protect themselves from any potential danger he may embody.

In many literary works, the mundane tasks of one’s everyday life often provide an author with blank pages, which these tasks shall be recorded. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story, “Dialogue With A Mirror”, uses this technique as a basis for his narrative, which chronologically follows the main character through his morning routine. In Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative, Manfred Jahn explains the levels of communication in a narrative in the following diagram:
(Manfred Jahn N2.3.1)
From this chart, we learn that the author reaches out to his or her reader through the messages conveyed in his or her narrative. Often times, the narrator, created by the author, will voice opinions, thoughts, or ideas to a specific audience, whether it be an imaginative one or direct addressee. The narrator, then reveals a character’s or characters’ personal thoughts, ideas, emotions, or actions in a direct relation to another character. Jahn further stresses that a character is not “a real-life person but only a “paper being” (Barthes 1975 [1966]), a being created by an author and existing only within a fictional text, either on the level of action or on the level of fictional mediation” (Jahn N2.3.4). Although Garcia Marquez’s text would follow these parameters, he creates a narrator who accounts the story of such a relatable character that readers cannot help but remember a time that they too had struggled to get out of bed or perhaps spent a few seconds making faces at their own reflection. The narration follows the routine of a man who struggles to get through his morning routine and get to work on time, while also trying to recall a word to describe Mabel’s store. As the story comes to an end, the narrator discloses a final moment of relatable everyday triumph, in which the man pauses to celebrate his daily achievement of assessing that “Mabel’s store is a Pandora’s Box” (Garcia Marquez 49).

The People Of Paper by Salvador Plascencia is a narrative told through several distinct points of view, all of which are homodiegetic narrators, with the exception of a heterodiegetic narrator who narrates the prologue. Manfred Jahn explains a homodiegetic narrative as “the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is also one of story’s acting characters” and a heterodiegetic narrative as “the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story” (Jahn N1.10). In essence, the homodiegetic narrator is present during the events of the narrative and is also an active participant in them. A heterodiegetic narrator, however, is not present during the events of the narrative but instead only recounts the events in respect to characters who are actively present during the events. The first narrator is Saturn, who is often referred to by other characters, and exhibits a few heterodiegetic traits but is also a homodiegetic narrator. Although Saturn is an external force that can possibly be an enigma, it is often the target of other characters’ angst, rage, and fury. Saturn, though not completely present often narrates what situation a character or characters are currently in. Similarly, these characters embodies characters of homodiegetic narrators. For example, several characters including Little Merced, Merced del Papel, and Froggy often narrate their own experiences. Often times, since such characters narrate their own experiences, readers are able to get a better understanding of who these characters are and how they are able to articulate the same events according to their own individual perceptions.

Magical realism can be thought of as narratives or other works which though they are derived from reality, have magical or supernatural elements. Narratives, which are based in the real world, but also where the impossible is practical can also be thought of as magical realism. With this in mind, one is able to relate this idea to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper. There are several distinct matters that make this narrative magical realism. For instance, the character of Merced del Papel is made entirely of paper. Little Merced describes her encounter with Merced del Papel, where she:

 “sat down next to a woman who was made of paper. She said nothing was left of her people, except for her and her creator. And she had left him passed out in an old factory with thousands of paper cuts on his hands”. (Salvador Plascencia 25)

Despite this Merced del Papel’s existence being unreasonable in a real world, in this context, it is perfectly acceptable. Like Merced del Papel, the role of Saturn is also evidence of magical realism. Saturn, which often serves as a homodiegetic narrator, is an entity that often establishes the framework and setting for the next scene of the text. Since there is no evidence of Saturn being a human or even made of paper, it is possible that Saturn is an external force. Even if perceived as a phantom, Saturn is frequently the target of numerous characters’ rage, anger, and bitterness that they’d otherwise channel towards a physical being.

In both of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short stories, “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” and “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, Garcia Marquez uses the idea of “the noise” to convey two distinct ideas. In “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, it is revealed that the man with wings couldn’t sleep because “the noise of the stars disturbed him” (Garcia Marquez 220). In this instance, the narrator reveals that an unlikely characteristic of the otherwise silent stars was the reason that the man with wings did not sleep. To other characters and spectators, this idea might have seemed absurd, but it was the reality of the man with wings. Similarly, in “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother”, Erendira’s grandmother says:

“‘Take advantage of tomorrow to wash the living room rug too,’ she told Erendira. ‘It hasn’t seen the sun since the days of all the noise’” (Garcia Marquez 287).


Although this instance may just be a reference to the days of Erendira’s parents, it is possible that Erendira’s grandmother knows the story of the man with wings. Since it was normal for her to recount stories while she often slept, it is possible that this instance was a slip up into her conscious reality.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “There Are No Thieves In This Town” uses dialogism or “the effect created when a text contains a diversity of authorial, narratorial, and characterial voices creating significant contrasts and tensions” (Jahn N3.1.9) in order to provide readers with two distinct characters. The heterodiegetic narrator, not actively present during the events of the narrative, provides a distinct description of the two main characters, Damaso and his wife, Ana. Damaso, having just stolen a set of billiard balls from the community pool hall shows no regret or remorse for his actions or even when others are arrested on the pretense for having committed his crime. On the contrary, Ana frequently voices her guilt and regrets and often tries to convince Damaso to return the balls. From this narrator, readers are able to gain an adequate understanding of who these characters are. Prompted by the conscience of guilt of his wife, Ana, and perhaps even some regrets of his own, Damaso finally reluctantly attempts to return the stolen billiard balls. In the final scene of the narrative, Roque, the owner of the pool hall, catches Damaso and sinisterly declares:

“‘There were two hundred pesos,’ he said. ‘And now they’re going to take them out of your hide, not so much for being a thief as for being a fool’”. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez 147)

Despite revealing the true nature of both Damaso and Ana’s personalities, Roque’s true nature was not exposed until the final scene. Seeing the robbery as an opportunity to make a profit, Roque had claimed that an additional two hundred pesos had been stolen. The narrator, who hadn’t exposed Roque as such a sinister character, had created a narrative delay, or a veil of suspense in unraveling the events of Damaso’s downfall.