Response Three

Michael Zyskind

Professor Alvarez

English 363

26 June 2011

Stories Within Stories: Ed Vega’s Use of Narrative Levels in Omaha Bigelow

            An embedded narrative (a story within a story) can take a number of forms and serve the narrative’s purpose in a number of ways. One such form is called exposition: where the embedded narrative (or hyponarrative, as it is otherwise known) “provides information about events that lie outside the primary action line of the matrix narrative (specifically, events that occurred in the past)” (Jahn N2.4.6). Just about every narrative of considerable length contains exposition to some extent or another. Examples of exposition can be found throughout Edgardo Vega Yunque’s The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. A specific example occurs midway through the book, when Maruquita recalls a time from her past:

                        Her grandmother had recognized the talent immediately and had begun training her. When she was younger, she made terrible mistakes that would end up half monkey and half squirrel or something like that. Awful looking things. She once did a beautiful peacock with a pitbull face. She would look in the mirror and laugh with great delight, and then her mother would come in and call her crazy. (Yunque 229)

Exposition is a fairly simply concept: it exposes information from the past—usually relevant to building a character or layering a plot. In this instance, the character of Maruquita is having a flashback of sorts that’s revealing personal information—outside the primary line of narrative; a story within a story—that helps, through mention of her early failures, round her into a more dynamic character.

            Another function of the embedded narrative is to cause a state of obstruction/retardation of the primary narrative (to momentarily suspend it)—“often creating an effect of heightened suspense” (Jahn N2.4.6). This function is used to wonderful effect in Cervantes’s Don Quixote, in the scene at the end of the first part where the fight scene with the Basque is interrupted because the narrator on another level of the storyline doesn’t have the conclusion before him (70). By momentarily pulling out of that level of narrative in the heat of such a key scene, Cervantes elevates the suspense by urging the reader to keep reading on in order to reach that stage where one can return to the primary action and conclude the battle. Like all tricks or gimmicks, this is highly effective when used sparingly. Vega, on the other hand, in his book, overuses this obstruction/retardation to the extent of nearly ruining his entire story—if his political views and lunatic ravings about what he considers to be “proper literature” can even be considered a narrative at all. One such example, and one where he actually uses this form to great effect, occurs at the ceremony to enlarge Omaha’s “bohango”: Maruquita calls a timeout, whips out her cell phone, dials the author Vega, and basically rages at the author over the things she has to deal with in the story—especially concerning Omaha’s idiocy (97-100). Vega will use this “dialing the author” shtick a few more times in the book, all to subsequent less effect due to lack of originality, but in this initial scene, right at the pivotal turning point in the book where Omaha is about to get his dream bohango, obstructing the primary narrative, cutting out of it and into a brief other, does a great job of heightening the suspense by delaying the payoff of the ceremony’s completion.

            Vega, in using his “dialing the author” method, also calls into focus another embedded narrative function: actional integration. This is where “the hyponarrative serves as an important element in the plot of the matrix narrative. For instance, in The Thousand and One NightsScheherazade’s stories keep the Sultan from killing her. Indeed, in the end, he marries her because she is such an excellent story-teller. Or think of a surprise witness in a crime or courtroom novel whole tale solves the case” (Jahn N2.4.6). In the second conversation between Maruquita and Vega, Vega takes actional integration a few steps further by not only making the embedded narrative an “important element in the plot of the matrix narrative,” it is in fact being used as a device to alter and shape the matrix narrative:

                                   “[…] Let me understand this. You’re going to set up the Bush thing and then the wedding. I’m going to have the baby, get my powers back, and then I’m going to meet this bimbo.”

                                    “Well, more like the Bush thing, you meet Winnifred, and then the wedding. Or we can insert your meeting prior to the bush thing and the wedding. You won’t have your powers when you meet her. It’s up to you.”

                                    “Yeah, the sooner the better. I can handle her. I’m really pissed at the little twit.”

                                    “Okay, right away then. […]” (270)

In this scene you see a negotiation taking place between the character and the author, on an embedded plane, deciding how the matrix narrative will proceed. On another, later embedded plane the author will admit to not knowing where the story’s headed because his character has essentially disobeyed him and hijacked the novel (303-305). This is where all the “experimental literature” talk comes from: taking a narratological concept such as actional integration and letting it evolve from an important element related to the plot, to the key to the plot itself.

 Works Cited

Cervantes, Saavedra Miguel De. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. 1605. Trans. John Rutherford. Columbus, MT: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Jahn, Manfred. “Jahn: PPP/Narratology.” Universität Zu Köln. 28 May 2005. Web. 12 June 2011. <http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm>.

Yunqué, Edgardo Vega. The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2004. Print.

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