Response Two

Michael Zyskind

Professor Alvarez

English 363

20 June 2011

Eat My Shorts, Jahn

            In the section titled “Action, story analysis, tellability,” Manfred Jahn decides to once again grace his readers with the names of story elements that seem simpler without them. This “tellability” for instance, which basically means that a series of actions in a story aren’t enough: “Normally, a story is required to have a point, to teach a lesson, to present an interesting experience […], and to arrange its episodes in an interesting progression” (Jahn N4.3). Hmmm. Interesting. Is Don Quixote a story with “tellability”? Maybe. Let’s take a look. Does the story have a point? Well, what does “have a point” mean? I guess it means to question whether the story is worth reading at all. For example, no one would want to read a story that’s only about a guy that gets up in the morning to go to the bathroom (or maybe …). What’s the point, right? So is Don a story worth reading? Sure. Why not? There’s some interesting stuff going on about a crazy guy and his sidekick, journeying around Spain seeking glory and whatnot. It keeps your attention. Yes, let’s say it has a point. One for one. Next: Does the story teach a lesson? Sure, it’s a got a few of them: don’t read too many books without a proper amount of sleep lest you become a madman who thinks he’s living a romantic tale of knight errantry in an Age that’s seen such practices made obsolete (Don Quixote); don’t interrupt someone during a story if they tell you not to interrupt them because then the storyteller will stop and probably not resume (Sancho and Cardenio are both interrupted by Don Quixote); and other lessons. Two for two. “Present an interesting experience”: yes, most definitely. Love or hate the tome, think it’s too long or too repetitive, think the characters are flat or round or rounded flat or flattened round, it’s very difficult to say that Don Quixote’s journey with his trusted squire/sidekick Sancho isn’t at least somewhat interesting. Okay, I guess this tellabilty has some legs. Three for three. And lastly: “arrange its episodes in an interesting progression.” Upon this point, two narratology terms spring up: plot and story. Story, of course, is the chronological order in which events take place (A-B-C-D)—“‘What happens next?’” (Jahn N4.7); plot is the way in which the story is structured—“‘Why does this happen?’” (Jahn N4.7)—perhaps disregarding chronology (B-D-C-A). There are several ways to structure a plot; one way, and the way in which Don Quixote is structured, is the linear approach, where every scene is a pretty much direct consequence of what happened in the one before (Jahn N4.7): Don Quixote read books; books made him delusional; he decides to become a knight; he gets himself fake knighted; he gets himself a squire (Sancho); he and Sancho have a series of adventures/misadventures; etc. Returning to the tellabilty question: Are the episodes arranged in an interesting progression? Even though it’s become quite popular today to tinker with the structure, such as starting from the middle or end and then going back to the beginning (see “point of attack,” Jahn N4.9), there’s still something noteworthy in the straightforward plot of this knight and his epic quest. So yes, there is an interesting arrangement of episodes. Four for four. Thus, in conclusion: Don Quixote has tellabilty. Fantastic. But not the most fantastic thing in this particular Jahn section as it relates to tellabilty and Don Quixote.

            Jahn cites several writers that have different views on what tellabilty might entail. By far the most intriguing view—for its simplicity in stating what every reader/writer probably already knows, though might not have thought about in such well-stated terms—is that of S.I. Hayakawa, who “relates tellabilty to offering the potential of identification and empathy. Hayakawa distinguishes identification by self-recognition and identification for wish-fulfillment:” And Jahn quotes the relevant passage:

There are two kinds of identification which a reader may make with characters in a story. First, he may recognize in the story-character a more or less realistic representation of himself. (For example, the story-character is shown misunderstood by his parents, while the reader, because of the vividness of the narrative, recognizes his own experiences in those of the story-character.) Secondly, the reader may find, by identifying himself with the story-character, the fulfillment of his own desires. (For example, the reader may be poor, not very handsome, and not popular with girls, but he may find symbolic satisfaction in identifying himself with a story-character who is represented as rich, handsome, and madly sought after by hundreds of beautiful women.) It is not easy to draw hard-and-fast lines between these two kinds of identification, but basically the former kind (which we may call “identification by self-recognition”) rests upon the similarity of the reader’s experiences with those of the story-character, while the latter kind ( “identification for wish-fulfillment” ) rests upon the dissimilarity between the reader’s dull life and the story-character’s interesting life. Many (perhaps most) stories engage (or seek to engage) the reader’s identification by both means. (Jahn N4.3)

This passage is so well stated, and so naturally ingrained in all readers, that it really needs no handholding to decipher. However, there is something interesting about these two identifications that hold true for Don Quixote—the character. In all these tales we’re going through, about stories within stories, I think it’s even more fascinating for characters to experience the same elements of narratology that the reader does. Takes the second of these identifications for example (“identification for wish-fulfillment”) and apply it to Don Quixote. A reader is more than likely to love this book because of the escapism it allows him or her: to be able to journey with Don Quixote, mad or not, and Sancho on all these adventures/misadventures that would otherwise go unlived in the real world. But I love how it doesn’t stop there. Because why is Don Quixote on this epic quest of his to begin with? It is because of his identification for wish-fulfillment he found in the books that he was reading (although he actually takes it a step further and attempts to put his readings into practice). I think that’s pretty cool.  

 Works Cited

Cervantes, Saavedra Miguel De. Don Quixote. Trans. John Rutherford. [New York]: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Jahn, Manfred. “Jahn: PPP/Narratology.” Universität Zu Köln. 28 May 2005. Web. 12 June 2011. Web. <>.

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