From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 2.1 (1982): 96-98.
Copyright © 1982, The Cervantes Society of America


Narrators, Readers, and Other Characters in Don Quijote


HOWARD MANCING HAS gathered convincing textual evidence, in his “Cide Hamete Benengeli vs. Miguel de Cervantes: The Metafictional Dialectic of Don Quijote” (Cervantes, I [1981], 63-81), to show how the Arabic historian becomes more significant in Part II as a character providing comic relief and as a foil to Don Quijote. There is no doubt that Cervantes, in his overall narrative strategy, realized the usefulness of pitting one narrator against another, with a translator in between; this dramatic multiplication of superimposed narrative voices, adjoining the voices of other characters in dialogue, indeed creates a “metafictional dialectic” that is richly confusing in its complex ambiguities. And the implied reader1 delights in his own simultaneous role as accomplice and victim of the author's illusionistic devices.
     In view of such complexity, I believe that Mancing makes a serious mistake in trying to oversimplify the situation from the outset by asserting (p. 64) that the “yo” of the Prologue to Part I and “the author of the final, edited text” are both identical with “the person referred to on the title page where it says ‘compuesto por Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’” and “the first-person editor who

     1 See, for example, Jane P. Tompkins, ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), passim.


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appears occasionally in Part I.” This problem is not so easily solved. In fact, Mancing returns to it on the following page (note 5) with these words:

It is the nature of the first-person fictional narrator to reveal his identity. When the narrator is not a character in the work or an identified fictional editor he is assumed to be the person whose name is on the book's cover. This does not, of course, mean that it is a literal truth that Cervantes had a friend with whom he carried on the conversation recorded in the prologue [. . .]. The Cervantes who edits and narrates Don Quijote may be fictionalized, but he most certainly is Cervantes . . . .

According to this, since the “editor,” who “may be fictionalized,” did not identify himself with any other name, “he most certainly is Cervantes.” It seems to me that the literary analyst gains nothing by applying the same name “Cervantes” both to the man of flesh and blood born in 1547 and to the traditional narrative voice, or “yo,” which speaks to the reader in a phrase such as “de cuyo nombro no quiero acordarme.” In fact, one might even say that it is a natural impossibility for “the first-person fictional narrator to reveal his identity” in any full sense. But I am not here proposing ontological or metaphysical speculations; for purely practical reasons I think it behooves us, as we analyze Don Quijote, to distinguish as clearly as we can between author or writer, editor or primary narrator, translator, and Arabic historian, just as we distinguish between author, Don Quijote, and Sancho Panza, or between Don Ouijote and Don Quijote.
     Not that the author himself always helps us to draw very clear distinctions. To write is to pose the problem of personal identity2;even in a private letter or in a diary the writer's voice seems often to speak of “quand' era in parte altr' uom da quel ch'i'sono.” Margit Frenk3 has recently shown how the “yo” of the prologue to the Lazarillo begins as the voice of the (anonymous) author and ends by transforming itself into the voice of the narrator Lázaro (whom the reader can often distinguish from the protagonist Lazarillo). Cervantes used in Don Quijote fundamental novelistic devices of this sort,

     2 See Inés Azar, “Meaning, Intention and the Written Text: Anthony Close's Approach to Don Quixote and its Critics,” MLN, 96 (1981), 440-44, and Mary Louise Pratt, “The Ideology of Speech-Act Theory,” Centrum, new series, I (1981), 5-18.
     3Lazarillo de Tormes. Autor—Narrador—Personaje,” in Romanica Europaen et Americana: Festschrift für Harri Meier (Bonn: Bouvier, 1980), ed. Hans Dieter Bork et al., pp. 185-92.

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some of which he had probably learned from reading the Lazarillo. Nowhere is this lesson more evident than in his prefatory pages, prologues and epilogues. One expects the author not to fictionalize himself in his dedications, at least; but the dedication of Part I to the Duke of Béjar is largely plagiarized from Fernando de Herrera, and in the dedication of Part II to the Count of Lemos a fictionalized Cervantes engages in dialogue with a fictitious envoy from China. (Even one of the ecclesiastical approbations contains suspicious dialogue.4) At the beginning of the Prologue to Part I, a fictionalized Cervantes encourages the implied reader to confuse Don Quijote the character with Don Quijote the written text; the written and typographic conventions available to Cervantes and his printer did not permit or require the clear distinction that our conventions impose upon us as twentieth-century writers and readers. And, in the epilogue to Part II, when Cide Hamete addresses his pen, the reader can not be sure at exactly what point the voice of the pen yields again to that of Cide Hamete, or even, perhaps, to that of the primary narrator.5
     The question of identity, literary or otherwise, is not a peripheral one in Don Quijote. The alienation of the protagonist, as a reader who has merged his own identity with that of the knights whose adventures he has read about, is central to the novel itself. When Don Quijote uses the phrase (I, 5) “yo sé quién soy,” not to assert the conventional aristocratic identity of self which guarantees the word of a man of honor, but to fragment his own identity (“y sé que puedo ser no sólo los que he dicho, sino todos los doce Pares de Francia, y aun todos los nueve de la Fama . . .”), we can hear behind the scenes the voice, not of the narrator, but of the author Cervantes, suggesting through the rhetoric of fiction the problematic nature of human identity, especially the identity of a reader caught up by the written words of a work of fiction, as we are, at least in part, by Don Quijote.


     4 See Elias L. Rivers, “On the Prefatory Pages of Don Quixote, Part II,” MLN, 75 (1960), 214-21.
     5 According to John J. Allen, Don Quixote: Hero or Fool?, Part Two (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1979), p. 24, “there is an almost imperceptible shift in mid-sentence to Cervantes addressing the reader.” See also Ruth El Saffar's review article JHP, 4 (1980), 237-54, and Allen's response, pp. 255-56.

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