Dying to Speak: Death and the Creation of a New Reader in the Latin American Novel
Infanger, Scott Ryan
In this study, I analyze Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas and Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis, La amortajada and The Shrouded Woman by María Luisa Bombal, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, and João Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas. The common theme of death and the solitary narrator/protagonist strengthens the links between Brazilian and Spanish American narrative traditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This study examines the way in which death functions as a literary trope that destroys the concept of the traditional reader and reconstructs him/her as an integral participant in the creation of the narrative. Relying on Barthes’s concept of “writerly” texts, I apply Wolfgang Iser’s theory of aesthetic response and Roberto González Echevarría’s theory of the Archive to explore the ways in which death appears in primarily first-person narratives in which the narrator/protagonist has either died and speaks/writes from the grave, or remains the only living character of the narrative. In each work, the reader is expected to abandon the conventions of literary realism by engaging the narrator/protagonist in a metafictional space within the narrative itself. As the reader enters the texts, s/he is encouraged to reevaluate the society represented in the narrative, as it is filtered through the narrator’s lens of death. This lens strips away the conventional wisdom and hegemonic discourse of the society portrayed in the novels. Each of the novels in this study presents its social order from a different perspective, but the common element of each work is the awakening that the narrator experiences through his or her association with death. In each of the works, the reader must “fill in” missing pieces of the text or decipher the speech acts of marginalized characters in order to understand the position and perspective of the narrator/protagonist. By doing so, the traditional reader “dies” as a newly constructed, more engaged reader is created.