Felicia Rosenberg               

Professor Alvarez

English 363

6 July 2011

 Narratology in Novels: Jahn’s Deciphering of “Narration, Focalization and Narrative Situations”  


           “Narratology: A Guide to The Theory of Narrative” by Manfred Jahn explains all the different terms used by narrative authors.  Narratology is a way of studying and analyzing literature.  An author decides to write their novel or story in a particular style.  Styles of writing and narration can make or break the tale.  If their is a good story and/or message the writer is trying to convey but uses a writing style that is confussing, his/her story may not get through to many people.  There are many different ways an author can write their work.  The narrator becomes a very important part of the novel.  The narrator is where the reader gets all of their information from.  When reading one always has to think is my narrator reliable?  Often times authors will purposely make the narrator unreliable and their are clues in the writing to let the reader know this.  Jahn discusses a lot of terminology regarding narration. 


                    Jahn’s guide starts of simply explainging the basic structure behind a story.  “A story is a sequence of events which involves characters.  Hence, a narrative is a form of communication which presents a sequence of events caused and experienced by characters.” (Jahn, N1.2)  According to Jahn a story is events placed in a specific order.   Some stories are told in order while others stories are scattered all over the place; using flashblacks to let the audience know what has happened.   “A narrator is the speaker or ‘voice’ of the narrative discourse (Genette 1980 [1972]: 186). He or she is the agent who establishes communicative contact with an addressee (the ‘narratee’), who manages the exposition, who decides what is to be told, how it is to be told (especially, from what point of view, and in what sequence), and what is to be left out. If necessary, the narrator will defend the ‘tellability’ (N1.5) of the story (Labov 1972) and comment on its lesson, purpose, or message.” (Jahn, N3.1.1)  Simply speaking it’s all up to the narrator on what the reader knows. 

              Within narration there are different types of narrators.  The story can be told either as an overt or covert narrator.  People who read a book with a overt narrator may feel a personal connection to the story because in this style the narrator refers to themself as “I” or “we”.  This can make the reader feel like they are getting into their head; causing this personal experience.  “An overt narrator is one who refers to him/herself in the first person (“I”, “we” etc.), one who directly or indirectly addresses the narratee, one who offers reader-friendly exposition whenever it is needed (using the ‘conative’ or ‘appellative’ discourse function), one who exhibits a ‘discoursal stance’ or ‘slant’ toward characters and events, especially in his/her use of rhetorical figures, imagery, evaluative phrases and emotive or subjective expressions (‘expressive function’), one who ‘intrudes’ into the story in order to pass philosophical or metanarrative comments, one who has a distinctive voice.”  (Jahn, N3.1.4)  Overt narrations make one feel like they know the narrator; they have a specific tone and mood to them.  However it is completly different for a covert narrator.  According to Jahn a covert narrator is, “…in contrast, is one who exhibits none of the features of overtness listed above: specifically, s/he is one who neither refers to him- or herself nor addresses any narratees, one who has a more or less neutral (nondistinctive) voice and style, one who is sexually indeterminate, one who shows no ‘conative solicitude’ whatsoever, one who does not provide exposition even when it is urgently needed, one who does not intrude or interfere, one who lets the story events unfold in their natural sequence and tempo (“lets the story tell itself”, as is frequently, though not uncontroversially, said [Lubbock 1957 [1921]: 62; qtd Genette 1988 [1983]: 45]); in short, one whose discourse fulfills no obvious conative, phatic, appellative, or expressive functions. Covert narration can be most easily achieved by letting the action be seen through the eyes of an internal focalizer (N3.2.2).” (N3.2.2) This type of narration is simplicitic.  It lets the story basically tell itself.

                      Whether or not the narrator is overt or covert the story can be in a homodiegetic or a heterodiegetic naarrative.  As Jahn describes a homodiegetic narrative has the narrator as one of the characters.  In a heterodiegetic narrative, the narrator isn’t in the story at all.  The style of the narrative is all up to the decision of the author.  He or she can choose to write in whatever style they would like.  However certain styles can change the whole meaning and message in the novel.  It’s not that difficult to figure out if it is a homodiegetic or heterodiegetic narrative.  Just look for “I” being used within the story which discludes any dialogue.  If it is being used then the story is written in a homodiegetic narration.

             Jahn also describes a term called focalization.  Focalization deals with point of view.  Sometimes it is difficult to figure out who is speaking and when.  Focalization clarifies any of that confussion.  Jahn states, “A focalizer is the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text. A text is anchored on a focalizer’s point of view when it presents (and does not transcend) the focalizer’s thoughts, reflections and knowledge, his/her actual and imaginary perceptions, as well as his/her cultural and ideological orientation.” (N3.2.2)  Therefore the focalizer is in which the point of view follows the narration.  Within focalization there are four different trypes.  Jahn goes on to explain all the different types of focalization.  Only two of the four forms focalization will be looked at in this paper.  Fixed and variable focalization seem to be the most common forms.  Fixed focalization is,  “The presentation of narrative facts and events from the constant point of view of a single focalizer.” (Jahn, N3.2.4)  This would be the narration doesn’t change.  It starts off with one narrator and that narrator tells the whole story.  The second focalization that this essay will exam is multiple focalization.  According to Jahn multiple focalization is, having many different narrators at different times in the novel.  This could be nice becasue the reader can experience the tale from different perpspectives. 

              As proven so far in the introduction Narratology can be very helpful when reading and analyzing a story.  This paper will examine some of the narratology terms mentioned above in a few novels; The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, “She Lived in a Story” by by Guillermo Samperio, and Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle by Edgardo Vega Yunqué.  The authors of these novels are constantly changing narration from  heterdiegetic to  homodiegetic and vice versa.  The point of view in these stories is hard to figure out sometimes.  However all these novels deal with changing the point by the narrator which are either covert or overt due to the focalization.


              There narratology terms can be very useful when reading and analyzing a story.  One can figure out what type of narration is happening within the story and if or not the story is heter/homodiegetic.  The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes can be examed and looked at for many different reason.  This novel is a heterodigetic narrative, simply because the narration is in the third person.  The narrator is never a character in the story and the author doesn’t use the words “I” or “Mine” unless they are placing it in a dialogue.  There will always be the question of is the narrator reliable or unreliable.  However when it comes to third person narration, the narrator is just reporting all the different events they see and what goes on around them.  It’s the characters that are going to interpret everything differently and have different point of views.   In this novel the narration is covert because there is no personal experience with the audience.  The narrator doesn’t intrude on the story.  He/she just tells the story as is without giving any of their own opinion.  Cervantes writes, “The idea that this whole fabric of famous fabrication was real so established itself in his mind that no history in the world was truer for him.” (27)  Everything in this sentence is written in the third person which makes the stlye heterodiegetic.  The narrator in this novel never interfers with the tale.  The author uses words such as “him” because he is using the third person.  The reason this novel is covert because the narrattor in this sentence never gives his own thoughts, just tells the tale as it unfolds.  The only time in the whole novel that we see the word “I” is during dialogue.   This quote explains that Don Quoxite spent many most of his time reading fiction.  This meant that he wasn’t out in the world experiencing things for himself.  He spent his time reading and imaging.  The things he read, he believed to be true.  That were so real to him, just like history is real for everyone else.  The real history that everyone knows didn’t compare to the history of fiction in his mind.  The “fabrication” was more real to him.  Nothing “was truer for him”.  However it doesn’t say whose truth it is.  Is it the characters truth or the historical truth.  A lot of fictional stories have a real historical basis.  “Fabric” is a tangle things and books are just that.  However history is in the past and isn’t physically tangable.  He also gets very lost in a dream world.  Fiction is all about dreaming and using one’s imgination.  Is he trying to make fiction and dreaming a reality?  Regardless of what is going on in the story it is clear on what type of narration is being used and whose point of view the story is being told from. 

              Chapter 17 in Don Quixote by Cervantes is a very interesting chapter full of narrations and dialogue.  There is a lot of evidence of narrator’s discourse within the novel.  Narrtor’s discourse is oral or writen text produced by an act of narrating.  This is also telling the narrative made up statements from the story.  In this chapter Don Quixote starts realizing made he needs certain things that arn’t mentioned in the books he is putting to test.  The innkepper needs to get paid; however Don Quixote doesn’t carry money on him.  This intails the innkeeper to take their suitcases.  This chapter also shows the audience once again how much Sancho gets picked on.  “And there, with Sancho in the middle of the blanket, they began to toss him up and down and to amuse themselves at his expense, as people do with dogs at a carnival time.”  (Cervantes, 135)  Constantly Sancho is being abused by people and usually it is Don Quixote’s fault.  It is clear that this text is heterodiegetic narrative.  The quote presented is in the present tense.  However throughout this chapter the narrator is switching from the past to the present.

          Guillermo Samperio uses many different narrative techniques in writing his short story, “She Lived in a Story”.  The narration and point of view is constantly changing.  At times it is confusing to understand who is telling the story.  Samperio switches between homodigetic and heterodiegetic narration throughout the whole tale.  A homodiegetic narrative as previously stated is when a “story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is also one of story’s acting characters.” (Jahn, N1. 10)  At points in the story one of the characters is telling the story.  Samperio also writes using heterodiegetic narration.  This narration is a story that “is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story.” (Jahn, N1. 10)  Simply speaking a homodiegetic narrative is a first person narration while heterodiegetic narrative is in the third person.  This can change the whole mood and tone of the story.  Depending on who is speaking the reader gets a different perspective on what is going on.  Samperio’s story starts off using heterodiegetic narration; “During the evening hours, the winter Guillermo Segovia gave a lecture at the Preparatory Academy of Iztapalapa.” (Samperio, 54)  It begins in the third person talking generally about what has happened during the day.  Later in the story the narration changes to first person.  When there is dialogue happening within the text it is first person, homodiegetic.  The story is also in the present tense when people are communicating.  At points in the story Guillermo is the narrator and at other times Ofelia is the narrator.  Ofelia is a made up character by Guillermo, which means she has limited abilities.  She is a creation of someone else, Guillermo Segovia; which is a creation by Guillermo Samperio.  Heterodiegetic and homodiegetic narration can help move the story or novel along.  Always changing the narration can help the reader understand the different point of views of all the characters.  Samperio seems to like changing the narrator; it is a great technique for an author to use in their writing.  It keeps the audience’s attention because they have to think about who is speaking and what is going on.  Throughout this piece Samperio switches between heterodiegetic and homodiegetic narration.  

                   “I write that he writes a story that I live in.” (Samperio 60) This quote can be very confusing, one might have to re-read this sentence a few times to understand it.  Ofelia is a made up character who is writing a story about Guillermo.  In this tale Guillermo writes a story that Ofelia is the author, she’s writing the story, and she’s the character.  Ofelia lives in what she writes.  If one breaks down the sentence one can see that this is Samperio’s way of distinguishing characters from real people.  Samperio is a real person, and since she is a character she can’t write about a real person.  This is a clear distinction that Samperio makes between fictional discourse and reality.  The story, “She Lived in a Story” is constantly changing the point of view and the tense that is being used.  Ofelia is a character who is completly aware she is being watched, this is how she can change the narration.  This is the major difference between Ofelia and Segovia; she is assertive and takes control which can make her seem as if she isn’t a character in the story.  After reading this quote a few times one can simply break it down.

                  Stories within stories can be very difficult to understand.  The narrator and point of view is constantly changing.  Looking at the photograph of the “Russian Dolls” below one might be able to visualize a story with a story.  These dolls are dolls within other dolls.  There is a big doll, which one can say is the real story, written by the author.  All the other figures live inside the big doll.  Each doll is a creation of the other, just like in Samperio’s story, “She Lived in a Story”.   Everything fits perfectly within eachother; in the short story by Samperio each tale works it way into the story.  It’s simply the same with all these wooden dolls, they all go inside of a bigger one until there is only one doll left, just like the story.

                 Writers choose to write in many different styles.  The style of one’s book is the structure and everything is compiled within that.  Narratology according to Jahn helps break down all the different kinds of narratives and writing styles that authors use.   The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle by Edgardo Vega Yunque is a novel that starts off like any other novel.  It is telling a story about a man named Omaha.  However half way through the novel one can hear the narrator’s voice perservering throiugh the text.  Vega decides to give a lot of his own insight, mentioning other authors and narratology terms throughout the novel.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez is mentioned a couple of times throughout the novel in regards to magical realism.  Vega also put his opinion about a lot of things in the novel.  He gives his thoughts on other authors and what they have written.   In chapter twenty-three Vega makes references to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.  However he also goes into details about what an American novel does and is supposed to do.  “Along the same lines we’ve seen the burgeoning of the formula novel, ass seen in the output of the citied authors and others who basically write the same novel over and over again, as if they were manufacturing Pablum for toothless adults.  No cerebellum dentate there.  Formula authors create vapid, mildly entertaining novels, which likely contribute to the ever-increasing dumbing down of this big puppy of a country while contributing to the deterioration of its already inefficient educational system.  Of course there are still fine literary novels written by a few writers, and they’re published, but they’re not read widely.  Not because these novels are linguistically difficult, but because while they may entertain, they also challenge the reader to look at his soul.” (Vega, 175)  This statement has nothing to do with furthering the plot of the story.  It directly states Vega’s opinion on American literature and what novels do.  This is a way that Vega inserts his opinion into the novel.  His voice is able to come through the narration of the fictional story. 

                      Vega does something a little out of the usual in chapter thirteen.  He decides to have one of the characters call him.  Up to this chapter one was reading a story about Omaha and his life.  However in this chapter Maruquita calls Mr. Vega because she is annoyed that she has to work with Omaha.  She thinks he is being difficult and doesn’t understand why Omaha isn’t going along with everything.  Omaha doesn’t understand that it is a book like Maruquita does.  In this chapter Vega is able to work himself into the story.  He is able to be the boss, or rather the author.  ” ‘Oh, right.  So it’s a book and you’re writing it and it doesn’t matter what I’ll be saying because everybody understands everybody else no matter what they’re speaking, right?’  ‘That’s right..  The important thing is the message that’s being conveyed.’  ‘And what is that?’  ‘Aha!  That’s for me to know and for you to find out, dude.’” (Vega, 98)  In this chapter Vega turns himself into one of the characters.  It’s bizarre that one of the characters is able to call the author within the story.  This is a great example of narration and how the writer is putting himself into the story as a character.  He clearly explains what he is doing; he writes a book and lets the reader now in his mind a book is supposed to convey a message to the audience.  The hidden message cannot be revealed before the end of the book or why would the reader keep on reading?  A author has to be creative and clever in his narration such as Vega was in writing this novel.

                One of the really interesting things Vega did was have a character call him within the story.  Characters arn’t supposed to know they are in a book.  Usually they are unaware they are characters.  However in this novel Marquita knows that she is a character and calls up the author.  This is similar to having cartoons mixed in with real people.  This happens in many television shows and movies.  Cartoons are something that poeple created.  Therefore they live within us, we can bring them to life with all the technology, available   This movie “Space Jam” is similar to The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle by Edgardo Vega Yunque.  In this movie Michael Jordan gets sucked into a golf hole and end up in the Looney Tunes world.  Looney Tunes was created by human beings.  It would be impossible for Michael Jordan to end up in the world of Looney Tunes.  This is the same idea in Edgardo Vega Yunique’s novel.  A character, Marquita who is created by Vega, calls Vega on her cell phone.  In reality this would never be able to happen.  However Vega does something never interesting with his writing; he makes himself a character in his own novel and his character plays the role of being the author, which he clearly is.


                  Jahn’s Narratology can be a very helpful tool when analyzing a piece of literature.  As one has seen in this essay there is a big difference between heterodiegetic and homodiegetic narration as well as being covert or overt.  The narration and narrator of the story plays a very important role in telling the story.  This is how the reader gets all of their information; they only know what teh narrator tells them.  The reader will have their own opinion and ideas based on the author’s narrative style.  Don Quixote is an experimental novel because Cervantes was trying something new which seemed to have worked considering his book is a classic.  Samperio’s short story, “She Lived in a Story” was also  experimental and a bit confussing to understand.  This is due to the fact that there is a story within a story; similar to “The Russian Dolls”, which are merely dolls within bigger dolls.  Lastly this essay examines Edgardo Vega Yunique’s novel The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle and his unique style of writing.  He loved to wonder away from the story and give his own thoughts and opinions on the subject matter.  His book can be compared to the movie “Space Jam” and how real people visit a made up place, becasue in his book characters end up calling him, Vega up to talk.  Overall these stories have a lot to do with narratology and narration.  Using the Jahn one can distiguish all the different styles of writing and narration within these stories.

Works Citied

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

Gibbons, Reginald., ed. New Writing from Mexico. Evanston, IL: TriQuarterly Northwestern University, 1992. Print.

Jahn, Manfred. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.” 28 May 2005.        Web. 10 June  2011. http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm.

Jinsona, “The Russian Dolls” 12 April 2010.  Web. http://revolutioniz.com/revolutioniz/?m=201004

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

“Porky Pig, Space Jam”, The Droid You’re Looking For!  A Seriously Not Serious Blog About Flim and Tv. 27  January 2011.  Web.  http://tdylf.com/2011/01/27/stutter-island-6-great-cinematic-stuttering-problems/

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