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ArribaAbajoLinguistic determination of point of view: La desheredada

Kay Engler

The basic tool of the novelist in the creation of his fictional world is language, the words themselves as they are used to make that world come alive and to give it order and meaning. In the theory expounded by the Chilean critic Martínez Bonati, the language of fiction, like the language of actual discourse, has three basic functions:41 a mimetic or representational function when it creates an image of the world through narration of events and description of people, places, and things; an expressive or interpretive function when it reveals the character of the speaker (be he narrator or character); and a dramatic function when it advances the action of the novel.

Martínez Bonati theorizes that mimetic passages constitute the bulk of the modern novel and that they are the basis for the reader's knowledge of the reality of the novel. For, in mimetic discourse, the reader turns his attention toward the world whose particular dimensions the mimetic sentences narrate or describe, and becomes unaware of the language itself as language. Mimetic language is as if transparent and doesn't come between the reader and the things it speaks of. In other words, the language becomes the world; the word becomes the thing.42

While mimetic language is concrete, particular and objective and has as its referent something outside the speaker, non-mimetic language is more abstract, general and subjective, and has as its referent something within the speaker. Language as it is used to reason, to generalize, to analyze and interpret reveals as much or more about the speaker as it does about the world, as much or more about the perceiving consciousness as about the reality perceived. It refers only indirectly to the world. These expressive or interpretive passages soon make the reader aware of an intelligence other than his own seeking to order and interpret the world. He is made aware of the point from which reality is viewed, whereas in mimetic passages he is aware of a reality seemingly independent of anypoint of view.

The language of Galdós' novels can only be measured in terms of the degree of mimesis or expression it manifests. It ranges from the exclusively mimetic to the exclusively expressive. But most of the words of Galdós' novels exhibit a multiple linguistic function, drawing the reader's attention simultaneously toward the world of the novel and toward the narrator. This very multiplicity of linguistic function which characterizes the language of Galdós' novels thus establishes the interrelationship of external reality and perceiving consciousness which is the psychological basis of those novels.

The relationship basic to any of these novels is, of course, that between the narrator and the world of the novel. The interrelationship of that external reality (created by the narrator's mimesis) and the perceiving consciousness of the narrator (as defined by his expressive language) provides the basic structure of the work. Yet within that framework there exists a multiplicity of other similar relationships. Each character's language exhibits the same multiple function as that of the narrator, and so there is repeated with each of the characters the relationship of perceiving consciousness and   —68→   external reality characteristic of the narrator. These relationships of course add new dimensions to the reality of the novel and infinitely complicate its basic structure.

This interrelationship of perceiving consciousness and the external reality of the novel is what has been traditionally called point of view. The point from which the reader views the reality of the novel depends upon whose consciousness serves as the reflector of that reality: the figure, be he the narrator or one of the characters, through whose consciousness the reader perceives the world. Language expressive of the narrator or character refers the reader to him and establishes his presence. It identifies the perceiving consciousness, the point from which reality is viewed. So to say that the relationship of perceiving consciousness to external reality is established linguistically is to say that point of view is established linguistically. The point of view manifest at any given moment in the novel is revealed by the language itself.

The illusion of an autonomous external reality is created by the language of the narrator in its mimetic function. Any of the narrator's words which have even the slightest mimetic function contribute to the creation of that reality, but its basis are those passages which are most exclusively mimetic.

Let's look, for example, at this passage from the opening chapter of La desheredada. Isidora has gone to Leganés to visit her poor, mad father, Tomás Rufete, shortly before his death, and is left alone in the director's office. While waiting there she meets an old scribe who is the director's assistant. The man strikes up a conversation with her, all the while encouraging her illusions of nobility. The reader slowly becomes aware of the physical dimensions of the scene and the presence of Canencia:

No se quedó sola la joven en el despacho. En un ángulo de éste había una mesa de escribir. Sentado tras ella, con la espalda a la pared, un hombre escribía, fija la vista en el papel, trazando con seguro pulso esos hermosos caracteres redondos y claros de la caligrafía española. La mesa estaba llena de papeles que parecían estados, listas de nombres, cuentas con infinitas baterías de números... Era de edad provecta, pequeño, arrugadito; bastante moreno y totalmente afeitado como un cura... Sin alzar los ojos del papel, estiraba de rato en rato toda la piel de la boca, y por entre los huecos de ellos sorbía una gran porción de aire. Isidora, harto ocupada en su dolor, no hacía caso del anciano escribiente...

(p. 971)43                

The reader sees before him a dark, wrinkled old man seated before a desk covered with papers, writing entries in his books. As he works he inhales great quantities of air through his teeth, making a strange whistling noise. Then the reader sees Isidora, who, absorbed in her thoughts, pays no attention to the scribe. Only when the old man speaks does Isidora become aware of his presence. So the scene, including both the old man Canencia and Isidora, is presented directly to the reader for his immediate perception, independent of any point of view. The point of view is not Isidora's, for she is in the scene and scarcely aware of its dimensions until her attention is attracted.

If the illusion of a reality independent of the narrator is created by his mimetic language, that illusion is sustained, indeed, is incarnated, in the linguistic presence of the characters of the novel. The words of the characters, in their mimetic and expressive function, confirm their autonomous existence. Characters act, speak and perceive the world independently of the narrator. In fact, in much of the language of Galdós' novels, the narrator seems to have disappeared. Many scenes consist almost entirely of dialogue, or are couched in language which is either purely mimetic or expressive   —69→   of one of the characters. To the extent that the narrator disappears linguistically, the illusion of the autonomy of novelistic reality is maintained.

The presence of the narrator first becomes evident when his language becomes more general, more abstract and less concrete and particular. The language is still mimetic, in that it refers the reader to the world of the novel and does not reflect the narrator, but the reader is now aware of an intelligence other than his own in the process of giving form to that reality: relating present to past in giving the history of a character or his family; or relating the particular to the general by presenting something as a customary or habitual practice rather than as a particular event.

When mimetic language is used within a concrete situation in time and space, the result is immediate perception, with little hint of the presence of the perceiving consciousness. On the contrary, when mimetic language is used out of the context of a particular, perceptible situation in the novel, the result is mediation. Note the difference between those passages which describe a character in the context of a particular situation, and those which describe a character in his absence. In the former, the reader receives the information about the character in a natural fashion, as he himself perceives the scene directly. In the latter, he receives what in fact may be the same information, but in the context of an ordered presentation.

In La desheredada many characters are introduced by long, summary definitions which clearly evidence the narrator's presence. A case in point is the near chapterlength introduction to Juan Bou, which occurs even before Juan Bou himself appears in the novel. Much of the language of these passages is purely mimetic, but because it is used in an ordered exposition of reality, it reveals, if only minimally, the presence of the narrator. In contrast, we find that a character like Sánchez Botín appears only briefly at first, as Isidora catches a fleeting glimpse of him in the interlude in the church. The narrator never offers a summary definition of Sánchez Botín's character or appearance. The nearest thing to such a summary emerges in the course of Isidora's conversation with Joaquín Pez.

The narrator's presence is also made evident throughout Galdós' novels to the extent that language is used as image or metaphor. Here language is still primarily mimetic, but it is also expressive in that it reveals the image of reality reflected in the narrator's mind. In other words, language used as image has a dual function, and refers the reader simultaneously to the world of the novel and to the consciousness which perceives that world.

The image may be merely a passing one. But more frequently, the image is an extended one, dominating a whole scene, a whole chapter, or even a whole novel. For example, in La desheredada, the narrator expresses Juan Bou's ferocious appearance in the image of a bear. He first creates the reality which is the basis of the image: a huge, wild-eyed man with a heavy black beard and big hands, breathing heavily as a forge and periodically shaken by a suffocating cough. He then goes on to label and somewhat modify the image: «A pesar de sus baladronadas políticas y de su aspecto feroz, Juan Bou, el ursus spoeleus, era lo que vulgarmente se llama un buenazo, un alma de Dios...» (p. 1081). A few pages later we find the narrator again using the image of Juan Bou as a clumsy bear as the central image of a chapter, entitled appropriately enough, «La caricia del oso». Juan Bou has fallen in love with Isidora, and his love and generosity lead him to offer to marry Isidora to give her a more stable life. His offer takes place in the course of the visit the two make to the palace of the Aransis' family, the very family in whom Isidora's claims to nobility rest. To   —70→   Isidora the palace is her «patria perdida», a place sacred to her ideals. But to Juan Bou, «el obrero-sol», the outspoken champion of the rights of the working people, the palace represents only the blood and sweat of the people who labored all their lives, only to see the fruits of their labor taken away from them by the «sanguijuelas del pueblo». Juan Bou is unaware of the effects of his words, and that his generous offer represents to Isidora only the profanation of all her ideals. As the narrator explains: «Las galanterias de Bou con Isidora semejaban a las del oso que quiso mostrar el cariño a su amo matándole una mosca sobre la frente» (p. 1103). So the central image of the chapter is «la caricia del oso». The narrator emphasizes Juan Bou's bear-like qualities throughout the scene and speaks of Juan Bou's words as «ladridos», thus keeping alive the central image.

The narrator's presence is even more evident in the use of epithets (Canencia as «el bebedor de aire», José Relimpio as «el ramillete de confitería» or «el libertino platónico»). Epithets offer a clear example of the multiple function of language. Epithets name reality; they evoke its presence. At the same time, epithets interpret reality, offering a synthesis of that reality as it is reflected in the narrator's mind.

The language of those passages in which the narrator interprets and analyzes the characters and their behavior and proceeds to generalize about the situation makes even more evident his presence in the novel. This commentary ranges from the most particular to the most general, from the perceptual to the conceptual. As his commentary moves away from the particular context of scene to the general nature of things, his presence becomes increasingly evident. The most particular of his comments are those which interpret the behavior of a character in a particular scene. For example, in La desheredada, the narrator explains Isidora's terror of the rope factory where her brother Mariano works:

Isidora lo sentía de esta manera, porque era muy nerviosa y solía ver en las formas y movimientos objetivos acciones y estremecimientos de su propia persona...

(p. 981)                

In a step toward conceptualization the narrator often comments on a character's behavior in a particular scene by relating it to what he knows of human behavior in general. The narrator explains why Isidora could forgive Joaquín Pez for offending her honor, but not for having called her a «cursilona»: «Tal es la condición humana que a veces el rasguño hecho al amor propio le duele más que la puñalada asestada contra la honra» (p. 1041).

The narrator's presence is most evident in those comments which appear independent of any particular context: for example, those comments about characters, mostly in the form of summary definitions, which are not based on scene; and in those comments on human behavior in general. Because such commentary is not linked to any particular scene in the novel, and is included in an ordered presentation, it appears only indirectly to be the result of perception, more directly the result of abstraction. They can easily be taken out of the context of the novel without great loss of meaning.

Finally there are those passages in which the narrator comments upon himself as narrator and the problems he encounters, and those passages in which he directly addresses the reader. Both serve to remind the reader of the fictional nature of the narrative, and refer to the narrator as an aesthetic entity rather than as a perceiving consciousness or ordering intelligence.


The phenomenon of the narrator's presence in the novel may be explained in terms of his distance from the narrative. The greater the narrator's distance (temporal, spatial, psychological, aesthetic) from his narrative, the more evident his presence. Distance, as we have seen, is expressed linguistically in terms of the nature and function of the language used: the more abstract and conceptual the language, the more expressive its function, the greater the distance of the narrator from the narrative and the more evident his presence.

But the narrator at the same time enters into a relationship with each of the characters of the novel and may stand at any distance from them on any axis of value: psychological, aesthetic, moral, intellectual, etc. The changing distance between the narrator and the other characters results in changing, multiple point of view. This distance can be measured linguistically as well, so that the extent to which the narrator abandons the novel linguistically in favor of the linguistic presence of the characters determines the point of view manifest at any one moment in the novel.

The first perceptible change in point of view occurs when a particular character becomes the center of the narration and the reader sees the world of the novel as the character sees it. This new center of perception is identified by the use of certain verbs of perception -seeing, hearing, observing, noticing- which are associated with a certain character. In La desheredada, for example, we see the poor barrio of Madrid where Isidora's aunt Encarnación lives as Isidora saw it:

Al ver, pues, las miserables tiendas, las fachadas mezquinas y desconchadas, los letreros innobles, los rótulos de torcidas letras, los faroles de aceite amenazando caerse... al oír el estrépito de machacar sartenes, los berridos de pregones ininteligibles, el pisar fatigoso de bestias tirando de carros atascados y el susurro de los transeúntes... creyó que estaba en la caricatura de una ciudad hecha de cartón podrido...

(p. 978)                

The reader perceives the details of the external world which the character perceives, but is nevertheless kept at a certain distance, in that he perceives as well the character himself in the act of perception. So the point of view here is a kind of intermediate one. The narrator has taken only a half step from the neutrality of mimesis toward the particular view of the character. The language is purely mimetic, and only the verbs of perception indicate the point from which reality is viewed.

The narrator further identifies the center of perception, and moves closer to the character, by the use of indirect discourse, the so-called «estilo indirecto libre», using words appropiate to the expression of the character's emotional reaction to what he is perceiving. Consider, for example, this description of the spectacle of upper middleclass society parading in full dress on a Sunday afternoon:

¡Qué gente aquella tan feliz! ¡Qué envidiable cosa aquel ir y venir en carruaje, viéndose, saludándose y comentándose!... ¡Qué bonito mareo el que producían las dos filas encontradas, y el cruzamiento de perfiles marchando en dirección distinta! Los jinetes y las amazonas alegraban con su rápida aparición el hermoso tumulto!...

(p. 994)                

The language is still mimetic, in describing the spectacle itself, but is at the same time clearly expressive of the emotions of the character, Isidora, as she witnesses the scene.

The most obvious shift in point of view occurs when the characters words, clearly identified as such, assume the mimetic function once held by the narrator. For example,   —72→   in La desheredada, it is Isidora who first tells us her past history, her life as a young girl with her father. It is José Relimpio who tells of Isidora's life with Sánchez Botín. Don José's affection for Isidora colors his narration, and his sympathy for her is obvious:

Si al menos la dejara salir a la calle siempre que ella quisiera... Pero quia, quia. Tiene que valerse de mil tretas de esta vida y no sé como aguanta... Los domingos le hace ir a misa, y aquí paz... Dicen que ese señor es mojigato.

(p. 1085)                

The language here is mimetic, in that it refers to a reality outside of the character who is speaking, but is simultaneously expressive, constantly revealing the character's emotions as he speaks. The distance here between narrator and character is nil, for the narrator has disappeared linguistically as the narrative adopts the character's language and his point of view.

The extreme in this process of identification of narrator and character is the complete interiorization of point of view. The reader sees the external world of the novel only as it is reflected in the character's mind. The image is revealed in the course of the character's interior monologue. Such monologues are primarily expressive, as they reveal at great depth the character's personality, but they do have a mimetic function also. Consider, for example, Isidora's monologue, which occurs during a night of insomnia following her first visit to the Aransis' palace. Her monologue is a mixture of memory, hope, vanity, self-pity and annoyance. Yet at the same time the reader is made aware of the external dimensions of the scene. Isidora tossing and turning, trying to sleep; «Si se lograra dormir cerrando mucho los ojos; si se pudiera olvidar apretándose las sienes! Me volveré de este lado.» (P. 1031); the passage of time: «Pero, ¿las horas se han vuelto minutos? La noche vuela, y yo no duermo» (p. 1031); the noise of Melchor entering the house at two in the morning, and finally the noise of the rest of the family awakening as the clock strikes seven.

Interpretive or expressive language undergoes a similar process of interiorization, and as a result there is a simultaneous lessening of distance between narrator and character. The interpretive function central to the narrator's role is shared with the other characters as point of view becomes multiple.

Again, the first perceptible change in point of view occurs when the narrator identifies a center of perception other than himself by using verbs of thinking, feeling, observing, wondering, etc. in association with a particular character. The reader perceives the inner reality of the character as the character perceives it, or interprets the world as the character interprets it. Consider, for example, this passage in which reality is interpreted as a particular character (Mariano) interprets it:

Mariano, arrinconado en el recibimiento, y oyendo desde allí el rasguear de las plumas que en la sala hacían tan lucrativos números, se preguntaba por qué razón tenía el señorito Melchor sombrero de copa y él no; por qué motivo el señorito Melchor vestía bien y él andaba de blusa; por qué causa el señorito Melchor comía en los cafés, mientras él, el pobre Pecado, comía y fumaba casi como los mendigos...

(p. 1099)                

A further lessening of distance and a step toward the adoption of the character's point of view is, again, the narrator's use of indirect discourse, using words appropriate to the expression of the character's feelings, opinions, emotions, etc. Consider for example this passage which reveals Isidora's reaction to Juan Bou's proposal of marriage:


Isidora, estupefacta, no sabía en qué términos responder... ¡En qué vacilación tan grande estaba! En su alma el asco era inseparable del agradecimiento. ¿Cómo contestarle y expresar en una frase el desprecio y la consideración?... ¡Qué un ganso semejante se atreviese a poner sus ojos en persona tan selecta! Pero al mismo tiempo..., ¡cuán sencillo y generoso!...

(p. 1106)                

Here the language is the narrator's, but it is exclusively expressive of the character, referring the reader to the inner reality of the character and not to that of the narrator.

Again, the most obvious shift in point of view occurs when the character himself speaks, here assuming the interpretive function once held by the narrator. In Galdós' novels all the characters share this interpretive function with the narrator to some extent. Very often there is one character in the novel whose words explicitly represent the point of view of the narrator implicit in the novel. Notice how, in La desheredada the narrator relies on Miquis time and time again to express or reinforce his interpretations and analyses of the characters and their world. In the following passage, for example, Miquis' commentary on the spectacle of upper middle-class society on parade, in contrast to Isidora's fascination with the spectacle, clearly reprensents the narrator's opinions:

Aquí, en días de fiesta, verás a todas las clases sociales. Vienen a observarse, a medirse, y a ver las respectivas distancias que hay entre cada una, para asaltarse. El caso es subir al escalón inmediato.

(p. 995)                

To Isidora's question, on hearing the noise of the carriages, «¿Hay torrente?», Miquis answers: «Sí, torrente hay... de vanidad» (p. 994). Likewise, the words of Isidora's aunt Encarnación, Juan Bou and Mariano offer interpretive commentary clearly in contrast to Isidora's point of view.

Complete identification to narrator and character, and annihilation of distance between them occurs when the character's interpretive language is interiorized completely in interior monologue. This language provides the reader the greatest depth of knowledge (at a conscious level) of the character. The language of interior monologue is almost exclusively expressive. The character, in interior monologue, seeks to communicate nothing with his language, only to express his inner state of mind and body.

So, in conclusion, we have examined the relationship between language and point of view in one of Galdós' novels. We have seen how the narrator's mimetic language creates the illusion of external reality; we have seen how expressive language entablishes the presence of a perceiving consciousness and identifies the point of view from which that external reality is perceived. Finally, we have seen how language itself, in all its functions, creates the interrelationship of perceiving consciousness and external reality which in fact is the very psychological and aesthetic basis of Galdós' fiction.

University of Texas

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