English 363

December 18, 2011, 11:02 pm
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Caitlin Machicote       

Professor Alvarez

Final Article

20, December, 2011


More Than a Big Bohango or Big Feet: Heterodiegetic Narration Replication Cultural Dominance Through Narrative Agency in Servo Sarduy’s Cobra and Eduardo Vega Yuque’s The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle


            In the United States Hispanic Literature is seen as secondary, experimental and different from the Literature of the ruling culture. Many Hispanic writers are excluded from the canon and are not recognized by the ruling culture. Hispanic texts are expected to depict tales of cultural struggle between first culture and second culture. “Second culture will appropriate forms  and structures from the first culture, and if successful, reshape or remodel them according to its needs or intentions”(Herms 125). Herms seeks to prove that second culture borrows aspects from the first culture and makes them their own. When characters in novels tell their own stories they are able participate as the first culture because they are the ruling power in the novel. When an outsider narrates the story is changed and power changes in the novel.

            Cobra is largely a novel that is told mostly by an outsider who looks in on a transvestite culture. In this way the characters in the novel are not agents in their own story. The characters do not get to disclose their inner thoughts about themselves and their culture unless they’re speaking directly through dialogue. They are not able to narrate their own tale and since the novel is not focalized in their perspective they are judged differently and as part of the second culture.  Also told from an outsider perspective characters in Omaha Bigelow are judged as part of second culture. This novel arguable already has a first culture which Omaha would belong to. Omaha being a gringo has certain cultural power over Maruquita and her culture making Maruquita second culture. Considering the form of narration, Omaha may even be considered as second culture and Maruqita as third. Maruquita and her second culture companions who desire a gringo-rican baby desire their child to be part of the ruling or first culture. In the novel at times cultural levels are reversed because Omaha eventually appropriates elements from the second culture such as their sterotype of having many children and even the way they dress and act. These novels both effectively depict characters that borrow and appropriate elements forms and structures from other cultures. Cobra borrows the ruling cultures aesthetics of beauty with her desire for smaller feet. Maruquita desires social mobility for her child, she wants her child to be able to participate in the ruling culture. Omaha appropriates elements of the Nuyorican culture which in Omaha’s mind may arguably be the ruling culture considering his surroundings and his inevitable circumstance due to the paternal status of many children from Nuyorican mothers. Omaha becomes the secondary helpless culture when he impregnates multiple women. Conventions of ruling culture are also turned on their head when Maruquita and her grandmother Bizquita decide to implicitly treat the ruling culture how they are often treated. Both novels also participate “ in a multicultural conglomerate: the Nuyorican’s identity quest as American black; the Nuyorican reaching into the anti-nuclear grass root movement of no ethnic distinction…(Herms 124), however the multicultural conglomerate becomes represented as possibly a gringo’s identity quest as Nuyorican, a transvestite’s identity quest as female, and a Nuyorican’s identity quest for a Gringo-rican baby that would allow her and her child to participate in ruling culture.

           Manfred Jahn in his article “ Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative”, offers an explanation of types of narratives. Through type of narration stories change. With different types of narration stories are focalized in different ways which change the eventual outcome of the story. Considering Cobra if the novel was told as a homodiegetic narrative the reader would get the perspective of a transsexual who may or may not see themselves as part of a second culture. Since the narration is largely heterodiegetic the transsexuals are depicted as the second culture that borrow from the first culture which assists the novel in participating in the trend of Latin American, specifically Nuyorican trend of borrowing and assimilating aspects from the first culture.

         In this article I will argue that through use of heterodiegetic narration power is changed in novels. The narrator has agency and represents events in certain ways that would change dramatically if the novel was homodiegetic. Through this use of heterodiegetic narration the characters in the novel are largely seen as second culture or even third culture if a superior culture already exists in the novel itself. The narrator must be seen as having a position of authority or being of the ruling culture and characters as subordinate members of a secondary culture that borrow from the first.

Belonging to First or Ruling Culture Through Narration

            Herms states that a secondary culture borrows from the ruling culture. In novels fictitious worlds lend to new interpretation of what first and second culture may be in that world. “In a homodiegetic narrative, the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is also one of story’s acting characters. The prefix ‘homo-‘ points to the fact that the individual who acts as a narrator is also a character on the level of action. In a heterodiegetic narrative, the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story. The prefix ‘hetero-‘ alludes to the ‘different nature’ of the narrator as compared to any and all of story’s characters” ( Jahn N1.10). Characters who are homodiegetic narrators show agency and become part of the first culture or ruling culture. Characters who participate in novels that are told with heterodiegetic narration become seen as secondary and without power or agency. This heterodiegetic narration lends to interpretation of characters as part of a secondary culture that borrows from another culture considering the perception of the culture of the narrator may frequently be completely different than the culture of the characters. Largely in Hispanic literature characters are written about through the perspective of an outsider narrator which forces these texts to be seen as secondary culture of multicultural struggles to be part of a first culture. Considering the aspects of culture in Omaha Bigelow, a special case arises because of Omaha’s natural position of authority over Maruquita which she eventually subverts.  Related to homodiegetic narration Jahn also talks about internal focalization “The technique of presenting something from the point of view of a story-internal character is called internal focalization”(Jahn N1.18). Internal focalization like homodiegetic narration allows a character to be an agent in their own story telling and allows them to represent themselves how they wish their representation. Largely characters would wish themselves as part of the ruling culture which would indicate their characteristics as favorable, although sometimes characters participating in the story may focalize events differently than other characters.


            Through homodiegetic narration Marshall is represented as always singing because sometimes even characters in the same story and of the same culture retell events differently. However this homodiegetic narration lends to the assumption that all characters are at the same cultural level, of the ruling culture, and allows Marshall to still be depicted as of ruling culture and certainly not of secondary, considering no appropriation.

Cobra First or Second?

            Through multiple types of narration it is unclear if Cobra would be considered part of a ruling or secondary culture. The novel Cobra by Severo Sarduy centers around ideals of sex and gender. How can a person of one sex be perceived as a different gender than they are?  For Cobra, her biggest problem were here large feet. Sarduy implicitly lets the reader know this by using repetitive anacronies where he repeats and recounts the events of Cobra trying to shrink her feet time and time again.  “Anachrony A deviation from strict chronology in a story… repetitive anchronies recall already narrated events( Jahn 5.2.1). Several times the heterodiegetic narrator  repeats the lines “She attempted scrapings. Resorted to magic. Fell into orthopedic determinism”(1&14).  This event or description of Cobra’s event is recalled many times in the narrative. .  Cobra tries many ways to shrink her feet including aspects from ancient head shrinking and even results to magical aspects during her sex change. When the heterodietic narrator recalls Cobra’s attempts to shrink her feet he is experimenting with his agency. The narrator retells events that seem important. If the novel was homodietic, or even focalized through Cobra’s point of view, the novel would be largely different. Cobra would not represent herself as part of the secondary culture. Cobra, by allowing the size of her feet to bother her judges herself of aesthetics appropriated from the first culture. This heterodietic narration depicts Cobra as part of a secondary culture because Cobra does not have the agency to narrate what she wants to be narrated and she does not have the power to create her own aesthetics of beauty.  

            In Cobra, possible instances of a third culture also arise. Through heterodietic narration and assumptions of transvestites, Cobra can be seen as second culture. The ‘third culture’ comes in when Cobra creates Pup, who borrows and appropriates from the secondary culture, borrowing from the first culture. Cobra gains a position of authority and is able to treat her subordinate culture as such. Heterodiegetically the narrator depicts pain being transferred to Pup. “ Pup’s chest began heaving. The whole of her tongue protruded from her mouth; her eyes grew paler, the two globes of  a lamp that is going out. A whitish liquid began coming out of her ears, her nose and her mouth” (Sarduy 66). Pup must feel the pain for Cobra for Cobra’s own advancement at an attempt for her to part of the ruling culture. Cobra’s sexual reassignment surgery should be seen as an attempt to participate as part of ruling culture.

            Cobra also attempts to be part of ruling culture when she attempts to become the narrator. Briefly the narration in the novel becomes homodiegetic in the chapter entitled ¿,Que Tal? At the very end “ She strutted near, singing, with a nasal twang, in falsetto: “¿Que Tal?”—she asked, imitating me”(Sarduy 72). Although the narrator keeps his authority and the narration is largely heterodiegetic, Cobra challenges the author’s first culture status and attempts to become the narrator and attain some authority. Cobra’s conversation with the narrator briefly allows her to be in a position of power and strips away her desire of first culture aesthetics in that she does not care who is supposed to be narrating. If Cobra was always the narrator, or the narration of the novel was homodiegetic, transsexuals in the novel would be judged differently. The heterodiegetic nature of the novel allows the reader to believe that the characters in the novel are part of the second culture and that their culture is a fictitious unimportant construction of the first culture. Cobra’s motives and opinions do not seem to matter because she does not belong to the ruling culture and cannot tell her story how she would want to.

Like Cobra and other transsexuals these transsexuals are part of secondary culture, not only due to the heterodiegetic narrator of the show ( Maury) ,but they too borrow and appropriate aesthetics of beauty from the first culture.


A Nuyorican’s Quest to Become Ruling Culture

            Eduardo Vega Yunque experiments with hetero and homo diegetic narration in his novel The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into The Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. Yunque breaks the heterodiegetic narration. When Maruquita on page 97 speaks to Vega as J-Go the heterodiegetic narration stops and J-Go and Vega pause the novel to have a conversation about Bigelow. Vega becomes a character in his own novel asking Maruquita how her brothers play is and how’s it going. “ ‘Never mind all that J-Go hype nonsense. Don’t try to get me out of character.’ ‘ Okay, Maruquita. How’s it going? How’s your brother’s play?’ ; Going? You’re asking me how it’s going? What kind of question is that? Why did you put me in this thing with this gringo idiot? I’m gonna call my agent and tell him that I want out. And never mind my brother. Call him if you want to know about his play’”( Yunque 97). In this way Yunque is borrowing from ruling culture outside of the novel calling Maruquita J-Go, similar to J-Lo.  When Maruquita breaks the boundaries between writer and character and changes the narration from hetero to homodiegetic she gives herself agency and authority and is able to make decisions on how the novel goes. The shift of narration changes the perspective of Maruquita and her status and second culture.

            Maruquita and her grandmother Bizquita also revolt their position as second culture when they transform into seagulls. “ The two seagulls swooped down until they were directly above the blonde lying on the beach chair on the top deck of the boat. They hovered there for a moment, counted one-two three, and pooped simultaneously. Maruquita’s salvo hit directly between the blonde’s tiny breasts. Her grandmother’s missile was more accurate and landed directly on the woman’s face, mixing in a gray-green mess with her sunscreen(Yunque 32). This passage is told in heterodietic narration which confirms Maruquita’s status as second culture. Maruquita and her grandmother choose to revolt their second culture status by defecating on a blonde woman who presumably participates in first or ruling culture. The assumption of Maruquita as second culture relies mostly on the fact that Maruquita mispronounces many words that she tries to borrow, and misinterprets many forms she tries to appropriate. The novel later reveals that Maruquita’s grandmother also turns gringos into pigeons, asserting her authority over them and her distaste of the labeling of her culture as inferior to theirs. This selection, told largely by dialogue which allows the narration to shift into the point of view of Bizquita and allows the shift from hetero to homo diegetic narration and from second to first culture. “ Nope, they’re pigeons now. No more wild pot parties, no more herpes, no more ATM cards, no more bad dancing in discos, no more saying ‘ no problemo’ no more fucking with people in this neighborhood. What they think we are, for them to be fucking with us and dissing us all the time?”(Yunque 32). Bizquita asserts herself as ruling culture in showing that the gringo culture, or culture of the people she turned into pigeons, borrows and assimilates aspects from her culture, such as langue in the instance of ‘ no problemo’.  Bizquita’s narration of this event allows her to be thought of a part of the ruling culture as she shows signs of agency in the novel with her ability not only to narrate but to shape-shift, and to turn people into pigeons. Through participation in the novel’s telling, events are focalized through Bizquita’s eyes which allows her to participate as part of ruling culture. Bizquita’s focalization shows a different aspect to the story and shows the previously assumed ruling culture as borrowing part of her culture.

            Yunque experiments again with types of narration in his transitional chapter. “ This is what is called a transitional chapter. Here is where the reader gets caught up on what’s happening with all the characters who matter. We may need to return to Kinko’s or some other locale and have the minor characters appear, but only briefly (Yunque 225).  At this point the usage of heterodiegetic narration allows this narrator to become ruling culture. The narrator decides importance of characters and of cultural phenomena(such as KKK). The characters of the novel lost their status as first culture because they are no longer narrators. The reversal of roles as Maruquita and Bizquita as first culture as suspended because of the heterodiegetic narration in this chapter and future chapters. Roles are also reversed in this novel due to Omaha’s borrowing of Nuyorican culture and stereotypes, creating a multicultural conglomerate characteristic of Hispanic literature: A Gringo identity quest  as Nuyorican.

Cobra vs Maruquita

            Through times of homodiegetic narration and shape-shifting Maruquita at times becomes part of the ruling culture. When Omaha and other ‘gringos’ borrow from her Nuyorican culture boundaries between first culture and second culture are temporarily destroyed. Cobra, only though her sex change and a few small lines has some attempted at homodiegetic or internal focalization, however she does not succeed as Maruquita does. Maruquita has more agency in her attempt at being seen as part of ruling culture because the constructs of the ruling culture are not physical. Cobra , even after her sex change will never be part of ruling culture because she cannot break away from the heterodiegetic narration and certain parts of her identity can never be changed. Cobra will never be completely a woman no matter how many surgeries she goes through or even through orthopedic determinism because she will always be depicted as a second culture transsexual unless her account was told also by a transsexual. If the narrator had the same status as Cobra in her fictitious world Cobra would be first culture because no outside culture would be depicted to be first. Internal focalization would be most beneficial for an attempt for Cobra to be seen as of ruling culture so her motives can be accounted for.

A chart from Rutgers University that attempts to describe types of narration. Jahn does not mention intradiegetic or extradiegetic narration however these would also change power structures and status of culture as homo and hetero diegetic narration styles do.


            In this article, I analyzed how type of narration changes what culture a character belongs to. By reading these novels this way one can see how types of narration lend to a certain status of the characters in the novel. Despite the fact that Hermes article centers around aspects of Chicano and Nuyorican literature this article analyzed how a novel by someone of Columbian decent also dealt with the same aspects of ruling and secondary culture. This article sought to expand the Literature in that any type of literature be it Chicano, Nuyorican, or any other type of Literature would have similar if not the same types of narration, culture, and power structures. If all novels have similar elements no novel should be more qualified than any other to be considered canonical or worthy of being in the canon. Types of narration certainly change power structures and cultural hierarchies in a novel.










Works Cited

Fabre, Genevie. “Chicano and Nuyorican Literature– Elements of a Democratic and Socialist Culture in the U.S. of A.?” European Perspectives on Hispanic Literature of the United States. Houston: Arte Publico, 1988. Print.


“Marshall Sings – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 18 Dec. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WrNUL9FjoU>.


“Maury Man or Woman”YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 18 Dec. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded>.


Rutgers University. “Graphic Narrative.” Computing Services for Faculty & Staff. Web. 18 Dec. 2011. <http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jbass/courses/402/402_fall11.htm>.


Sarduy, Severo. Cobra ; And, Maitreya. Trans. Suzanne Jill. Levine. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1995. Print.


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



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