5 July 2011
Revelations Crafted By Masters: Developing Characters After Surrendering to Narrative Epiphanies in Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Edgardo Vega Yunque’s The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle
This article will discuss the relationship between the epiphanies of main characters and how their enlightenment may elevate them from a flat to a round character. When a character is first introduced as a flat character and continues to play the same role throughout the tale, can their epiphany catapult them into a rounder, more developed character? Epiphanies in literature systematically occur at the end of the story, giving the reader a sense of closure and understanding. We want to see a character that we invest so much time in overcome their tragedy, seek a different path of life, fall in love, etc. A character’s existence can be measured through their epiphany. In altering the character’s path with a sudden discovery, an author portrays their characters in a different light, whether it’s a positive or negative reflection. A good example of a flat character that becomes a round character through their awakening is the infamous Don Quixote in, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra. However, not all masterful authors care to produce a flat character that transitions into a multi-faceted one. Some roles create a stronger impact when that character remains the same as they did in the beginning of the story. This is true for Omaha Bigelow in, The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, by Edgardo Vega Yunque. This article will examine the differences between Don Quixote and Omaha Bigelow’s epiphany and how their acquired vision influences the state of their character. This will also raise questions if the studied characters have learned anything from their epiphanies.
In “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative,” Manfred Jahn explains the epiphany narrative as indicating a moment where a character receives or expresses clarity or insight. Jahn further states that, “epiphanies may turn out to be deceptive, misguided, or otherwise erroneous” (Jahn 3.3.10). An epiphany is, “closely related to what other authors variously term ‘moment of vision’ (Conrad, Woolf), ‘moment of being’ (Woolf, again), or ‘glimpse’ (Mansfield)” (Jahn 3.3.10). A similar sector of the epiphany is the narrative style of alteration which demonstrates where the story plot switches to an unexpected revelation. Jahn describes alteration as, “a shift into a mode of presentation which does not conform to the standard expectations associated with the current narrative situation” (Jahn 3.3.15). This is where we will see how the characters of Don Quixote and Omaha Bigelow approach and succumb to their epiphanies.
Jahn’s Narratology also discusses the properties of a flat and round character in literature. He describes a flat character as being a one-dimensional figure that has a limited area of “speech and action patterns” (N7.7). Also known as a static character, these roles don’t develop throughout the story and their being remains intact. On the other hand, a round character is a three-dimensional figure that is “characterized by many, often conflicting, properties.” (N7.7). As a dynamic character, this role develops throughout the story. A flat character can evolve into a round character through their epiphanies. Taking these terms into consideration, I will illustrate Don Quixote and Omaha’s character progression or lack thereof, through their epiphanies and alterations.
Don Quixote Defends His Flatness
Cervantes crafts Don Quixote as an older, deranged man that lives in the world of knight errantry. The flat character of Don Quixote gets so immersed in his medieval fictional books, that he foolishly believes this world is reality, and his purpose is to be a knightly hero fighting danger that he seeks out. However, through his role as a stumbling, insane character, Don Quixote is actually perceived as a stock character that becomes the joke and target of all his misadventures. He embodies the typical comical hero-wannabee and this forces him into the category of being a flat character living out his monotonous role, not to be taken seriously.
In The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, the canon of Toledo attempts to unveil Don Quixote’s madness and take him out of his fictional world:
Speaking for myself I can say that when I read them they give me some pleasure
so long as I overlook the fact that they’re all folly and falsehood; but as soon as I
remember what they are, I dash the best of them against the wall, and I’d even hurl
it into the fire if there were one handy, because they all deserve this punishment for
being cheats and imposters and beyond the pale of common nature, for inventing new
sects and a new way of life, and for inducing the ignorant rabble to accept as truths all
the absurdities they contain. And such is their audacity that they even dare to unsettle
the wits of intelligent and well-born hidalgos, as is clear from what they’ve done to
you, because they’ve reduced you to such a state that it has proved necessary to shut
you up in a cage and transport you on top of an ox-cart, as people wheel a lion or tiger
from one village to the next to exhibit it for money.(Cervantes 452)
The canon tries to convince Don Quixote that his fictional books are deceiving him and that he perceives them to be the source of Don Quixote’s current predicament. The canon blames Don Quixote’s fanatical behavior on his intense reading of fictional books. The canon personally feels that these books are in fact entertaining and he enjoys reading the imaginary tales, but as soon as he steps away from the book and realizes it was all fake, it enrages him that he wasted his time reading stories that can never be true. He is able to separate himself from the artificial stories he reads from true reality and is aware that the information in these books are merely fabricated situations and attempts to relay the same message to Don Quixote. He attempts to give Don Quixote a mirror image of himself as a caged animal that is paraded around as a spectacle for others to marvel and laugh at because this is in fact the negative impact these bogus stories have on Don Quixote’s life.
The canon’s pleas were ineffective and Don Quixote, staying true to his flat character lashes back at the canon:
I consider that it is you who are out of your senses and under some spell, for you
have taken it upon yourself to utter such blasphemies against what has been so
well received in the world and so widely accepted as the truth that anyone who
denies it, as you do, deserves the same punishment that you say you inflict on
books that annoy you when you read them. Because trying to persuade anyone
that Amadis and all the other knight adventurers that pack the histories never
existed is like trying to persuade him that the sun does not give out light, and
that ice is not cold, and that the earth does not sustain us.(Cervantes 453)
This passage shows Don Quixote’s commitment to his knightly reality and defends his stance by combating with the canon’s view. The juxtaposition of the two characters’ opposite views on the same subject is intensely portrayed here. Like the canon tried to persuade Don Quixote in seeing make-believe stories for what they are, Don Quixote in turn is trying to force his claims onto the canon. He tells the canon that he should be ashamed to disgrace the meaning of books that hold so much historical treasures within them and that it is he who should be punished and thrown against the wall and into the fire as he wishes to do to his so-called farce books. Don Quixote further argues how he isn’t the only person who follows and knows the history of knight errantry detailed in his books, and that everyone knows that Amadis does exist in the world. His conviction of how true the knightly realm is leads him to believe that everything the canon attempted to prove is purely false. Don Quixote explains that he will never believe that his world of knight adventurers is counterfeit and that it is so true and clear to him that persuading him otherwise would be useless and a degradation of his knighthood. He further argues that trying to convince a knight that the world they live in is a sham would be hopeless, for it’s like telling them that the sun doesn’t give them light and that ice is indeed not cold. A knight will never believe their world is not the same world everyone else lives in, and so Don Quixote will never understand that either. Don Quixote clearly resists all voices that don’t synch with his own belief.
Omaha Bigelow Lives Up to in His Flatness
Vega crafts his leading male Omaha Bigelow as a loser, stoner who has no life ambitions or current stability status. The flat character of a frustrated, oversexed man suffering from a small penis reveals his insecurities and his uselessness. In The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, Vega writes:
Omaha Bigelow lay on the sidewalk laughing but wondering how the hell they knew about his dick and the Penile Asparaguitis from which he suffered. Did they know Carrie Marshack? The bitch had kicked him out two weeks before because what? He didn’t have a job at Kinko’s anymore? (Vega 3)
Here, Vega already sets the stage for Omaha as a male stock character who thinks with his penis first, has no job, and who lives off of women. Unfortunately, women today come across these types regularly. Further drawing us into Omaha’s character he mentions, “How old the fuck was he? Thirty-five? No fucking way. He was actually kicked out of NYU for distributing and posting leaflets asking a particularly sexy mathematics teacher at the school for head” (Vega 5). Within the first few pages, we see Omaha as a man overwhelmed by his hormones and who sees women as sexual objects that he has no respect for. He has withered his once promising life away for sexual obsessions and this pattern continues throughout the book, where he ultimately impregnates five women after he gets a larger “bohango”.
Omaha’s Initial Epiphany
Throughout the book, The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, many epiphanies are exposed to the characters as well as to the reader themselves. Omaha gets his first moment of vision when speaking to Mr. Vega, “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?” (Vega 90). Omaha’s epiphany occurs when Maruquita calls Mr. Vega, the author, to tell him that Omaha is not cooperating with the “bohango” ceremony. Simultaneously, the reader also realizes the epiphany that the story Vega is creating has more layers of depth than what the initial story is actually presenting. Omaha now understands that no matter what his character does, the story is already written for him, that he is just an actor in this tale that is being controlled by the author. He now knows that no matter how his character of Omaha personally feels about his insecurity of the size of his penis, or the lack of Spanish he speaks, the people in the book are all on the same page and understand him because Vega wrote it that way. Even Omaha’s “actor” is a flat character, that submits to Vega’s wishes. He doesn’t step out of his role even when he realizes that he’s a puppet in the story.
Don Quixote’s Grand Epiphany
In The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, , Don Quixote finally surrenders to his last epiphany on his death bed. Don Quixote retracts his previous belief:
You must congratulate me, my good sirs, because I am no longer Don Quixote de la Mancha but Alonso Quixano, for whom my way of life earned me the nickname of ‘the Good’. I am now the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and the whole infinite horde of his descendants; now all those profane histories of knight-errantry are odious to me; now I acknowledge my folly and the peril in which I was placed by reading them; now, by God’s mercy, having at long last learned my lesson, I abominate them all. (Cervantes 977)
Don Quixote has finally altered his conviction that the world of knight-errantry is real. He now firmly admits that the history and books he has read that consumed his mind this entire time are really false and chivalrous. He disbands his entire knowledge and experience of them and has finally awakened from his spell of obliviousness. His epiphany has made him realize how dangerous these books were on his life as he sought out threatening adventures to become a heroic knight. His alteration was unexpected since Don Quixote profusely argued and attempted to prove to everyone that doubted him and his knightly cause that his world of knights and their history was indeed true. He suddenly saw the knight books as deceitful and useless. So why denounce them now? As Don Quixote gets closer to death, he has received a message from God showing him the light and the darkness of his choices, thus receiving his epiphany and alteration from God.
Omaha Gets Stuck in His Epiphany
By the end of The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, Omaha has been turned into a monkey and is sequestered in the jungle for cheating on Maruquita. He has accepted his fate, “Omaha, in turn, resigned himself to his existence in the jungle” (Vega 341). As a flat character, Omaha doesn’t fight to leave the jungle and surrenders his manhood to Maruquita. Omaha finds pleasure in his epiphany and although he occasionally misses being a man, he ultimately lives out his same life but instead as a monkey:
He was a blondish monkey, and quite often a brown female monkey presented herself to him, and his tiny penis became erect at the sight and smell of her delicate pink orifice. […] When they were born, he never knew if the baby monkeys were his or some other male’s. […] He enjoyed entering the female monkeys. At times he had an urge to enter the weaker male monkeys, but the desire passed and he peeled a fruit until another female presented herself and he mounted her. (Vega 341-342)
Omaha’s realization of being punished for sleeping around has only transferred into his true static character of doing what he loves all day long only to monkeys instead of humans. Nothing has changed in Omaha’s character and he doesn’t feel remorse or apologize for what he has done to the women he has abused. He doesn’t even see the transformation of his life as a negative thing because he is able to continue his random sexual encounters stuck in the jungle. The ending has no alteration within Omaha’s epiphany and his character has maintained its flatness throughout the entire tale.
The Round Don Quixote and the Flat Omaha Bigelow
Cervantes has successfully transformed Don Quixote from a flat character to a dynamic, round character through his epiphany. We will never know if Don Quixote’s epiphany is genuine or whether it was just a ploy to grasp a better life for his spirit after he died, but his words were sincere and he truly abandoned all of his previous beliefs through his epiphany. He learned from his misfortunes and admitted that his life had followed an imaginary world. Omaha on the other hand, was unable to learn from his mistakes and is content with his epiphany of living in the jungle never to be a human again. Vega secured Omaha’s static character throughout the entire book and didn’t choose to develop him into a round character that was able to break away from his stereotype. Perhaps Omaha didn’t surrender to his epiphany as Don Quixote did because he knew from the first epiphany that he was in a fictitious tale that he had no control over. Do literary characters always need to gain development through their epiphanies? Why did Cervantes decide to make Don Quixote give up his knightly world that was so true to him throughout the entire book? As readers, this tactic allows us to sympathize with Don Quixote and forgive him for his outlandish behavior. As for Omaha Bigelow, Vega doesn’t want us to feel pity for him since his predicament parallels Omaha’s true purpose, his true flat character. A horny man will always be a horny man, and it makes a bigger impact that no matter what this character’s surroundings are, he will always only live up to that potential.
De Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel. The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. 1605. Trans. John Rutherford. Columbus, MT: Penguin, 2003. Print.
hugesizematter. “Men with Small Penis Beware.” Youtube. 30 March 2011. Web. 5 July 2011.
Jahn, Manfred. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.” 28 May 2005. Web. 27 June 2011. <http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm>.
isabellaandferdinand. “Las Aventuras de Don Quijote.” Youtube. 5 April 2011. Web. 5 July 2011.
Vega Yunqué, Edgardo. The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. Woodstock, New York: Overlook, 2004. Print.