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ALTERNATIVE READING: RECEPTION THEORY
Reception theory focuses on the reader's role in literature, as opposed
to analytical criticism, a literary theory that pays particular attention to
the text as a self·contained work (see Chapter 3). As such, reception
theory is lllterested m the act of reading-that is. the mechaniCS and use
of language. as interpreted by the reader. It focuses on how the reader
responds to the facts found in the narrative, the inferences a reader
makes when reading a gIVen text, and methods that help to bring the
reader mto a form of consciousness that allows for tile criticism of his
or her own identity and beliefs. Thus, the reader is an active entity in
the creation of meaning. The text has meanings that are activated only
when the reader reads them. Thus, it is up to the reader to activate the
potential VIewpoints present in the text through which Garcia Marquez
interprets the world. In the latter half of the 1970s. literary critic Wolf-
gang Iser was among the theoreticians who paid special attention to
85 The Short Stories
reception theory. According to !ser. all texts have certain gaps. which
the reader must fill to derive his or her own understanding of the text.
The text itself. however. demands that the reader react on the basis of
what the text contains.
Reception theory critics generally group the readers into two catego·
ries: the renl reader and the hypothetical reader. The real reader is defined
by a specific reading public such as the one in literature classes or those
whose responses are recorded by critics in relation to a given literary
work; this reader 1S also identified as the implied reader. Thus, the real
reader and the Implied reader are the same.
The hypothetical reader is a category often identified as the so-called
ideal reader (lser 27). The hypothetical reader can be constructed or re-
constructed from a social and historical knowledge of the times. The
hypothetical reader (also identified by theoreticians as the ideal reader),
of all possible readers is the one. Iser notes, born from the brain of the
philologist (someone who studies languages from linguistic and histor-
ical backgrounds), the critic, or the author him- or herself (lser 28). The
hypothetical reader is the one capable of understanding exactly what the
author meant when writing the text; as this is an impossibility, this
reader is purely fictional and has no baSIS in reality (Iser 29).
Reception theory is seemingly prescriptive. nus literary theory as-
sumes that the real reader may be able to activate, or interpret, the gaps
that the author intentionally leaves for the reader to filL Reception theory
allows for different possible ways of reading the same text. The real
reader is capable of. and willing to, understand the text indiVidually bl.1t
sees the role of the text to be stronger. It is through the text that the
implied reader makes elaborates illusions. and arnves at con-
clusions. in accordance with his or her historical. cultural, and mdividual
circumstances.
The five short stones selected for this chapter are all challenging. Being
able to interpret them successfully puts great demands on the reader. By
examining "Tuesday Siesta" in detail in terms of a reception theory
model, readers should better understand how the theory works m prac-
tice.
How does the reader react to the use of language in the opening sen-
tence of "Tuesday Siesta"? What are the reader's inferences when the
following IS read: "the train emerged from the quivering tunnei orsandy
rocks. began to cross the symmetrical. interminable banana plantations.
and the air became humid and they couldn't feel the sea breeze any
more" (991.
The reader may ask: who are thelJ? Are there two people or more? Are
Gabriel Garda Marquez
where she came from or to care about her. In fact. there is <! mutual
hatred. as reflected in the woman's words and the attitude of the town.
Do not even drink their water. she tells her daughter, and above all. no
matter what, do not cry (lOll,
In "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," the winged old man is
viewed as an obiect. not a human being. He is Isolated in a cage as jf he
were. indeed, an animal. His Isolation is totaL He does not speak the
same language, Ignores the town's social and cultural codes, and is the
only one of his kind in the town.
At the end of "Balthazar's Marvelous Afternoon:' Balthazar lies dI1.U1k
m the street as if he were dead yet no one offers him assistance, not even
the Christian women who are seen walking to church that very moming.
In "Isabel's Monol9gue," the solitude suffered by Isabel is perhaps the
most poignant variety that a person may bear. She seems to suffer so
severely that she talks to herself as jf she has lost her mind.
In "Big Mama's Funeral." the solitude of Big Mama, ironically, 15 the
greatest of all. Everything about her is big, induding her solitude. Al-
though she is as rich as King Midas, Big Mama lacks what humans need
most. love and sexual companionship. She dies a virgin, with no family
to mourn her paSSing or continue her bloodline. She is indeed the epit-
ome of solitude. alone in the forgotten town of Macondo. where. accord-
ing to the narrative voice in One Hundred Years of Solitude. none of its
inhabitants will have a second opportunity on earth.
84
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fhel) all of the same gender and age group? Are they a couple! "'and if 50.
ace they marrIed or wunarried? Are they a father and son or daughter?
Are thel} lust frjends? The possibilities for interpreting the facts of the
opening sentence are nwnerous and may vary from reader to reader.
A reader may also ask: where is this story taking place? Any attentive
reader may imagine a tropical place where banana trees grow near the
sea, but the question remams as to exactly where.
The fact that so many speculations and inquines may be drawn from
the opening sentence proves. on the one hand, that most readers bring
to the text their own active participation, whether knowingly or not. On
the other hand, as the reader continues. the text answers many of the
inquiries. According to British literary critic Terry Eagleton, the reader
makes lmplicit connections. fills in gaps. draws inferences, and tests out
hunches. The reader. in the tennlnology of reception theory, as Eagleton
notes, concretizes the literary work: without his or her continuous active
participation there would be no literary work at all (Eagleton 66).
"Tuesday Siesta." as well as the other short stories revIewed in this
chapter. Is filled with tndelenniuncies (elements within a narrative -text
that depend [or their effect or result on the reader's interpretation). How-
ever, due to ambiguity in the use of language. the interpretations may
vary in a nwnber of different ways_
The reader's response to the indeterminacies (questions) of fhetj and
where in "Tuesday Siesta" might be influenced by his or her own interests
and viewpoints. The reader eventually knows that the indeterminate they
means an old woman and her young daughter. both dressed in black
and traveling by train. However. the more the reader learns in response
to his or her inquiries. the more complex the text becomes.
At the end of the short story the reader may not necessarily have
answers to all the indeterminacies (questions) that the narrative may
have provoked. Was the old woman once a citizen living in this town?
Is the town so typical that we need not know its name? Why is there 50
much pride and dignity in the old woman's behaVlOr? The reader has to
end the story on his or her own terms. for the ending is an indetermi-
nacy.
In reception theory, the ad of reading is always a dynamic one.
ing both m time and space. The reader. whether successful or not. strives
to make sense from what he or she reads. The reader orgaruzes the maw
tenal as it is being read, selecting what he or she considers relevant and
concretizing certam information. In concretizing, the reader attempts to
see in the text not what he or she is already prepared to see and under-
stand. but what "Tuesday Siesta" suggests. This in tum allows the reader
to elaborate one or more perspectives that culminate in an 11ltegrated il-
lusion. An integrated illusion may be temporary in the sense that wh"t"
the reader holds to be a fact on one page may prove to be altogether
different after he or she turns the page. Illusion may also operate in the
sense that what the reader. comes to understand might be what he or
she wanted to read into the story. The reader brings into the story hiS
or her own education and upbringing, lnduding religious beliefs, race,
gender. and age.
As the title of "Tuesday Siesta" implies: "at that hour [when the two
women got off the train), weighted down by drowsiness, the town was
taking a siesta" {101}. The reader concretizes the information and elab-
orates an image. which, in reception theory, is referred to as an illusion
of the townsfolk. TIlls illUSIon is almost immediately contradicted by the
text. What comes next in the story contradicts both the short story's title
and the illUSIon that the reader was concretizing: the townsfolk, at that
hour, are not asleep and instead carefully observe the two female char-
acters in their progress through the town.
The reader's efforts-of trying to reconcile the indeterminaCies (gaps
or questions) of the text with his or her own illusions-continue through-
out the text, for Garda Marquez's short stories do not necessarily move
through time in a linear fashion. He employs backgrounds and foregrounds
(the use of devices and teclmiques such as the flashback or the interior
monologue 50 that language calls attention to itself). He also creates dif-
ferent layers of meaning, wluch the reader continually attempts to
derstand, either consCiously or not.
Garcia deliberately leaves elements of his short stories in a
rather vague and often ambiguous fasluon. This is, mdeed. lus writing
style. To be able to read Garda Marquez's short stories according to
reception theory, the reader must be willing to read the text with a crit-. '
leal awareness that allows for a viewpoint different from his or her cus-
tomary expectations. This is not necessarily because of Garda Marquez's
use of magic realism, the absurd, the supernatural, or the elements of
the underworld, but because the main premise of reception theory is a
belief that the act of reading should open the reader to new viewpoints.'
wough the act of reading the reader must be willing to question his or·
her values and allow them to be transformed.
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86 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Short Stories
87
Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers
Second Series
Julia Alvarez by SilvIo Sirias
Rudolfo A. Anaya by Margarife Fernandez Olmos
Maya Angelou by Man) lalle Lupton
Ray Bradbury by Robill Aune l}eid
LouIse Erdrich by Lorella L. Stookel)
Ernest J. Gaines by Knrell Cannell/l
John Irving by lo.sie P. Campbell
Garrison Keillor by Marcia Songer
Jamaica Kincaid by Lizabeth Pnrnvlsmi·GelJert
Barbara Kingsolver by Man) lenn DeMarr
MaX1I1e Hong Kingston by E. D. HUIIUflJ
Terry McMiUan by Palilette Ric1lfTrtfs
Larry McMurtry by fohll M. Reilly
Toni Mornson by Missy Dc/lit Kubitschek
Chaim Potok by Smiford Stemlic1Jt
Amy Tan by E. D. Huntley
Anne Tyler by Paul Bail
Leon Uris by Knt1l1l!ell Slline Cam
Gloria Naylor by Charies E. WilSOll, fr.
,
GABRIEL GARCIA
,
MARQUEZ
A Critical Companion
Ruben Pelayo
CRITICAL COMPANIONS TO POPULAR CONTEMPORARYWRITERS
Kathleen Gregory Klein, Series Editor
~
Greenwood Press
Westport, Connecticut· London
,
,I
:1
'I
=
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publlcation Data
Pelayo. R u b ~ n . 1954-
Gabriel Garda Marquez : a critical companion I Rub!!n Pelayo.
p. an.-(Crllical companions to popular C1Jntemporary wrHers. ISSN 1082-4979}
Includes bibliographical references and Index.
ISBN 0-313-31260-5 (alk. paper,
1. Garda M6rquez, Gabriel. 1928- -Criticism and Interpretation. T. Title.
II. Series
PQ8180.l7.A73Z665 2001
B63'.64-dc:21 2001023337
British Ubrary Cataloguing in Publication Data is available.
Copyright It! 2001 by Rub!!n Pelayo
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be
reproduced. by any process or technJque, without the
express written consent of the publisher.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2001023337
ISBN: 0-313-31260-5
ISSN: 1082-4979
Hr:;t published In 2001
Greenwood Press, sa Post Road West, Westport. CT 06881
An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group. Inc.
www.greenwood.com
Printed In the United States of America
The paper used in this book complies wIth the
Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National
Infonnation Standards Organ1zation (Z39A8-1984).
10 9 8 7 6 5 4. 3 2 1
I dedicate this book both to
Gerald A. Lamb. my adoptive father.
and to the memoxy of my mother.

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