Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Storyteller questions the basic values of modern Western culture by placing it in direct juxtaposition with the Machiguengans. Organizations such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a real entity) are charged with the disruption of natural prerogatives. In researching indigenous peoples of the Amazon, they appropriate native languages and ways while imposing Christianity, technology, and the Spanish language. Also implicit is criticism of the destruction perpetrated on precarious natural habitats such as the Amazon jungle. Vargas Llosa offers an evenhanded examination of these issues and effectively avoids sentimentalizing the plight of indigenous peoples. The questions, nevertheless, loom large over the novel.

Balance is a key element in The Storyteller. The alternating narrative voices balance one another, as do their respective cultures. Saúl and the narrator are balanced in their friendship and discussions. Saúl, the arrogant, impenetrable Jewish university student, contrasts sharply with the wise, humble, and candid Machiguengan storyteller that he allegedly has become. Machiguengan history is compared to Jewish history, with the storyteller recounting Biblical cosmology in Machiguengan terms. The narrator’s journey into the heart of Machiguengan culture is placed in relief against the often-unwilling journey of Tasurinchi into knowledge about the world outside the Amazon jungle. For Vargas Llosa, transformation requires balance; the worlds of modern...

(The entire section is 612 words.)