Complexity in Second Person: How the Narrator, or Narrative Voice, of Aura Is Deceptively Straightforward

Aura is a novel that explores the corporeality of aging, the eternal nature of desire and the struggle against mortality. What strikes the reader from the outset is the second person narrative in the present tense, a stylistic choice that is known to have a number of effects on both the narrative and the reactions of the reader. The narrative voice of the novella, which the reader takes to be that of the protagonist, Felipe Montero, appears to be relatively uncomplicated and linear. After all, the present tense means that the reader can follow the action without difficulty and the familiar ‘tú’ form has the effect of heightening the intimacy of the reading experience to a degree impossible in other narrative modes. However, upon reflection it becomes evident that the narrative voice is much more complex and deviating than originally thought.

Far from being straightforward, the narrative voice could be seen to act a key, or at least a suggestion, towards resolving one of the great questions that is left unanswered by the plot: how the reader should understand the eerie identity of Felipe and General Llorante. The reader is effectively told they have become, or always were, the same person; ‘Tapas con una mano la barba blanca del general Llorente, lo imagines con el pelo negro y siempre te encuentras, borrado, perdido, olvidado, pero tú, tú, tú’[1]. Although Aura conducts a kind of black mass with the erotic ritual earlier in the story, there was never any sign of Felipe changing physically. It is possible that he is the reincarnation of the General given that the fragmenting of time is one of Fuente’s favourite themes. However, there is no real indication of this in Aura and nothing really to suggest it in the narrative voice. What the language of the narrator along with the unusual, almost dreamlike sense of time could imply, however, is that Aura may be a subjective experience.

It may be controversial, although not by any means unfounded, to suggest the narrator to unreliable. Unreliable narration was not uncommon in Latin-American literature and the doubling, or superimposing, of realities and people is exactly one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Thus it is not daring to propose the view of the narrator as a ‘madman’. There are several sections of narrative which would add to this argument; Montero’s entrance into the house on Donceles Street is metaphorically the entrance to the labyrinth. Once inside, he is unable to see his way forward and does not know where each step will take him. All the gothic characteristics of the house: the horrible odour, the rats, the smell of scorched cats’ fur, the perpetual darkness and the maze of corridors could easily be seen as the world from the perspective of a man falling further and further into madness. That dooming sentence, ‘Tratas, inútilmente, de retener una sola imagen de ese mundo exterior indiferenciado’[2], when considered from this perspective, sounds distinctly like the thoughts of a man trying desperately and hopelessly to retain some of his sanity. Moreover, once he has entered the house his personality seems to eerily change; he makes very little effort to leave and does not question how the servant was able to bring his things. It is as though, now he has entered the world of the insane, he finds refuge in it. Therefore, we are now presented with the argument that Aura is simply the record of one man’s delusion.

However, to simply disregard the story as a schizophrenic’s ramblings would be to ignore one of the core concepts of the novel: the idea of superimposition, of Consuelo and Aura and also Felipe and General Llorante, as well as the notion of layering the past onto the present. A close reading makes it clear that superimposition exists not only on the level of the plot but also separately within the narrative voice. This is most simply explained by first taking an example from the text; after Aura has made love to Felipe, she becomes Consuelo’s own echo- ‘la señora Consuelo que te sonríe, cabeceando, que te sonríe junto con Aura que mueve la cabeza al mismo tiempo que la vieja…’[3]. Throughout the following passage, Consuelo and Aura superimpose, converge and diverge and the reader becomes aware that Felipe has made love to two women and yet the same woman. This confusing layering of characters is reflected with a similar situation in the narrative voice. The second person narrator inevitably means that the narrator is also the protagonist. Felipe Montero gradually unfolds into these two different functions, but not in the traditional way as would a first-person narrator who is also a character. Felipe is both the subject and the object of the narration at the same time; he tells his own story but the sense of the protagonist having free will is compromised simultaneously by Felipe the narrator. Thus a distance is created between the two different ‘Felipes’, who are paradoxically the same person. This two-fold condition is in keeping with the theme; there is a clear case of superimposition, entities that confound each other. The narrator is forced to assume a dual identity because he is effectively producing a script, which is performed by the character. Thus the narrator is and is not the character. He is the character and yet, resulting from the distance created by the second person, he assumes the point of view of the reader.

Therefore, there is a clear case of superimposition as the narrator is forced to be both himself and the other. This dualism is surely the same one underlying the relationships of Consuelo/Aura and Llorante/Felipe. This argument also significantly devalues the idea of narrator as madman as it shows how Fuentes, rather than writing from the deluded mind of a schizophrenic, may have used the narrator to reinforce the dualism we are reading about and horrified by in the plot. Additionally, the superimposition of two languages, Spanish of the narrative and the French of General Llorante’s memoirs perform a similar function. The resulting narrative voice is certainly not straightforward; it is both intertwined with and separate to the plot, reflecting its themes whilst also containing complex, superimposed relationships as an entity in itself.

The narrative voice is also crucial to fully understanding Fuentes’ exploration of time in Aura, and it is particularly apparent in this aspect that, both figuratively and literally, the narrative voice is certainly not straightforward. Fuentes attacks time[4] with the use of the second person narrative combined with an enigmatic future tense that both negates and destroys time. The extensive use of the present tense throughout the vast majority of the narrative means that the narrator focuses on what happens at the moment he is speaking. Through clever manipulation of language, the present is shown as a series of fleeting instants that the reader is never permitted to discover in more depth before the narrator moves on. This is partly achieved by simple enumerations lacking in verbs, such as ‘recorres la Mirada el cuarto: el tapete de lana rojo, la vieja mesa de trabajo, nogal y cuero verde, la lámpara Antigua de quinqué, luz opaca de tus noches de investigacion…’[5]. The narrator focuses on each object for a split second before moving on immediately to the next, creating the illusion of continuous action and accelerating the rhythm of the narration. Arguably, through the narrator’s use of language Fuentes is trying to present time as something unceasing and flowing, and by showing it like this the reader’s mind is opened to the possibility of the history being able to fold, return and be re-created in the present. The narrator also tends to use active rather than stative verbs in order to impart a dynamic character to the still-life descriptions in the novel, such as ‘Las sinfonolas no perturban, las lunas de mercurio no iluminan, la baratijas expuestas no adoran ese seguno rostro de los edificios’[6]. Again, this creates the idea of each moment co-existing with each other, constantly reaching for the succeeding moment to come. The narrator never stops to dwell on any specific detail, except perhaps when the future tense is applied.

The future tense is used with care in Aura. It can in some instances create distance between one moment and the next, creating the sense of the fluctuation of time. For example, ‘ella colocará el candelabro en el centro de la mesa’ and ‘Aura apartará la cacerola’[7], taken from the scene of Felipe and Aura’s first dinner. Here, it is used to represent interior, psychological time as opposed to chronological time; in this way it acts like the literary equivalent of slow-motion in a film[8]. The future is also used later to diverge from chronological time. When Felipe discovers the identities of Consuelo/Aura and himself/General Llorante, chronological time loses its meaning for him and every moment becomes a pulsating instant separated by the next by an eternity of time- ‘Una vida, un siglo, cincuenta años: ya no te sera possible imaginar esas medidas mentirosas, ya no te será possible tomar entre las manos ese polvo sin cuerpo’[9]. The dramatic narrative voice is what warps the reader’s sense of linear time, and helps us realize that the book is returning momentarily to a kind of illo tempore, abolishing linear time[10] and containing an uncanny, chaistic sense of returning to the past or to the self.

On a first reading, it is easy to overlook the subconscious effects the narrative voice in Aura has on us, as the reader, and in this way it is fair to say that it is straightforward, and deceptively so. There is certainly more than one way in which to interpret the narrative voice, as demonstrated in this discussion, but most importantly the narrator fulfills the challenging and complex function to reflect the dual and superimposed characters in the novel by realizing more than one role himself. The narrator is also a crucial mode of expressing the eternal nature of time and, in the novel, its ability to fluctuate and oscillate so that the history can find a way, through the narrator, of returning. So the narrator is not at all straightforward, he represents the complex and deviating layers of characters, desire and time.

Bibliography

Books

FUENTES, C. Aura (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965) WILLIAMS, R. L. The Writings of Carlos Fuentes (University of Texas Press, 1996) DELDEN, V. M. Carlos Fuentes, Mexico, and Modernity (Liverpool University Press, 1998)

Articles

FUENTES, C. On Reading and Writing Myself: How I Wrote Aura. Published in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Columbia University Press, 1983) FARIS, B. W. The Return of the Past: Chiasmus in the Texts of Carlos Fuentes. Published in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Columbia University Press, 1983) ALAZRAKI, J. Theme and System in Carlos Fuentes’ Aura. Published in ‘Carlos Fuentes’ (University of Texas Press, 1982) DAUSTER, F. The Wounded Vision: Aura, Zona Sagrada, and Cumpleaños. Published in ‘Carlos Fuentes’ (University of Texas Press, 1982) LEAL, L. History and Myth in the Narrative of Carlos Fuentes. Published in ‘Carlos Fuentes’ (University of Texas Press, 1982) ROJAS, N. Time and Tense in Carlos Fuentes’ Aura. Published in Hispania, Vol. 61, No. 4 (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, 1978)

[1] FUENTES, C. Aura (Farras, Straus and Giroux, 1965) p136 [2] ibid. p10 [3] ibid. p110 [4] WILLIAMS, R.L. The Writings of Carlos Fuentes (University of Texas Press, 1996) p263 [5] FUENTES, C. Aura. p32 [6] ibid. p8 [7] ibid. p38 [8] ROJAS, N. Time and Tense in Carlos Fuentes’ Aura. P859 in Hispania, Vol. 61, No. 4 (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, 1978) [9] FUENTES, C. Aura. p138 [10] FARIS, W.B. The Return of the Past: Chiasmus in the Texts of Carlos Fuentes. p578 in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Columbia University Press, 1983)