The Storyteller | Study Guide

Mario Vargos Llosa

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The Storyteller | Plot Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

The narrator, a writer from Peru, visits Florence, Italy, where he sees a photography exhibit featuring pictures of the Machiguenga tribe, an indigenous people in the Amazon jungle. He recognizes the terrain, having visited the Machiguengas. He hopes to see one particular photograph and finds it at the end of the exhibition. The image is of a group of Machiguengas sitting in a circle listening to a man tell stories.

Chapter 2

The narrator recalls his college friendship with Saúl Zuratas, an intelligent, kindhearted student with a huge purple birthmark disfiguring half his face. The narrator meets Saúl in the 1950s when they both study law at Peru's University of San Marcos. Saúl is from a Jewish family and devoted to his aging father Don Salomón.

After a visit to the Amazon jungle Saúl becomes fascinated with the Machiguenga tribe. Upset by the deforestation of the Amazon, Saúl believes indigenous tribes should be respected and left alone. The narrator thinks industrial development is inevitable, and the tribes will have to adapt to Western culture.

Saúl gradually becomes obsessed with the tribe and starts reading anthropology instead of law. After he graduates, Saúl turns down a fellowship to the University of Bordeaux in France because of his doubts about the ethics of anthropology fieldwork. The narrator wonders what attracts Saúl to the Machiguengas.

Chapter 3

This chapter is narrated by an anonymous storyteller from the Machiguenga tribe. The storyteller tells several tribal tales to a listening audience of Machiguengas. One story describes how the Machiguengas became "the men who walk" and why their walking keeps the sun in the sky. Another story is about the impact of colonialism by Inca rulers and white settlers, called Viracochas. The storyteller also reports on the lives of several tribe members. Each man is called Tasurinchi—with some added description—because the Machiguengas don't use personal names.

Chapter 4

This chapter is narrated by the Peruvian narrator. He becomes involved with the Summer Institute of Linguistics or "the Institute," a religious organization teaching languages to the Machiguenga tribe. The Institute's work and its impact on indigenous people are controversial in Peru.

The narrator travels to the Amazon and meets the Schneils, an American missionary couple who work with the Institute. They tell him the Machiguengas have an important community member called a hablador—the Spanish word for speaker—or storyteller. Because the Machiguengas live in small groups far from other tribe members, the storyteller travels from home to home giving news of relatives.

The narrator becomes fascinated with the figure of the storyteller. Planning to leave Peru for Europe soon, he meets Saúl once more before he leaves. Saúl disapproves of the Institute's work, believing it a cultural erasure of the tribes. In the next few years the narrator tries to learn more and write about storytellers but can't find much information. His letters to Saúl go unanswered. He later learns Saúl has moved to Israel with his father.

Chapter 5

This chapter is narrated by the anonymous Machiguenga storyteller. The storyteller tells several myths of magical transformations. One story recounts the Machiguenga legend of the moon giving birth to the sun. In another story the storyteller almost drowns until he's saved by a bird and learns to fly. Other stories relive the time of the Amazon rubber boom, or "tree bleeding," and the legend of a man who spoke animals into existence.

Chapter 6

This chapter is narrated again by the Peruvian narrator. In the 1980s he becomes a producer for a variety Peruvian television program called the Tower of Babel. The program's crew travels throughout the world to find human-interest stories. For their final show they have an opportunity to visit the Machiguenga tribe. The narrator's excited to return to the Amazon.

Many of the formerly scattered and nomadic Machiguengas now live in permanent settlements. With the help of the Institute the Machiguengas have established a school, farm, and trading posts. When the narrator asks several Machiguenga tribe members about the storyteller, they won't tell him anything. The narrator discovers the silence is the tribe's way of protecting the storyteller by not telling the outside world about him.

The Schneils tell the narrator they've heard two different Machiguenga storytellers speak. One storyteller had light skin and red hair. The narrator is stunned: the description matches his old friend Saúl. Later the narrator learns Saúl never went to Israel.

Chapter 7

This chapter is narrated by the Machiguenga storyteller. He recounts legends he learned from a wise seripigari, or shaman. The storyteller then narrates a personal story about his disfiguring facial birthmark and the acceptance he felt when he joined the Machiguengas. He tells two legends about outcasts. One legend, about a human named Gregor-Tasurinchi transformed into a bug, is a retelling of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. The other is a retelling of the story of Jesus. Finally the storyteller reveals how he found his parrot companion to whom he gave the name Mascarita, or "Mask Face"—the same nickname Saúl had.

Chapter 8

This final chapter is narrated by the Peruvian narrator. After he sees the photography exhibit in Florence, he decides Saúl is the Machiguenga storyteller in the photograph. He's amazed Saúl not only joined the tribe but took on a fundamental role. He imagines hearing the Machiguenga storyteller amid the crowd of entertainers in Florence, where the story began.

The Storyteller Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 The narrator sees photos of the Machiguengas in Florence.

Rising Action

2 The narrator meets Saúl.

3 Saúl visits the Amazon for the first time.

4 Saúl turns down the fellowship.

5 The narrator visits the Amazon and learns about habladores.

6 Saúl leaves Lima.

Climax

7 The narrator hears about a storyteller who resembles Saúl.

Falling Action

8 The narrator learns Saúl never went to Israel.

Resolution

9 The narrator decides Saúl is the storyteller.

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