I guess now is the time I tell you that not all of the archetypes I use will be the “traditional” ones. Look up the one I’m using today, and you’ll find a few more new-age, shall we say, websites, and then a whole lot on how to use archetypes in your storytelling. For some archetypes I plan on using for later blogs, I’m not sure they exist at all. Just a heads up that we’re getting a little untraditional here on The Archetypist.
What do The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson have in common? Well, quite a lot actually, for all that is different about the plots themselves. Both are coming of age stories told from the point of view of a young girl of color in poor neighborhoods. Both are told through short snapshots of a life, by a narrator who is looking back from some future point. Both are undeniably about stories. Which is where the archetype comes in. The Storyteller was the first archetype I thought of for Esperanza when reading The House on Mango Street, but I wasn’t sure if it was real. Then, I decided I didn’t care if it was real, it was too fitting to let go of. Imagine my glee when The Storyteller also fit so well with August from Another Brooklyn. To me, The Storyteller is someone who, wait for it, tells stories. What better way to describe Esperanza and August, the characters for whom the telling of their stories is so intrinsically tied.
The Storyteller on Mango Street
Esperanza is an aspiring writer. The vignettes in Mango Street are written as individual memories, but each one feeds into the next in a way that is almost stream-of-consciousness. For Esperanza, the act of storytelling is a catharsis. It is a way of exploring and defining her world and the life she has led. As a Mexican-American girl living in a poor neighborhood in Chicago, there were expectations of her. As a female, there were even more expectations. Esperanza does not want to accept the role’s that have been placed upon her, deciding “not to grow up tame” (88). She wants to make her own way in the world. This is where writing comes, as a means of escape, something she can do that may make her her own money. But she does not want to forget the year that she lived on Mango Street. So she uses her memories as stories. From an interview with Cisneros:
“Writer’s always live their lives facing backwards, [considering] things we said or could have said, or things we wish we could take back.”
Esperanza’s memories may not be told exactly as they happened, but they are her own memories. Through the act of telling her story, Esperanza is defining herself and her place in the world.
The Storyteller in Brooklyn
In contrast to Esperanza, August is not an aspiring writer. August ends up becoming an anthropologist, studying the death rites and rituals of other peoples, as a way of coping with the death of her own mother. And yet, this still does not define her as a character as much as the telling of stories does. Thrown into memories by a chance encounter with her former friend, August reminisces on her life as a child and teen in Brooklyn. On the very first page, she says, “I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It is the memory.” Just like in the quote from Cisneros above, August is living facing backwards, remembering what has happened in her life, regretting the things she has done. This is nowhere more evident than in August’s relationship with her three best friends. August could have done more to hold on to her friends, but she didn’t, and she will always have the memories to look back on in regret. But by telling the story, August is owning her life, her memories, her mistakes. A line from a book review beautifully sums up why I place August firmly in the Storyteller archetype:
“This act of storytelling is a kind of victory over the sadness that once silenced August.”
It is for this reason that I think the telling of stories defines August more than any other characteristic.
One Last Thought
Setting is important in both novels, important enough to be in the titles, and even though I didn’t discuss either one, I wanted to honor them in some way. That’s where the pictures come in. The first is an illustration of Esperanza’s house on Mango Street, found here. The second is a photograph of Brooklyn, found here. Imagine these places while pondering the novels.