Intertextuality and Hybrid Identity in Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller


James Thomas

Faculty Mentor(s)

Christopher Schedler (English)


This presentation explores an intertextual comparison between Saul Zuratas/Mascarita, in Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel The Storyteller and Saul of Tarsus/Paul, the apostle from the Christian New Testament and, from a larger perspective, the Judeo-Christian tradition as a hybridization of elements from multiple cultures. The textual comparison includes the similarity in the names and backgrounds of both Sauls and the adaptation that accompanies the inclusion of an outsider into an exclusive group. An analysis of the indigenous Machiguenga tribe and intentional references to similarities between tribal migrations and the Jewish people’s journey through the wilderness after a period of captivity are addressed. This paper also engages with recent scholarship to assess the role of identity in The Storyteller with an emphasis on assigned versus assumed identity. Overlapping categories of identity are examined to further delve into the individual’s responsibility in the creation of their own identity.

Keywords: Intertextuality, Hybridization, Identity


8 thoughts on “Intertextuality and Hybrid Identity in Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller”

  1. Christopher Schedler

    Hi James,
    In the novel, Saul incorporates Judeo-Christian stories from the Bible into the tales he tells as the tribal storyteller. Is this an imposition of external cultural influence on the tribal traditions? How would you evaluate this practice from Saul’s moral perspective of non-interference with the tribe?
    Dr. Schedler

    1. Dr. Schedler,
      Saul believes that the work of ethnologists is “immoral” and “that with [their] tape recorders and ball-point pens [they’re] the worm that works its way into the fruit and rots it” (Vargas Llosa 32). He also wanted to “preserve these tribes just as they were, their way of life just as it was” (73). Saul ranted about the Summer Institute of Linguistics, “Those apolostolic linguists of yours are the worst of all. They work their way into the tribes to destroy them from within … Into their spirit, their beliefs, their subconscious, the roots of their very being …” (96). Based on this evidence, it seems that Saul is imposing external cultural influence on the tribal traditions when he incorporates Judeo-Christian stories in the tales he tells as the tribal storyteller. From Saul’s moral perspective of non-interference, I would evaluate this practice as “worst of all” (96).
      Thank you for your questions.

  2. Hi James,

    Really wonderful work!! This was a very insightful and engaging presentation. Have you noticed connections between Saul’s personal sense of identity (“half Jewish and half monster”) and other literary characters whose race and/or monstrous appearances marginalizes them or puts them into a kind of middle-space? I’m thinking of Caliban, but there are many others.

    1. Dr. Seth,
      As you say, there are many other characters whose race and/or monstrous appearances marginalizes them or puts them into a “middle space.” In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is marginalized for being a Jew and, at the play’s resolution, the characters try to erase Shylock’s identity by forcing him to convert. Likewise, in Shakespeare’s play Othello, the character Othello is vulnerable to Iago’s scheming in part because of his race.
      Thank you for your question and your patience!

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