The Exceeding Unimportance Between Fact And Fiction

1027 words - 4 pages

The common man is oft underrepresented in historical literature. This is surprising considering the history of the world is constructed by the lives and tribulations of the common man. However, one genre of historical literature highlights the ordinary person, testimonial literature. One way to examine testimonial literature is as a celebration of the "true" story told firsthand as in Biography of a Runaway Slave. Another, more cynical view, is to analyze testimonial literature as a fabrication and distortion of the real truth, the truth recorded in textbooks. Therefore, it is necessary to consider both of these tenets and, in the process, discover a middle ground that serves to partially substantiate and partially criticize this piece of testimonial literature. The question at hand is whether or not the reliance on memory authenticates or discredits the narrative. The answer is none of the above. The memories in Biography of a Runaway Slave buttress both of these arguments in that it somewhat validates the account and somewhat brings into question the account. Through an examination of Montejo's religious beliefs and stereotypes, and his lifestyle, one will gain a better understanding of the balance between fact and fiction.

Upon reading the book, the reader is presented with a variety of stereotypes and unusual religious beliefs which sometimes raise doubt of the validity of the narrative. For example, when Montejo examines the various cultures and ethnicities he encountered during his life, he makes dangerous generalizations. When he comments on the various fiestas that were held, he looks down upon the Chinese for not participating. Later on, he notes that the blacks never committed suicide, but the Chinese did.1 This type of generalizing is also used on the priests and the Filipinos. When this type of discrimination is presented, it calls into question the validity of other parts of the book. It could lead the reader to wonder what else Montejo is exaggerating about. Could Montejo's description of the awful treatment and conditions be less severe then described?

Along the same lines, there are many instances in the story where Montejo recalls extraordinary phenomena occurring due to witchcraft. During one part of the book, Montejo describes watching men capture a witch with sesame seed and mustard because everyone knows, "While there's a single sesame seed on the ground, witches can't move."2 Other fantastic occurrences are described which bring one to question the competency of the narrator in telling the story. If this man believes that witches fly from island to island, what other ridiculous things does he believe? What other tales has he told us that may not have happened as he said? However, this intense belief could also serve to validate his claims. Would a man so deeply convinced that spirits and other entities govern life dare to lie about events in his...

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