The Exceeding Unimportance between Fact and Fiction
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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 Chines...
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... see, there is no clear answer to the authenticity of Montejo's narrative. It is neither fact nor fiction; it is a blend of the two. Montejo may discredit himself with his brute stereotypes and unusual stories of ghosts and witches, but his reputation is restored with his candor, his raw retelling of the experiences which shaped not only his life, but the nation of Cuba. Thus, the reader is left on a literary see-saw. At times believing the narrative to fantastic, and at other times, reading in wonder at the excruciating detail presented. Alas, after waging the war between fact and fiction the reader may finally realize, it doesn't matter.
Miguel Barnet, Biography of a Runaway Slave, Curbstone Press, Willamantic, Ct, 1994, P. 30.