Literary theory

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Alexander Valencia

Professor García

Literary Theory

Nov 25, 2010

Literary Essay: A descent into the Maelstrom (Umberto Eco’s theory)

A Descent into the Maelstrom

Edgar Allan Poe’s story “a Descent into the Maelstrom” tells the story of a seaman that faced a terrible event and survived: going down into a giant whirlpool in a Norwegian sea. According to Umberto Eco’s Six Walks inthe Fictional Woods there are several aspects for analyzing a piece of fiction such as: the similarities between realism and surrealism in the story, the type of reader and author that the piece is written by and for, duration of the events in terms of time and the quality of swiftness in the story.

The first aspect to be analyzed is the similarities and differences between realism andsurrealism in the story. According to the Eco “the basic rule in dealing with a work of fiction is that the reader must tacitly accept a fictional agreement which Coleridge called ‘the suspension of disbelief’ (Eco 75). What the author is trying to explain is that when reading a fictional story the reader must accept and recognize the existence of unreal events. On the other hand, fictional pieces alsohave an appealing to be true to life. Eco stated that “the reader has to know that what is being narrated is an imaginary story, but he must not therefore believe that the writer is telling lies”. That is, the reader should set the line that separates reality from fiction; he or she should be able to recognize the life’s similar and life’s dissimilar events or situations; in other words what isreal and what is false. In Poe’s a descent into the Maelstrom, the reader can clearly define that the happenings of the story can be all true as there are no clues that make him or her arrive at the conclusion of any unreality. All the events in the story can happen in the actual world. Why not a man could face a natural calamity and lived to talk about it? These situations can be seen in manylatitudes, especially in areas with oceans, certainly not in my city and around it but definitely it is possible in the shores of my country and in countries around. However I cannot completely assure that the main character is a real person, or that he really could survive such event or that the author was took him from a real story that Poe just transformed. In spite of that, I dare say that all theevents and happenings were product of Poe’s imagination which does not mean could not be possible in the real life. All in all, the reader has to make a fictional agreement between the book and reality.

Another important characteristic to take into account to study fictional works is the type of reader and author that the story is written by and for. Umberto Eco defined in his book twoimportant concepts “model reader and model author”. For Eco the model reader and the model author “must appear together because they are entities that become clear to each other only in the process of reading, so that each one creates the other” (Eco 24). Model reader can be consider as “a sort of ideal type whom the text not only foresees as a collaborator but also tries to create” (Eco 9). The modelreader is the one that does not get involved personally in the story, is the one that wants to explore every detail of it without taking into account how much time he or she spends on it, he or she is always conscious of the author, the text and itself in order to have an objective outcome and to discover meaning. On the other hand the model author is “a voice that speaks to us affectionately, thatwants us to be aside. This voice is manifested as a narrative strategy, as a set of instructions which are given to us step by step, little by little and which we have to follow when we decide to act as the model reader” (Eco 15). The model author is the one that writes with a specific purpose, he writes with clues in order to make the readers get involved in the story (not personally). By...
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