Loading
Apuntes
Study Reminders
Support
Text Version

Set your study reminders

We will email you at these times to remind you to study.
  • Monday

    -

    7am

    +

    Tuesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Wednesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Thursday

    -

    7am

    +

    Friday

    -

    7am

    +

    Saturday

    -

    7am

    +

    Sunday

    -

    7am

    +

Hello and welcome to today’s session, today we continue to take a look at this short story, “Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon”. Having taken a closer look at it in the previous session, today we will focus on some of the important elements to be discussed, a quick recap before that. (Refer Slide Time: 0:29) Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon is a short story written by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez who lived from 1927 to 2014. He won Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, some of his other important works include One Hundred Years of solitude, No one writes to the Colonel and Love in the Time of Cholera. He is considered as one of the best storytellers of his times and he also perfected this genre the subgenre rather now come to be known as the magic realist form. (Refer Slide Time: 1:00) Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon in a short story which was originally written in Spanish, we currently access the translation. As you have noted, it has a simple plot it is a story of a poor carpenter. Apparently is very simple and there is hardly any complexity within the story, but some critics are also of the opinion that there is a need to be read as a parable because Marquez meant this to be read as a story which has some inherent moral or rather Marquez is trying to convey some value system that he also apparently believed in. (Refer Slide Time: 1:39) The characters in the story include Balthazar, Ursula, Dr Octavio Giraldo, the Montiels and the townsfolk. Balthazar comes across as a genius, he makes the most beautiful cage that the townsfolk had ever seen and there is a lot of demand for the cage that he makes, but Balthazar himself oblivious to the kind of genius the kind of craft that he possesses and he initially treats the cage as an ordinary thing and only when he begins to garner this kind of appreciation from the townsfolk, he begins to realise the worth this piece of work this piece of art has. He also comes across, he is a very kind-hearted person and we get insights about his character throughout his interactions with his wife, with the doctor, with the Montiel family and so on. It is hard not to notice that the biblical allusion in this character right from the name itself. Balthazar is the name of one of the 3 wise men who travel to Judaea to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. And in between Ursula noticing his shabby appearance because he had been working on this cage for the last 2 weeks and he had not even shredded. And Ursula says that now he has a look of a capuchin that is a reference to a priest and the occupation that Balthazar pursues in this story, being a carpenter some have pointed out there is a direct allusion, a biblical ecclesiastical allusion where the reference is also to Christ who was a carpenter. Balthazar comes across someone who has an immense passion for his craft whether it is in the way that he works or in the work ethics that he displays, we find that being very prominent throughout this short story. Ursula the woman with whom Balthazar is living, she is a practically minded woman, she comes across as this calculated, this is not to say that she is bad sort of a person, but she comes across as the practical figure in that family where she fails to see the beauty, the aspect of beauty which is in the cage. On the other hand, she notices the size of it and the price and the money that this cage could fetch them. She is the one who triggers, who instigates this desire in Balthazar in the 1st place to go and ask for 50 or even 60 pesos for the cage. Doctor Octavio Giraldo is the one who perhaps gives the best description of the cage in the short story. He notices not the function of the cage but describes it as a flight of imagination, and he even goes to the extent of saying that the cage can sing by itself even if there is no bird in it and this poetic gaze gives the much-needed poetical element to this short story by Doctor Octavio Giraldo pointing out repeatedly that this is perhaps the best artefact that he has ever come across so much so that he desires it to be gifted to his ailing wife. The Montiels; Jose Montiel, his wife and the 12-year-old son for whom the cage is being made, they perhaps represent the very facets of the capitalist outlook and ironically much as we dislike how the Montiel’s behave with Balthazar, especially Montiel and his wife much as we dislike that kind of behaviour. We also need to acknowledge that the artwork that Balthazar created, it assumes value, it assumes a worth only when it is in the possession of the Motels. And this is perhaps the interesting turning point that Marquez also brings in Marquez weaves into this short story. The townsfolk, it is a nameless crowd, we are not being introduced to anyone any of the individuals in the crowd, but we realise that from the beginning of the story till the end they play a key role in influencing and determining Balthazar’s actions. The readers are also made to realise the worth of this piece of work this cage and also the crowd-pulling effect of it only when we are told that there is a crowd outside Balthazar’s house to see the cage. And even when Balthazar goes to the Montiels to sell the cage rather he ends up gifting it, even at that time we find this same crowd waiting outside to see the outcome. And this townsfolk, this nameless crowd it plays a significant role in taking the action forward and also in showing how people can behave in different ways even out of their nature when they are asked to perform under immense societal pressure. We find Balthazar being overtaken by the anxiety of performance and fact when he goes to the Montiels, not because he really cares for it as an individual but mostly because there is a crowd waiting outside and it is also important for Balthazar to assume some dignity and some position some important position as an artist, especially before the townsfolk. (Refer Slide Time: 7:35) We have already noticed the setting of this short story, there is no particular name given to the town in which this is set but we get to know that it is a small provincial town where almost everyone seemed to know each other and gossip is the main source of information. It is not as if Balthazar had sent the word out about this new cage which he as finished building, on the other hand, we find a crowd gathering outside and through them, we find the news of the cage reaching far and wide. The physician Doctor Octavio Giraldo, he reaches Balthazar’s house to buy the cage after having heard about it. He says, the cage looks better than its reputation, it also tells us about the pressure under which Balthazar is placed just like the news about the cage had spread far and wide. Balthazar also knows that and by extension, the reader also knows that. The news of Balthazar having sold this cage to the Montiels that will also reach far and wide that reputation perhaps may take him a long way in terms as an artist as a carpenter and more people may approach him because this kind of information they travel fast, they realise in that small provincial town by way of gossip. (Refer Slide Time: 9:04) Marquez is a master storyteller, there is no doubt about that, and in Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon we find Marquez emerging as a different kind of a storyteller. He makes use of the simple plot and he makes use of very interesting narrative techniques to convey what he has to say. The narration is apparently in the surface level, it is very conventional, it is a 3rd person omniscient narrator, we get to know about the actions and the thoughts of that character mostly through dialogues but there are also comments about characters. We also find the narrator trying to explain the character’s feeling and even certain things which are not so obvious to the reader. So here we find that this omniscient narrator is also intrusive, an intrusive narrator is one who interrupts a story to provide a commentary to the reader, we find this happening in various steps in the short story. If you go back and take a closer look at it again, you will realise that about almost every character that is insider information that the omniscient narrator the intrusive narrator tries to give us. And this also takes the story to a different level altogether and we begin to wonder whether it is the author Marquez, he trying to manipulate how this story needs to be read. And given that he is indeed a master storyteller, given that he is someone who can experiment with his craft, it is possible that Marquez intended this story to be read in a particular way and he also wanted to place the characters within the moulds that he had created so that the reader will not be at a loss to figure out how to evaluate the characters or how to categorise the characters, it comes across as a very conventional simple plot. But beneath this we can find the layers of expertise of narration, maybe there are no philosophical truths or profound things that Marquez intends to explore but the beauty of the story lies primarily in this narration where we are also able to visualise the pressure that Balthazar feels throughout the story. And the kind of helplessness and a partial sort of a victory that he gains towards the end. (Refer Slide Time: 11:48) Some of the important themes of this short story need to be taken a look at, we find this obvious theme of greed being positioned vis-a-vis generosity, and both these virtues are placed side-by-side as contrasting elements and we also find the characters who are associated with these different qualities. We find Ursala, personifying greed at the beginning but we also find that in some way or the other Balthazar also tows the same line a little later in the story, especially in that instance where he imagines, when he begins to fantasise about making perhaps a million cages and then selling them out to different prospective customers, where he is fantasising about this mass production that he eventually will be able to do. We find him also being almost greedy, so Marquez is not trying to present this in black and white, there are also these different shades of grey that we would come across. And we find Balthazar embodying generosity more than anyone else. And we also find a generous character and amiable character in the physician Octavio Giraldo where he is not resentful of the fact that Balthazar did not sell the cage to him. On the other hand, he immediately forgets that matter and then he goes on with his life. And towards the end of the story, the idea of greed and generosity, they almost come into conflict with each other where we are being given an exaggerated in the count of Montiel’s greed, Montiel’s stinginess, Montiel’s difficulty to part with his money even if that means owning a piece of art. And on the other hand, we have Balthazar who is generously gifting this piece of art, this cage to Pepe Montiel, the 12-year-old boy because he had already promised himself. And this act of generosity there is a flip side, this act of generosity, this act of benevolence is also an act of revenge at the same time. So Marquez has successfully brought together different elements, different conflicting emotions within the same character and in some cases within the same episode. The story also asks pertinent questions about the value of art, about whether it is about money or artistic value, and it also ends with this irony about this beautiful piece of art for which people are willing to pay anything, it is gifted it is not sold. He ends up gifting it partly to please the child, partly to impress the crowd that is waiting outside and partly as revenge, as an act of revenge on this rich man Montiel. The story also tells us a little early that Balthazar always had a disdain for rich people. So this moment of gifting this piece of art asks important questions not just about the value of art, but it also showcases certain elements within Balthazar’s character. It also tells us about how the product is alienated from the producer and it draws attention to the commercialisation of art perhaps that’s also an important point that Marquez wanted to convey through this short story. The story also raises the issue of society, the societal pressure and hypocrisy which is inherent in it then the hypocrisy of the townsfolk or even the hypocrisy of Balthazar himself who is forced to act and perform in particular ways due to the societal pressure. It also brings in the divide between the rich and the poor where there are certain expectations and aspirations that the poor have, and on the other hand the rich also come across as someone who is living within another kind of hypocritical setup where they fail to live up to the expectations of the poor nor do they have the capacity to satisfy themselves. We are also introduced to this immense irony where the rich man and the town Jose Montiel, he is unable to fulfil the desire of his 12-year-old son, on the other hand, it is this poor carpenter this penniless carpenter Balthazar who manages to satisfy this desire. This immense irony also shows the different ways in which Marquez want us to look at different the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots that it is not always about the wealth that you possess but it is also about certain other qualities. Class conflict is perhaps an important theme in this short story; it is hard to miss the social status of Balthazar or the different characters who are presented to us. His social status Balthazar’s social status is linked with his poverty, and this is despite this artistic ability while people acknowledge that he is a gifted artist that this is the best cage in the world, this is the most beautiful cage in the world that he is a gifted artist, it does not do anything to alleviate the poor conditions in which Balthazar is living. To make this piece of art he had spent 2 weeks as his partner Ursula points out, which also meant that they did not have any other income in past 2 weeks when he was focusing not on his routine carpentry job, but on making this cage which eventually he could not even sell, he had to gift it. So it is drawing our attention to the class conflict which is inherent here where the poor man the poor carpenter cannot afford to be an artist unless the piece of art is acknowledged and even bought at least seemingly by a rich man.The acknowledgement of his work as an artist, the acknowledgement of the value the inherent value of this piece of art it also lies the power to judge and the power to evaluate it is also vested with the rich. (Refer Slide Time: 18:48) As we begin to wrap up this discussion, let us also look at some of the questions that this story begins to ask. It forces us to wonder whether the ownership of art is a prerogative of the wealthy which is what the story also begins to unravel in different ways. And Balthazar’s moment of glory, the moment he walks out after gifting this cage to the 12-year-old boy and the moment when he also decides to lie to the people waiting outside that he managed to sell it for 60 pesos as they all had expected, this is his moment of glory. And this is a moment for celebration and since we also know more details because of this omniscient narrator, we also find that it is a bit sad because Balthazar can celebrate his moment of glory only when his artwork is bought by a wealthy powerful person. But Balthazar, the narrator and the readers know that it was not sold, it was only gifted. We also realise that after 2 weeks of hard work, after 2 weeks of neglecting his ordinary his routine carpentry work, Balthazar is now forced to be penniless. The worst condition that he was paid for. When the story ends, we know that he is drunk his watch is left as a pawn in the liquor shop and he is lying on the street. And the story also tells us that Balthazar had never done this before and some commentators point out that whore house on that side of the world or people getting drunk at the end of the day those are ordinary sights. And for Balthazar to abstain from this kind of things and for the story to tell us that this is the 1st time that Balthazar ever did such things, it is of immense significance because Balthazar’s moment of glory is also another low for him, a low for him financially and a low for him as far as his value systems and his ethics are concerned. The story also raises questions about the dignity of an artist and Balthazar who comes across as a dignified soul. From the beginning of the story, we find that he is not able to sustain that position when he walks into the Montiel’s house. At the Montiel’s, he is being humiliated, he is being yelled at and we also realised that his dignity is at stake. It is only by the choice to gift this cage to the 12-year-old boy and that is an act of defiance as a Balthazar is concerned and that is one moment through which he reclaims his dignity and through which he perhaps tries to tell the rich that there are things which they cannot dictate just with the power of money, just with the power of wealth. And when Balthazar walks out, we also realise that his dignity can be maintained or can be elevated when he chooses to lie and Balthazar does precisely that. The story finally leaves this important question about Balthazar lying to the people, about how Balthazar as an artist is forced to lie about what he did with his artwork. And this lie, we do not know how the story proceeds, maybe this lie cemented his reputation further and he got more orders for his cage one would never know. Or maybe this lie cemented his reputation as an artist and he continued to live as poor as before, but nevertheless, the important turning point in the story is that moment, the moment of glory which Balthazar seizes by choosing to lie the crowd which is waiting outside. And as pointed out in the beginning, though the townsfolk, the crowd which gathered in front of Balthazar’s house or the crowd which is waiting outside Montiel’s house and the crowd which got drunk with Balthazar’s money, we find that they emerge as equally powerful, not just Montiel but this townsfolk this crowd also emerges as a powerful determinant in assessing the value of this piece of art. I leave you with this short phrase from Plato’s work Eon where Eon remarks that we are only interpreters of interpreters. Quoting this one of the commentators of Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon, he also remarks that, at the end of the short story we realise that there are no final answers, there are no final solutions because as a reader of Marquez we are also really interpreters of an interpreter. With this we wrap up this discussion on the short story Balthazar’s marvellous afternoon, thank you for listening and I look forward to seeing you in the next session.