Literature Review: Storytelling


Storytelling entails the conveyance of incidences in audio or visual techniques. Storytelling is defined by Gere, Kozolvich and Kelin as “the act of using language and gesture in colorful ways to create scenes in a sequence” (2). Story telling is older than writing. In the medieval times, people used to tell stories by gesturing or making expressions. Evidence of storytelling in the past can be found on rock art depicting religious rituals or traditional rites and ceremonies of the ancient communities. Besides rock art some communities, for instance, the aboriginal group in Australia and the native Indians used tattoos to affirm their identity and narrate their past ordeals. Even in the modern times, storytelling is a vital educational tool that can be applied to boost learning. With the advent of information technology, storytellers have embraced digital media to convey their message. This report focuses on four books that deal with storytelling technique, skills learning, history, theory and cultural issues, among others.


Mario Vargas Llosa is a renowned American writer whose work focuses on the predicament faced by the Latin Americans. Vargas’ narrative technique is a blend of legendary, trendy, and laudable elements in his book to convey the socio-cultural and political reality in his nation. In his book, The Storyteller, Vargas addresses the inconsistent diversity and cultural displacement in Peru. The author explores the ties between the “first world” and the “third world”, noting that this contemporary world can only survive through trans-nationalism, miscegenation, and cultural fusion.

Vargas’ alters between two storytellers by presenting the narration of man named Saul Zuratas who covertly relocated to the Peruvian countryside to hide his identity. Although this act is touching, a reader may find Saul’s intent dubious since what he is leaving behind as “western culture” has significantly contribute to his current life. This book tackles an issue that is not only common in Latin American countries like Peru but also in several nations globally where the native communities are considered by the contemporary population as outdated.

In The Storyteller, the Machiguengas society residing in the Amazon Basin is considered archaic by the Christian missionaries who make several attempts to convert them to Christianity. In the end, this indigenous group’s culture is destroyed and the “Westerners” carryon with the exploitation of the Amazon Basin at the expense of the natives whom the Vargas describes as

handful of tragic, indomitable beings, that society has broken up into tiny families, fleeing, always fleeing, from the whites, from the mestizos, from the mountain people, and from other tribes, awaiting and stoically accepting their inevitable extinction as individuals and as a group, yet never giving up their language, their gods, their customs (164).

Even though Vargas describes the Machiguenga’s ordeal with melancholy, the book proposes the impracticality of upholding one’s self-sufficiency in a culturally fused environment. The author notes that “It is tragic to destroy what is still living, still a driving cultural possibility, but I am afraid we shall have to make a choice…where there is such economic and social gap, modernization is possible only with the sacrifice of the Indian cultures”  (Sommer 31).

Vargas’ narrative style is to some extent comparable to the techniques used by contemporary writers who engage their audience through chronicles, anecdotes, and allegories. However, unlike Vargas, most modern writers have lost touch with storytelling technique where the narrator is morally conscious of their country. Most writers in the modern age do not identify to any particular community thus find it hard to write from experience. As implied by Benjamin, “the communicability of the experience is decreasing… The art of storytelling is reaching its end because the epic side of the truth, wisdom, is dying out” (86-87).

Another compelling story by Mario Llosa, “The bad girl” makes use of a story telling technique that is somewhat like a play that is structured into three plots and told in the first person. It’s almost like a story told within another story but focusing on the same man’s love life and personal challenges in forming relationships. The bad girl is a classic depiction of how personal problems are intertwined with the political world and historical occurrences. Just as everyday life presents itself, the problems we go through both emotionally and psychologically are founded on the basis of current political environment. The character played by Becky Sharp for instance is manipulative and is a true reflection of the people we surround ourselves with everyday. In my personal experience, I have found that most people use situations to their advantage with little or no consideration of who they hurt; much like what public figures are prone to (Vargas 112).

Through Becky’s character, the author brings out the modern culture of consumerism where people are very much “money minded”. Amassing wealth by whatever means is the way of life modern way of life that totally disregards other people’s situations (The New York Times Book Review 157, 8). Vargas brings out two faces in the society. In one instance there are good people who are always trying to do the right thing like his character Ricardo who despite numerous heartbreaks, still he falls victim to love (San Francisco Chronicle, M1.). It is common for people in the society to always want to see the good in others. While in another instance, the bad girl represents malice, ruthlessness and total disregard to emotion and the need to be politically correct (Kirkus Reviews 954).

Warren Buckland’s book Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema is another piece that evaluates interesting anthology of modern movies that espouse non-classical narrative styles. The novel has a prologue and eleven short articles composed by different critics of various movies such as Oldboy, Run Lola Run, and Memento, etc. This narrative section of this book has significantly explored the steps made in the movie industry to communicate the challenges faced by the society in different eras. However, the introduction section is rather wanting. The editor of the introduction commences with the description of culture pointing out the occurrences in the modern world have become unclear and intricate, and to this point the movie industry is facing the same challenge. However, the editor avoids this inquiry on culture and starts advocating for his own welfare by comparing modern movie storytelling with the works of ancient writers such as The Poetic by Aristotle. The introduction also goes into along

A fable written by Naguib Mafhouz’s Arabian Nights and Days are fictional tales that contain moral teachings. Through the exploration of moral dilemmas and the consequences that follow each decision made in the fairy tale world, Naguib successfully enforces subconscious learning to his readers (para.1). For instance, the story in which a political figure dies but is then reincarnated as a poor porter and the challenge he has to face of persuading his wife of his true identity is a lesson to treat others fairly. The portrayal of harsh consequences to follow the injustices committed by people in their current lives induces an involuntary thought process that allows the reader to examine his/her own life. The book taps into the psychology of readers by evoking thoughts of what might happen to individuals in reaction to deeds and misdeeds done to others. Fictional and imaginary as they may be, such stories are the right make up the right kind of tool to promote society’s moral standards.


In the current and even past societies, stories were used as mirrors to society’s successes and failures. The techniques employed, interdisciplinary aspects, cultural values and other facets like history can all be used to convey desired messages to the readers. As explored in the above reviews books and stories are literature pieces that serve as more than entertainment instruments. Styles such as fiction, imagination, and narration are just some of the techniques used to draw in readers to the inner message to be conveyed. All things considered, relating to authors message is very easy considering the fact that issues discussed are all experienced I day to day lives.





Works Cited:

Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller.” The Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1985: 83-109.

Buckland, Warren. Ed. Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2009.

Gere, J., B Kozolvich and Kelin D. By word of mouth: A storytelling guide for the classroom. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, 2002.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 18 (September 15, 2007): 954.

Mahfuz, Najib. Arabian Nights and Days, n.d. Accessed 14 November 2015<;

San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2007, p. M1.

Sommer, Doris. “Be-longing and Bi-lingual States.” Diacritics (WIN 1999): 29, no.4. 84-115

The New York Times Book Review 157 (October 14, 2007): 1-9.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. The Bad Girl. New York: Farrar Straus and Grioux, 2006

Vargas Llosa, Mario. The Storyteller. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989.


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