Julian, the narrator, provides detailed descriptions of characters’ appearances, settings, and actions. He also has a tendency to use similes in his descriptions. He remarks that the Gimp (once a friend of his) is
“much taller than all the others. In the dark I couldn’t see but could only imagine the face armored with pimples, the skin, deep olive and beardless, the tiny pinholes of his eyes, sunken like two dots in that lump of flesh divided by the oblong bumps of his cheekbones, and his lips, thick as fingers, hanging from his chin, triangular like an iguana’s.”
Later, while Justo’s knife is being approved by one of the Gimp’s friends, Julian describes the setting using descriptive sensory words and phrases:
“For a few minutes, we were silent, inhaling the perfume from the cotton plants nearby, borne by a warm breeze in the direction of the bridge. On the two sides of the riverbed in back of us the twinkling lights of the city were visible. The silence was almost total; from time to time barking or braying ruptured it abruptly.”
As peaceful as the description of the landscape is, Julian soon describes the action of the fight as Justo and the Gimp begin to focus on defeating each other. His description is interesting, because he begins by describing the two fighters up close and gradually moves outward. This suggests that he is focused on the fight but may also be attempting to distance himself emotionally from an unpleasant outcome. Julian explains:
“For a few seconds they stood motionless, silent, surely saying with their eyes how much they hated each other, observing each other, their muscles tight under their clothing, right hands angrily crushing their knives. From a distance, half hidden by the night’s warm darkness, they didn’t look so much like two men getting ready to fight as shadowy statues cast in some black material or the shadows of two young, solid carob trees on the riverbank, reflected in the air, not on the sand. As if answering some urgently commanding voice, they started moving almost simultaneously.”
As the fight escalates, Julian says that Justo
“moved in and away from the Gimp at the same time, shaking the poncho, dropping and keeping up his guard, offering his body and whisking it away, slippery, agile, tempting and rejecting his opponent like a woman in heat.”
Again, Julian uses simile to enhance his description of the constant movement of his friend in the fight.
Although the narrator knows the characters very well, he provides little comment on them. While he gives surface information, such as where Leonidas lives and what the Gimp looks like, he never talks about his broken friendship with the Gimp or why there is tension between the Gimp and Justo. When Briceno sees Justo before the fight and expresses confidence in his ability to win, Julian merely says that Briceno seems to have decided to adopt this approach in talking to Justo; Julian is apparently not sure. This lack of knowledge is more characteristic of a passive third-person narrator than of an involved first-person narrator. The story reads as if Julian assumes the reader knows the characters. He describes how the characters relate to one another (to a limited extent; the reader does not know that Leonidas is Justo’s father until the end) and leaves the rest for the reader to infer. Vargas Llosa seems to use this technique in order to challenge the reader to become involved in the story and to make assumptions and draw conclusions without being told what to think about the characters.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Mario Vargas Llosa – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.