Advanced Spanish Narrative Terminology

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson, we will see several advanced terms of the narrative in Spanish related to the different types of narrator, the audience of the book, and certain literary resources that authors use, such as using letters and documents or teaching by analogy.

Spanish Narrative Literary Analysis

This is what Lazarillo says when he talks about his life in the anonymous novel La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes ('The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes'):

  • Pues sepa vuestra merced, ante todas cosas, que a mí llaman Lázaro de Tormes, hijo de Tomé González y de Antona Pérez.
  • (Your Honor must know, before anything else, that they call me Lazarillo de Tormes, and that I am the son of Tome Gonzalez and Antona Perez).

In this novel, who is the author and who is the narrator? Can we believe what they say or should we distrust them? Who is the narrator talking to? To answer these questions, we have to know some advanced concepts of the narrative is Spanish. Let's see them.

Lazarillo de Tormes painted by Goya.

Types of Narrator

The narrator is the one who tells us the story. Do not confuse them with the author. The narrator is a character of the novel. There are many types of narrator. Let's see some of them.

Narrador No Fidedigno

The narrador no fidedigno (unreliable narrator) is a narrator in whom we cannot believe. This narrator lies or exaggerates on purpose or unintentionally (because he does not know the story well).

For example, the writer Eduardo Mendoza is the author of numerous works in which the protagonist is a very eccentric detective. This detective (who has no name) is, therefore, the narrator. But we know from the beginning of the books that he is in an insane asylum, therefore, we only half believe what he says. This is an example of a narrador no fidedigno. In this way, this detective speaks of himself in El laberinto de las aceitunas ('The Labyrinth of Olives'):

  • (…) y deseando gozar por fin de una libertad a la que me consideraba merecedor, no podía evitar que en ciertas ocasiones me traicionase la impaciencia y la emprendiese a palos con algún enfermero, destruyese artículos que no me pertenecían y tratase de violentar a las enfermeras.
  • ( (…) and wanting to finally enjoy a freedom that I deserved, I could not avoid being impatient sometimes and I beat some nurse, I destroyed objects that did not belong to me and I tried to rape the nurses.)

Eduardo Mendoza, creator of a funny narrador no fidedigno.

Narrador Fidedigno

A narrador fidedigno (reliable narrator) is the opposite of the previous one. This narrator gives confidence; we can believe what counts.

In the novel San Manuel Bueno, mártir ('San Manuel Bueno, Martyr') by Miguel de Unamuno, the narrator is a woman named Ángela, she is a narrador fidedigno. Observe how Angela is much more credible than the detective:

  • En el colegio conocí a niñas de la ciudad e intimé con algunas de ellas. Pero seguía atenta a las cosas y a las gentes de nuestra aldea, de la que recibía frecuentes noticias y tal vez alguna visita.
  • (At school I met girls from the city and I became close with some of them. But I was still attentive to the things and people of our village, from whom I received frequent news and perhaps a visit.)

Narrador Testigo

The narrador testigo (witness narrator) is the one who tells us a story that he knows because he has participated in it. Generally, the witness narrator is not the protagonist of the novel but a secondary character who has managed to see almost everything.

For example, Las aventuras del Capitán Alatriste ('The Adventures of Captain Alatriste') by Arturo Pérez Reverte is a book that tells the adventurous life of a seventeenth-century Spanish captain. The story is told by a comrade of the captain, Íñigo Balboa, who participated in almost all of Alatriste's exploits.

Cover of El Capitan Alatriste, an adventure book told by a narrador testigo.


While this is not a type of narrator, the narratario is a character who reads or listens to what the narrator tells. He is to whom (in fiction) the work is directed.

In the short story Torito ('Little Bull'), by the Argentine author Julio Cortázar, the narrator addresses a person we do not know but who is listening to him (whom he calls Ñato). This character is the narratario.

  • Ñato, cuando estás abajo todos te fajan. (…) Entendés? No te puedo explicar. (…) Mejor no recordar, no te parece?
  • (Ñato, when you're down everyone cheats on you. (…) You understand? I can't explain. (...) Better not to remember, don't you think?)

Special Types of Narratives

Some narratives are classified by the unique way in which the narrator conveys the story. Let's look at narratives that use documents and morals to tell their tale.

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