Cabeza de Vaca’s Conscious Forgetting

As Smith and Watson discuss in the Reading Autobiography, the narratorial strategies which self-writers employ often “attend to the role of remembering–and conscious forgetting–in the act of making meaning out of the past and the present” (30). As de Vaca writes his narrative with a specific reader, Charles V, in mind, he structures his narrative to highlight the values and priorities which the king will respect.  Thus, de Vaca consciously leaves out portions of his tale which, if written in full detail, would only serve to further emphasize the failures of the expedition. Since de Vaca “prefer[s] risking [his] life to placing [his] honor in jeopardy,” his strategy of conscious forgetting provides a convenient and expedient means of improving his image before his audience, for to focus upon his trials is to admit a certain measure of defeat (NC 59). Cabeza de Vaca openly acknowledges his decision to forget the details of his hardships in the narrative, reflecting Smith and Watson’s point that the “narrators themselves may make the act of remembering a significant theme within the narrative” (30).

This self-reflexive forgetting is evinced in several passages of de Vaca’s narrative, as in his description of the suffering of the sick men within the company. As de Vaca “refrain[s] here from telling this at greater length because each one can imagine for himself what could happen in a land so strange” he makes an important narratorial decision to leave the details of suffering up to the minds of his readers (70). Furthermore, when he and his companions face the lack of water aboard their rafts, de Vaca relates, “I tell this briefly in this manner because I do not think there is need to tell in detail the miseries and hardships in which we fond ourselves, since each one can imagine a great deal of what would happen” (76). By choosing to deemphasize the suffering which they endured, de Vaca places the focus on the action of the narrative rather than the excruciating circumstances of its events. This conscious forgetting plays an important role in revealing the importance of reputation and honor to de Vaca, as he strives to present his relations of his adventures in a more favorable light for his primary audience.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.