Storytellers, the Biggest Liars in History

Every day we are surrounded by, and enthralled with stories. We hear the stories that our friends tell us over a drink, we read the stories of a wizard and his magical high school and listen to the stories told by a news anchor on a Friday night after a busy day at work. We do not only thrive off of the pleasure of reading them, but we marvel at them as they become an extension of ourselves. We use them as a scope to look into our lives and ponder on the possibilities that our lives have in store. It’s easy to experience everything through the writing of the storyteller. According to Holts’ “The Zebra Storyteller” the function of a storyteller is to prepare us for the unexpected. He, just like a lot of other storytellers, provides an exaggerated tale. He provides us with morals, teaches us values, and gives us a sense of what is good or bad. However, these stories may be nothing more than a smoke and mirrors; farther from the truth than one might ever realize. 

American author Kurt Vonnegut noticed that, most, if not all, stories follow a certain pattern that can be encompassed in just a few shapes. These shapes, visualized in x-axis of beginning to end and a y-axis presenting good and ill fortune, are: Man in a Hole, Cinderella, Kafka, and Boy Meets Girl. A character will start off somewhere on the axis of fortune, and as the story progresses, they will rise or fall in this axis. In the end, the shape will be drawn out; most of the times the character will end higher up of the axis of fortune than where they started. Vonnegut concludes that these shapes prove that most stories lie about the performance of life. 

While these curves on the axis gives us the necessary tools to view and criticize literature, they are simply “artificial” and not in concordance with how life is truly lived. These shapes and stories “…pretend [to] know more about life than what we really do.” The one story that Vonnegut thinks is a masterpiece and overall holds the true meaning of life, is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Hamlet, contrary to other shapes on the axis, holds a consistent horizontal line, never falling or rising on the axis; Hamlet starts and then ends in the same fortune. While this shape, or lake of shape, does not tell us if the story is good or bad, it shows us the truth; life is filled with ambiguity. Vonnegut explains that “we don’t know enough about life to know what the good news is and what the bad news is…”. Therefore,  states that the meaning of life is ambiguous and no different from Hamlet’s story. 

With this, Vonnegut tells us that stories do not prepare us for the unexpected, as Holts’ stated, but their purpose is to entertain us and give us different perspectives. Rather than thinking of stories as a scope to look into our lives, we should view stories as a way to sharpen our own lives, allowing to see our surroundings in a different angle. Stories provide different views, conflicting opinions, fantastic scenery and engaging conflicts; stories explain to us how it feels to fall in love, how it feels to lose them to death, and, yet find the beauty in everyday things. Imagine a film constantly playing things we have never experienced before, but instead we are simply reading words and words off a book while projecting this motion picture in our head. These, nevertheless, mustn’t be replaced from what we experience firsthand. 

As Vonnegut states, most stories do not give us the ultimate truth, they use beautiful lies to exchange real experiences over those provided in books. We cannot experience love until we have fallen in love, we cannot experience loss until a beloved has passed, and we cannot truly see the nice things in life unless we take a moment to appreciate the small things. Stories cannot prepare us for the unexpected, they can only give us the tiniest of glimpses of what the future has in store. We must see it and deduce for ourselves what our existence has waiting  for us, and at that moment, outside of the pages of your favorite book or the scenes of your favorite show, we can say we have truly lived.