Before the body of the text even begins, Tyler, the narrator of Cereus Blooms at Night, introduces himself and tell us his intentions for telling the story that follows. Tyler informs the reader of his earnest desire to keep himself, as narrator, as invisible as possible in the text and concentrate only on the telling of the story. Tyler places "trust in the power of the printed word to reach many people" (3) in the hopes that Mala's sister Asha might come across the book. However, it is precisely this introduction of both Tyler and his purpose that makes his presence in the novel difficult to ignore, since his story increasingly intertwines with Mala's. As the story Tyler sets out to tell unfolds, it intersects with numerous other points of view of characters who, like Tyler, enhance the story with their own perceptions of it. Although Tyler remains for all intents and purposes the main narrator, the point of view shifts from his and is told intermittently by other characters as well. Ultimately, it is not only Tyler's own intersection with the story, but that of various other characters as well, that completes the story. The role that each of these characters plays in the story and its telling, with their own expectations and investments in the story, enriches the story just as Tyler's un-ignorable presence does -- despite his best intentions.
The entirety of Mootoo's text is marked by subtle shifts in time, location, and narration. While the novel begins with Tyler's voice in the present, it quickly digresses as Tyler employs other points of view in order to weave Mala's story. Beginning first with his grandmother, Nana, who details the history of Lantanacamara and Mala's family through a discourse the adult Tyler recounts as being told to the child Tyler, he introduces different characters who serve as secondary narrators and fill in the holes of Tyler's own knowledge. Although the shift in point of view is not made explicit, Tyler clearly uses these other characters as instruments to complete his own narration of Mala's story.
At the beginning of the second section of the novel, Tyler reveals his intention to tell Mala's story by "fashioning a single garment out of myriad parts" (105). Following this declaration, the points of view multiply. As Mala's story unravels and its intricacies increase, the point of view shifts first from Tyler to Nana, then to the childhood Asha observing her sister. The shifts in point of view continue, including that of Otoh, Ambrose, Tyler, the adult Mala and the child Pohpoh, each of whom revolve around the character of Mala. Although Tyler places the reader in the viewpoint of various characters, Tyler remains the only character to be identified in the first person throughout the narration.
Although the novel begins and ends with Tyler as the prime narrator, the narration takes many detours in point of view, occasionally returning to Tyler, before finally concluding as it began with Tyler at the Paradise Alms House. As a character in the novel, Tyler has limited knowledge, and therefore must rely on the stories and points of view of others at various points in order to supplement his own knowledge of Mala's story. Each character to whose point of view Tyler defers brings his or her own story, enhancing the intricate weave of the story by intertwining with the other characters'. Although other points of view other than Tyler's are incorporated in the story, ultimately Tyler controls the narrative, and succeeds in "fashioning" Mala's story out of the "myriad" characters and points of view.
Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Last modified: 5 December 2003