The Transparency of the Glass

[an analysis by Phillip Wentirine]

Reinaldo Arenas’ “The Glass Tower” is a fictional story about Cuban author, Alfredo Fuentes, who tirelessly attends infinite, prestigious parties due to the community’s presumption of him being a renowned, wealthy writer and, in turn, is unable to alleviate his own story stirring inside his head. It is a story within a story as the main characters in Fuentes’ head—Berta, Nicolas, Delfin, Daniel, and Olga—struggle to escape his mind and make their way onto paper in hopes of telling their story themselves. Throughout the piece, Fuentes attends numerous important events that worship the art of writing. He finds himself unsure about attending a large party in his honor thrown by the grande dame of literary circles, Senora Gladys Perez Campo. This is the event of all events, the one that’s meant to finally make Alfredo, among every other writer there— although everyone already assumes Alfredo is—rich and famous. However, while attending this prestigious party within Campo’s glass tower, the characters inside his head—Berta, Nicolas, Delfin, Daniel, and Olga—become restless for an outlet. Alfredo, too busy mingling with the other so-called talented writers, brushes off his characters’ need for attention—which he has done during countless other parties. Finally, his characters take matters into their own hands and infiltrate the glass tower. Instantly, they are a success, and everyone else in attendance vies for their attention. Subsequently, Alfredo becomes invisible: his once admirable status vanishes, and his honor turns to shame. However, Berta, Nicolas, Delfin, Daniel, and Olga begin having the time of their lives as they are finally able to roam free and complete their destined story. In turn, Alfredo becomes merely a character on a blank parchment, alone and waiting to be written.

Reinaldo Arenas utilizes point of view and character frequently in “The Glass Tower.” He equally makes the reader feel emotion for both Alfredo and the characters inside his head. Their situations are tricky yet relatable for any writer: being at odds with time when trying to write a story, yet wanting to give adequate attention to the characters of a story in hopes that they, in turn, will help complete the story.

For some reason, since the day [Fuentes] arrived…he found himself accepting all kinds of invitations to speak at conferences…and to attend literary cocktail and dinner parties…therefore, never given any time to eat, much less think about his novel…the one he had been carrying around in his head for years, and whose characters, Berta, Nicolas, Defin, Daniel, and Olga constantly vied for his attention, urging him to deal with their respective predicaments.

This predicament gives the reader a chance to empathize with both perspectives. The reader is both Alfredo just as much as he is Olga, Delfin, Berta, Nicolas, and Daniel. Similar to Roland Barthes view of the “Author,” the reader is both the story itself as well as the author, as the author is also the reader who brings the story to life.

Throughout the story, Arenas’ tugs at this war of author versus characters; he allows the reader to root for both sides and gives ample support for both situations. Without the party, there would be no way for Alfredo to fund his writing, but without his writing, there would be no funds necessary because there would be no story. It is very clear-cut and cyclical, not unlike the transparent tower in which all of this takes place.

After ignoring his characters for what is their limit, Olga, Delfin, Berta, Nicolas, and Daniel take reign of their own destinies. Arenas writes, “By now Daniel’s and Olga’s sobs were no longer sobs but agonized screams that ended in a single, unanimous plea for help. ‘Rescue us! Rescue us!’ … With their hands, Berta and Nicolas were beating on the glass wall.” The characters are invisible to everyone but Alfredo who now sees the torture that they have experienced from being locked inside his head. However, once they make their way inside the tower, the roles reverse, and Alfredo is the invisible one.

Arenas writes, from the voice of Delfin in conversation with one of the prestigious authors in attendance, “The worst thing of all is that for all his pretensions and ridiculous posturing as a brilliant author, he has no talent whatsoever and can’t even write without making spelling mistakes.”

After that, the party concluded, as the characters ran off with the other writers in pursuit of a story and other literary duties. As they exited the glass tower, Arenas writes, “In a flash, the site where the imposing mansion had stood became nothing but a dusty embankment. He walked around aimlessly, thinking about the story he had never written.” Arenas depicts it as it must have been for Olga, Delfin, Berta, Nicolas, and Daniel inside Alfredo’s head. Without the characters and the details that came with them, everything ceased to exist.

Arenas’ use of point of view and characterization is what really makes this a compelling story, especially for those who relate to the struggles of writing. Interestingly, neither Alfredo nor his characters are above each other and that neither can truly coexist without the other. Furthermore, unless working in unison, one will always be invisible. However, while characters will always be characters, Alfredo will not always be an author, and to characters, Alfredo and author are not distinguishable terms but just alternate outlets for their true beings to come to life. In turn, the reader, or in Barthes case, the “Author,” can read them to life as well.

Reinaldo Arenas makes all of these wonderfully relatable concepts transparent in “The Glass Tower.”

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