Montaigne's Narrative Voice in "Of Cannibals"

Quinn Kenworthy '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

Michel de Montaigne's narrative voice in "Of Cannibals" changes throughout, shifting from a critic to satirist to an authority on his society and that of the cannibals. As his writing weaves in between these voices he interrupts himself with direct references and quotations from other authors, makes sweeping statements and claims, and asks questions. Montaigne's narrative becomes a series of flips and turns, never settling, but effectively keeping the attention of the reader. This passage shows these narrative turns:

The estimate and value of a man consist in the heart and in the will: there his true honour lies. Valour is stability, not of legs and arms, but of the courage and the soul; it does not lie in the goodness of our horse or our arms but in our own. He that falls obstinate in his courage--

"Si succiderit, de genu pugnat"

["If his legs fail him, he fights on his knees." --Seneca, De Providentia, c. 2.]

-- he who, for any danger of imminent death, abates nothing of his assurance; who, dying, yet darts at his enemy a fierce and disdainful look, is overcome not by us, but by fortune; he is killed, not conquered; the most valiant are sometimes the most unfortunate. There are defeats more triumphant than victories.

Are the different techniques that Montaigne uses effective? What happens to the overall narrative with the use of a quotation from another author?

How do statements such as "the most valiant are sometimes the most unfortunate" and "there are defeats more triumphant than victories" function in the text? Do we trust Montaigne and these statements he makes in this "teaching" voice?

After the passage I selected he continues for the rest of the paragraph and then begins his next paragraph with, "But to return to my story." Does the use of this statement mean that the previous section of his writing is outside of the "main narrative?" Is there a primary narrative and other smaller secondary narratives?


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Last modified 14 September 2002