Alejo Carpentier Short Fiction Analysis
Alejo Carpentier’s “Semejante a la noche” (“Like the Night”) is indicative of one of the prominent alternatives for sociological literature in the mid-twentieth century, an alternative that has had an enormous impact on the so-called new Latin American narrative. This is a mode of writing that is depersonalized, structurally geometric, and virtually allegorical in its thematic otherness. Unlike the social realism of the 1930’s and 1940’s in Latin America that shared with American and European counterparts a sentimentality and idealization that often bordered on kitsch and the trite, the committed literature represented by Carpentier’s stories aspires, by eschewing all rhetoric of empathy, to a Brechtian intellectual and analytical contemplation. The goal may be to prevent contaminating the object—the verbal message and its sociopolitically definable meaning—with trivial emotional responses, but the artistic effect is equally to render ostensible “propositional” meaning less transparent and to increase the density of the symbolic texture. In short, fiction like Carpentier’s, as properly ideological as it may be, is more complex and, therefore, less assimilable to reductionary meanings than are its ancestors in a literature of sociopolitical commitment.
“Like the Night”
“Like the Night” deals with the oppressively ideological myths of war. Three separate time frames and three separate nuclei of incident and event are seamlessly worked together to project a holistic image of war as an enterprise that engulfs a certain class of young men in convenient commonplaces concerning adventure, ennobling sacrifice, and righteous strife. Men subscribe to these ideological myths in a gesture of unconscious self-betrayal to the interests of power structures that use war not only as a means of conquest and subjugation but also as an instrument for self-serving lies that provide the masses with a unifying and “noble” cause.
The three time frames are the Trojan War, the Spanish Conquest, and the French Conquest of the New World. In each case, an innocent youth prepares to embark by ship on an adventure that has been justified for him by his superiors. In each case, the explanation of the just cause is an ideological cliché that the reader associates with the particular culture at issue. “I breathe in deeply the breeze that came down from the olive tree groves, thinking how beautiful it would be to die in such a just cause, in the very cause of reason.” These are the words of the young Trojan warrior. The Spanish sailor thinks:They were millions of souls that we would win for our holy religion, thereby fulfilling Christ’s mandate to his Apostles. We were soldiers of God at the same time we were soldiers of the king, and through those Indians baptized and claimed, freed of their barbarous superstitions by our work, our nation would know the prize of an unbreakable greatness that would give us happiness, riches and power over all of the kingdoms of Europe.
Finally, the French legionnaire claims:We were going to carry out a great civilizing task in those immense wooded territories that extended from the burning Gulf of Mexico to the regions of Chicagúa, teaching new skills to the nations that lived there.
(The entire section is 1348 words.)