Study Guide

The Brick People

by Alejandro Morales

The Brick People Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Based in part on the actual experiences of the author’s parents (to whom the book is dedicated), The Brick People is the story of several generations of Anglo and Chicano/Mexicano families and their interactions in Southern California in the first half of the twentieth century. The principal clans are the Simons and the Revueltas families, representing the capitalist and working classes respectively.

The novel begins in 1892, with Rosendo Guerrero laying out the ground plan for the original Simons brickyard in Pasadena, California. The coordinates of the plan are based on an Aztec mandala, suggesting that the legacy of the indigenous cultures of the region lie buried under the ground. This idea is reinforced by the figure of Doña Eulalia, who identifies with an ancient oak tree and who turns into millions of brown insects upon her death.

Joseph Simons, the eldest son of Reuben Simons, the brick-making dynasty’s founder, makes every attempt to keep his workers complacent. One of his greatest concerns is the worldwide increase in radical unionism. When a mass grave of Chinese workers is found on the brickyard grounds, Joseph notifies the authorities and orders that the bodies be burned so as to preclude any labor unrest. Joseph’s relationship with his younger brother Walter is strained at best; he finds Walter to be arrogant and at odds with his own political views. A third brother, Orin Elmer, is a physical and intellectual weakling who is unable to participate in the family business.

Walter Simons is an “enlightened capitalist” who seeks to understand Mexican culture in order to make better use of his workers. On the suggestion of Rosendo Guerrero, Walter undertakes a fact-finding trip to Mexico, where he experiences firsthand the daily workings of U.S. imperialism under the dictator Porfirio Díaz. In the state of Chihuahua, he confers with William Randolph Hearst and other...

(The entire section is 792 words.)

The Brick People Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gutierrez-Jones, Carl. “Resisting Cultural Dependency: The Manipulation of Surveillance and Paranoia in Alejandro Morales’s The Brick People.” The Americas Review 22 (Spring-Summer, 1994): 230-243. Gutierrez-Jones discusses The Brick People in terms of the fear experienced by many U.S. citizens in the aftermath of the signing of pan-American trade agreements. His commentary focuses on the Mexican workers living in a small town and their interactions with factory workers.

Hernández, Roberto E. “The Brick People.” Vista Magazine (November 27, 1988): 14. Short summary of the novel, with special attention paid to the characters Nana and Octavio Revueltas. Hernández is troubled by Morales’s “fascination with the grotesque.” Nevertheless, he recommends: “The Brick People should be read by Americans of all walks of life, but it will strike a familiar note in those of us who came to North America in the hope of finding more than one alternative to life.”

Marquez, Antonio. “The Use and Abuse of History in Alejandro Morales’s The Brick People and The Rag Doll Plagues.” Bilingual Review 20 (September, 1995): 76-85. Marquez declares that the focus of his study “is on Morales’s post-modernist tack” and the relationship between history and literature. The Brick People and The Rag Doll Plagues are historical narratives which blend myth and history in order to tell “a larger story.”

Morales, Alejandro. Interview by Yves Charles Grandjeat and Alfonso Rodríguez. Confluencia 7 (Fall, 1991): 109-114. Morales talks about his interest in history, the construction of Chicano identity, and the social responsibility of the writer. His remarks on The Brick People are especially interesting.

Morales, Alejandro. Interview by José Antonio Gurpegui. Bilingual Review 20 (September, 1995): 5-13. Morales discusses his views on Chicano literature, the ethnic influence of Chicano literature on the whole body of American literature, and his reason for the shift from Spanish to English works.