Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel is a fictional treatment of Chicano/Mexicano history, specifically the periods immediately before, during, and after the Mexican Revolution. The Brick People represents for the reader Chicano involvement in a series of key historical events, ranging from the Díaz dictatorship in Mexico, to the Mexican Revolution, to the Great Depression, to successful and unsuccessful strikes organized by Mexican, Japanese, and Filipino farm workers in the 1930’s, to World War II. The novel’s historical sweep is grounded in the everyday lives of engaging and lifelike characters.

The text is structured upon the relationship between the Simons and Revueltas families. If the Simons family represents (on a small scale) the powerful U.S. industrialist class and, by extension, capital itself, the Revueltas family (the name means “uprisings” in Spanish) symbolizes the Chicano/Mexicano working class whose interests are necessarily opposed to those of their bosses. In addition to this political subtext, the novel incorporates images of nature (insects, earthquakes, serpents) and American Indian societies (Aztec deities, the mandala) that suggest that there are more powerful forces at work than the dominant Anglo culture may be equipped to recognize. The recurring image of the brown insects may be linked to the Chicano people in general (as it has in other works of Chicano literature)—the despised yet persistent “cockroach people” who survive against all odds.

In the character of Nana, the novel constructs a model for Chicanas that incorporates specific values of traditional Mexican society even as it breaks with certain limitations placed on women. The entire question of gender is an important undercurrent throughout the text.

By linking the important issues of class, gender, and ethnicity within the frame of a historical novel, The Brick People provides readers with a fascinating account of a particularly rich episode of Chicano history.