Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Christopher Unborn was published prior to the period it covers. In his dystopian vision, Fuentes finds the ills of Mexico in what he calls its dialectic, wavering between revolution and reaction, insurgency and reform, religion and positivism. The electorate has never managed to find a middle way between order and liberty, progress and tradition, justice and authority. Beset by these conflicting loyalties, Mexicans have become the pliable instruments of political parties that proclaim themselves alternately revolutionary, conservative, or liberal. Fuentes indicates as a similar problem in literary criticism the dichotomy between the universal and the national. He declares that the proper standard for judging Mexican literature should be its inherent qualities, not its national origin.

Fuentes holds the lack of a strong national identity responsible for the taking over of Mexico by foreign capital (especially from the United States), the pillaging of its natural resources, and the country’s debt of $1,492 billion, a figure arbitrarily chosen to coincide with the date of Columbus’s voyage. Pollution of air, earth, and water in Mexico City, called “Makesicko City,” has made the area an inferno for the poor, and Acapulco, called “Cacapulco” and “Kafkapulco,” has become a fief of American tourists. The Indians are afflicted with poverty, helplessness, and injustice, and eleven thousand tons of sulphur, lead, and carbon monoxide circulate every day in the capital, which also daily produces thirty tons of garbage.

Fuentes’s concern with the future also incorporates an intellectual problem, the meaning of time. He plays with its different aspects, showing it alternately as linear, circular (in the sense of eternal return), and sometimes spiraling. Chronology is frequently violated, some events are repeated, and the reality of others is established only by reports issued after the passage of days or weeks. Several recapitulations are included as an indication that history as such is unreliable. Time is a continuum, but one must choose a point and place within it to discover the face of reality. Christopher in his embryonic discourse speculates on whether a narrative, like the earth, may also be round.