Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel is an astute critique of the questionable tactics used by power brokers to control the socioeconomic and political lives of Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande Valley, of which Belken County is a microcosm. The events of the book reflect the real source of conflict between Anglo-Texans and Texas Mexicans, the latter of whom have been politically controlled since Texas became a state. The novel symbolizes the plight of Texas Mexicans who are subjected to the political dictates of Anglo-Texan power brokers and who are socially segregated from Anglo-Americans.

The novel is also about growing up Mexican American, about honor, loyalty, bravery, and love. The chronicles of the Texas Mexicans who work and live in the valley represent a lifestyle that is a cross between Anglo and Mexican society, from a sociological and political perspective. The young people will grow up, go to war for their country, and come back to the valley with little change in their socioeconomic and political status, which means that they will fulfill the roles that Texas Anglo society has designed for them. There will be few surprises, for only a few Mexican Americans will ever be accepted as equals in the ranks of Anglo-Texan society. This sense of inequity pervades the novel; growing up Mexican American means coming to terms with this reality, trying to conform to the dictates of Anglo society while still maintaining a cultural identity. The educated Mexican Americans accept leadership roles to challenge their people’s subjugation; the moment they need help, however, their elders turn on them, breaking whatever cohesion existed between the older generation and the changing new breed of upward-bound valley Mexican Americans.