Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Death of Artemio Cruz, Fuentes’s most widely known novel, Cruz uses his memory to fight against death; Fuentes uses his novel to fight for the memory of the original ideals of the Mexican Revolution, subsequently forgotten and betrayed. The text that Artemio Cruz narrates during the final twelve hours of his life is perhaps his final attempt at domination before he is conquered by death. Struggles for power, however, pervade not only individual relations within the novel but also social relations. The hunger for power consumes not only Cruz as an individual but also society at large. During the Mexican Revolution, the original impetus of the struggle was fragmented, its spirit weakened by the power struggles of its generals; in the years following the revolution, the disruptive desire for power persists, in Fuentes’s view.
Private power struggles, fragmenting and disintegrating intimate relations, are most fully developed in the war between Artemio and his wife, Catalina. The tension between the couple is only one manifestation of the continual play of opposing forces in the novel. Like Cruz, who is divided between past and present, body and mind, love and domination, Mexico is divided between the rich and the poor, Spanish and Indian heritages, modern buildings and ancient ruins, revolutionary ideals and mundane compromises. Compressed into the mind of one man, as he lies dying, these divisions take on urgency and universal significance.
The confrontation between memory and death continues throughout the novel. It motivates the most striking aspect of the novel—the division of the text into three different modes of narration and three different verb tenses. The interest of the novel depends to a large extent on the carefully orchestrated interplay between the different voices of Cruz.
With few exceptions, Artemio narrates the entire book. His sickness and imminent death are recounted in the first person and present tense; his meditations and desires in the second person and the future tense; and the events of his past life in the third person and the past tense. While the persons and tenses of...
(The entire section is 879 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Artemio Cruz is on his deathbed, stricken by a gastric attack upon his return from a business trip to Hermosillo on April 9, 1959. As he lies in his mansion in a fashionable section of Mexico City, the stench in his nostrils is as much from the moral corruption of his life as from the processes of decay already at work in his body. Disregarding Cruz’s protests, who abandoned the church years before, an officious priest tries to administer the last sacrament. Doctors subject him to indignities with their instruments as they examine his body. In the background stands his estranged wife and the daughter who despises him. Although they pretend concern for the dying man, their greatest anxiety concerns his will, and he refuses to tell them where he put it. His only hold on reality is a tape recording with an account of business deals and proposed transactions, which his secretary, Padilla, plays for him. While the people jostle about in his room, Artemio drifts between past and present in a series of flashbacks tracing the events that brought him to his present state.
In 1919, he was an ambitious young veteran of the revolution arriving at the home of the Bernal family in Perales. Ostensibly he was there to bring to a bereaved father and sister an account of Gonzalo Bernal’s death before a Villista firing squad. In reality, he meant to insinuate himself into the confidence of the old hacendado, marry his daughter, Catalina, and get possession of the Bernal estates. After he married Catalina, however, his wife never realized that Artemio really fell in love with her; influenced by Father Paez, the family priest, she...
(The entire section is 669 words.)