Demetrio Aguilera Malta Essay - Critical Essays


Demetrio Aguilera Malta’s long fiction can be divided into three categories: Magical Realist, historical, and journalistic fiction. The novels that introduce Magical Realism and develop it as a major literary movement in Latin America are considered to be his best and most important. These are Don Goyo, La isla virgen, Seven Serpents and Seven Moons, and Babelandia.

Don Goyo

Don Goyo, like most of the works of Aguilera Malta’s generation, is a novel of social protest. Unlike the traditional novels of its kind, however, its message is expressed on a narrative level that fuses objective reality with magical reality. Magical reality is expressed through the fusion of mythical, legendary, and supernatural elements in the form of animism, totemism, eroticism, and the superhuman powers of some of the characters. The narrative techniques of flashback, stream of consciousness, and metaphor contribute stylistically to convert objective reality into magical reality.

Animism is a primitive vision of nature and the universe that holds that good and evil spirits are responsible for natural phenomena. It also allows human beings to perceive the cosmic unity of the universe from a simplistic viewpoint. In this environment, humankind is never alone, because nature fully participates in the actions of humans and reflects their emotional states. In Don Goyo, the mangle, the native tree of the Guayas Islands, walks, talks, and shares the same emotions and fate as the cholos (a group of aborigines believed to be Asiatic immigrants from the Yellow Sea during prehistoric times). For example, until the arrival of the white man on the islands, there existed a special reciprocal relationship of dependency between the mangle and the cholo. When the white man arrived, he immediately began to use the mangle for commercial purposes. Not only the cholos but also the mangles rebelled.

Totemism is a primitive vision of nature that espouses the belief that each human being shares a kinship with a totem, be it animal or plant, which is thought to have a human soul and superhuman qualities. In this novel, Don Goyo and the oldest mangle on the island share the same destiny. During the course of their discussions, the relationship between the two becomes evident. The mangle is the only one on the island who addresses him familiarly as Goyo. Their kinship is most evident when theprotagonist dies. Don Goyo’s wife becomes concerned when her husband leaves home and is gone for a long time. She summons everyone on the island to look for him. During their long and frustrating search, the cholos hear a loud, trembling noise reverberating throughout the entire island, caused by the oldest mangle on the island falling to die near the oldest man on the island, Don Goyo. The searchers later find Don Goyo dead next to the mangle, his totem.

Eroticism in Don Goyo is of the kind that occurs in the natural habitat and has a positive connotation. In the environment of the Guayas Islands, eroticism forms part of the procreative force of nature. It is not, however, limited to the human species. The relationship between human beings and nature is also erotic. The human is reduced to a primitive state, governed by instinct, and all the elements of nature participate in the sexual act. There is a fusion and total harmony among all the species and all the objects of nature. For example, after Don Goyo arrived on the islands, they willingly gave themselves to be possessed and conquered by him in a human sexual way.

The two characters who most identify with the magical reality of the novel are Don Encarnación and Don Goyo. Don Encarnación is considered to be part warlock, more mythical than real. He is popular with the cholos because of his strong belief in supernatural events and his ability to recount them. For example, he recounts the story of Ño Francia, a black warlock who predicted a great flood. The white man did not believe in witchcraft, made a mockery of him, and in the end was punished for his disbelief by drowning in the flood. Don Encarnación also tells other stories about great natural disasters by magical forces.

Don Goyo is the incarnation of supernatural powers. It is rumored that he is more than 150 years old. He is regarded as the mythical patriarch of the islands and the only one who can control nature. He is also thought to possess magical cures for illnesses that white city doctors have not yet been able to conquer. Don Goyo is phantasmal and human at the same time. In the first two parts of the novel, he rarely appears in human form but seems to be omnipresent. He assumes human form only when he defends the mangle against the exploitation of the white man. The third part of the novel reinforces the human dimension of Don Goyo by recounting stories of his marriages and children. After his death, Don Goyo becomes a legend. Shortly after Don Goyo and the mangle are found together, uprooted and dead, he appears to his daughter Gertrú and the caretaker of the mangles, Cusumbo. Don Goyo and the mangle are firmly implanted in the consciousness of the cholo.

La isla virgen

La isla virgen is a continuation of the world of Don Goyo: the Guayas Islands, the primitive environment of the cholos, and a magical vision of reality. It forms part of Aguilera Malta’s tendency to look to the land to find the identity and roots of the Latin American people. This is done on both a real and a mythical level; many times in the novel, nature is perceived through magical rites, legends, and indigenous religious beliefs.

As in his other works, Aguilera Malta’s message of social protest is clear in La isla virgen. It is more forceful in this novel because nature itself is the chief protagonist; nature must always be on the defensive against white civilized man, who wishes to exploit it. Unlike the situation in Don Goyo, in which nature cooperates willingly with the cholos, who learn to understand it and live within its confines in perfect union, nature in La isla virgen is hostile and defensive.

La isla virgen recounts the story of Don Nestor, a rich white man who suffers financial failure when his crops are destroyed by a disease called witches’-broom. He loses all of his possessions except the island of San Pancracio. He decides to go there to cultivate it and recover his fortune. His plan fails, however, and he dies.

Magical Realism is present in the novel in the savage forces of nature, the story of the tiger, the...

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