Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Devil in Texas might be described as a collage of images, dates, events and characters who people the towns of Presidio and Ojinaga. The three dates used to divide the book do more to suggest timelessness than fixed time, and the historical and spiritual journey of the Mexican Americans affected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 is a fractured one.

The theme of exploitation (past, present, and future) is illustrated by the life stories of the Uranga family, whose accident of birth causes them to lose lives, prestige, land, power—even human dignity. The unnamed fetus in “Presidio 1942” who returns in “Presidio 1970” may represent a sign of hope for the Chicano, because he seems to have in his blood the same resistant spirit of his ancestors, despite his earlier abandonment of the cause.

Numerous images appear and reappear: a haunted fort that is used as a tourist attraction for the few visitors who find their way to the remote land; a river that symbolizes life but also division and death; a bridge that is built more for control of traffic between the two countries than for convenience; a cave where the Devil surely lives. By far the most dominant image is that of the Devil, who takes on various guises but who, for the purposes of this social commentary, is represented by Anglos in general and Ben Lynch in particular. In fact, everything evil, painful, or in any way restrictive is credited to the power of the “Devil in Texas.” Initiated in the prologue, these symbols carry more narrative momentum than do the named characters. One of the most impressive features of the text lies in its “holographic” effect: One can begin reading almost any section and experience the impact, if not the details, of the other sections.