Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A major theme in this story, as in much of Carlos Fuentes’s work, is to define the Mexican national character. “The Doll Queen” appears in Agua quemada (1980;Burnt Water, 1980), a collection of his stories set in Mexico City. Fuentes says, “I own an imaginary apartment house in Mexico City . . . [where] you will find the characters of the stories that are now collected here.” This imaginary apartment house is like the house in the story that the narrator explores in his search to recapture that past and Amilamia, the symbol of his past. Its dusty, cluttered rooms are like a museum holding forgotten keepsakes. The map he finds thus sends him on a journey, not only through space but also back in time to his lost childhood innocence, in the Eden-like secret garden where they played. Poised for the journey, he wonders which is the true magnet of his life, the garden or the city. The quest for lost innocence and its symbol of the garden is another theme that recurs in Fuentes.

One’s innocence is lost in part from suppressing and denying one’s past. Carlos, the narrator, is alienated: He is the product of a cosmopolitan education and background. He has read the best foreign literature, and he lives in a modern urban world of bureaucracy, traffic laws, and paperwork. He is a part of the orderly, rational world of the city. When he visits the house, he distances himself from emotional involvement by pretending to be a tax assessor and then a detective, both symbols of Western rational capitalist society. He is a good observer, scientifically noting details of sound, sight, and smell, but he lacks insight and cannot get involved—the very quality that Amilamia had briefly brought to his life so long ago. He is repulsed by the evidences of the mother’s obsolete (to him) religion: her constant fingering of the rosary in her hand, and the room in which the “doll queen” effigy is enshrined. Carlos’s alienation has limited him emotionally, as Amilamia is limited physically.