Critical Evaluation

The Argentine poet, short-story writer, and novelist Ricardo Güiraldes was born in Buenos Aires in 1886 to a landowning family. He lived his first years in France, returned there often, and died in Paris in 1927. Although he traveled abroad frequently, Güiraldes loved his country, especially the pampa, the fertile plains in the province of Buenos Aires, where his family owned a ranch called La Porteña. As a young boy, he spent summers at the ranch among the gauchos, the Argentine cowboys. He learned about gaucho life and folklore from Don Segundo Ramirez, the man immortalized in Don Segundo Sombra, the novel for which Güiraldes received the National Prize for Literature in 1926.

The novel is based on the author’s recollections of his early life on the pampa. Influenced by works such as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the regional and poetic narrative illustrates the experience of growing up in the countryside, having the ideal gaucho as a mentor and role model. Don Segundo Sombra symbolizes the pampa and its inhabitants and represents the gaucho culture as it once existed, before the invasion of economic and industrial progress in the early twentieth century. Often compared to El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1612-1620), the novel’s gaucho of mythical presence is the last representative of a special kind of life that was disappearing like a shadow but leaving its essence and spirit, becoming more a legend than a way of life.

The coming-of-age story, with the typical structure of a bildungsroman, is told by Fabio through recollections and memories. The twenty-seven chapters may be divided into three parts of nine chapters each. As the reader follows the narrator and protagonist Fabio in his journey toward adulthood, he or she stops with him several times so that he may retrace his steps mentally, in flashbacks. At first, when Fabio is about fourteen years old, one discovers that he considers himself an illegitimate orphan whose unhappy and purposeless life is changed drastically by the arrival of Don Segundo Sombra. Fabio sees his destiny in a nomadic free life, hoping to become a real gaucho. In the second part, Fabio reviews the five years spent learning gaucho skills and overcoming physical and...

(The entire section is 971 words.)