The Eagle and the Serpent Essay - Critical Essays

MartínLuis Guzmán


The Mexican Revolution, perhaps the only military movement that radically changed the position of a Latin American country after achieving its independence from Spain, affected the Mexican writers of those days in different ways. Some remained indifferent; others defended its motives and facts; a few engaged themselves actively in its vicissitudes. To no one can be attributed greater and more direct participation than that of Martin Luis Guzman. Executor, witness, chronicler, interpreter, critic, novelist, he embraced all the possible angles of relationship with the Mexican Revolution. For this reason, his work about the movement is the closest, most objective, and penetrating of all the literary productions written upon the subject.

Guzman authored three books—at the same time biography, history, and novel—about the Revolution: EL AGUILA Y LA SERPIENTE (THE EAGLE AND THE SERPENT, 1930), LA SOMBRA DEL CAUDILLO, and MEMORIAS DE PANCHO VILLA (MEMOIRS OF PANCHO VILLA). Of these, the nearest to a work of the creative imagination is the first, published in fascicles in 1926 and as a book in 1928.

The reasons why Guzman titled his book in such a way may be found in the origins of Mexican nationality. The Aztecs, the main indigenous ancestors of Mexico, had as a legendary core of their nomadic period the belief that they should found their capital city in a spot where they would find an eagle, devouring a serpent, perched upon a nopal. Guzman took these images and turned them into symbols for his book, to show the bipolarity of Mexican history, in constant conflict between repentant passions and an ascension of the spirit.

There is no better source to know the genesis and spirit of this book than the speech pronounced by the author at the time of his reception as a member of the Mexican Academy of the Language. Son of his time and his country, Guzman declared that from his earliest childhood, he was accustomed to beauty from having lived in Tacubaya, one of the most charming suburbs of Mexico City, near the Chapultepec Castle, scene of many decisive moments in Mexican history, and that this same environment imposed on him a feeling for history in all its grandeur. Some years later, when he embraced the cause of the Revolution, he had at his disposal raw historical material of the first quality, out of which he took the subject for his most representative books.

For a long time, Guzman hesitated to write about the Revolution. On one side, he had been the witness of ruthless crimes, usurpations, disloyalties; on another, he had seen in many participants of that movement a great spirit of service, purity of intention, and patriotic goals. This knowledge finally moved him to write about the Revolution, to transform into literary values those violent deeds against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. He finally decided to embody what he had seen or done. He thought that if the chief leaders of the Revolution had not been as faulty as they were, the Revolution would not have been what it became.

To understand some pages of this book, the reader must take into account the fact that the revolutionary movement was not born from a set of ideas but erupted from instinctive forces, submitted to oppression for many centuries.

EL AGUILA Y LA SERPIENTE, a work that brings together literature and history, truth and fiction, is divided into two parts: “Esperanzas Revolucionarias”...

(The entire section is 1428 words.)