Critical Evaluation

The Fifth Horseman is the second of José Antonio Villarreal’s three influential novels about the Mexican American experience that helped define the parameters of Chicano literature. Although particularly notable for its stark depiction of the social inequalities leading up to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), this work ends promisingly with the protagonist’s flight into the United States as one of a wave of refugees who were the first to embody the problematics of Chicano identity that lie at the core of all subsequent Mexican American works. Villarreal’s Pocho (1959), by contrast, treats the coming of age of Richard Rubio, whose conflicts with his Old World parents in the more progressive social milieu of the United States lead him to join the military in World War II to fight for his adopted country, thus forging for himself a coherent sense of cultural belonging. Clemente Chacón (1984) presents a similar American Dream saga, this time of a successful Mexican immigrant who feels no need to deny either his heritage or his newfound nationality; he proudly declares himself a Chicano.

An amalgam of two literary genres, The Fifth Horseman displays the influences both of American historical novels and of Mexican novels of the revolution, including Mariano Azuela’s Los de abajo(1915, serial; 1916, book; The Underdogs, 1929), Agustín Yáñez’s Al filo del agua(1947; The Edge of the Storm, 1963), and Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo (1955, 1959, 1964, 1980; English translation, 1959, 1994). Villarreal largely eschews the more technically innovative styles of later novels of this type, such as Carlos Fuentes’s La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964), and employs instead a realistic mode of narration. He describes the oppression and abuses of the prerevolutionary system of the hacienda, where native Mexican peons lived at the mercy of their patróns’ whims, forever in their debt because of the inflated prices of provisions at their supply stores.

Villarreal’s seamless blending of fact and fiction depicts Heraclio’s developing political tendencies against the...

(The entire section is 907 words.)