Isabel Allende’s ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ was first published in Barcelona in the story collection, Cuentos de Eva Luna, in 1990. A year later, it was translated into English and published by Atheneum as The Stories of Eva Luna. The collection was inspired by Allende’s 1988 novel, Eva Luna, in which the title character is a storyteller and screenwriter who alludes to many stories that she never tells. At the beginning of the short story collection, Eva Luna is responding to the request of her lover from the novel, Rolf Carlé, to tell him one of her stories. Instead, she tells him twenty-three. Like the other stories in the collection, ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ takes place in an undetermined time in the fictional village of Agua Santa, which resembles a South American town.
The story concerns the buried gold of Tomás Vargas, a wife-beating, adulterous miser who is disliked by everybody in the town. Vargas receives his come-uppance when one of his adulterous affairs comes back to haunt him, and his wife and concubine team up against him. The story, which reads like a moral fable, cautions against greed and promotes a life in which women are respected, not taken advantage of. Although it is less prevalent in this story, many of Allende’s other writings are known for their use of magical realism, a technique where fantastical elements combine with realistic elements. This was used to greatest effect in Allende’s first novel, 1982’s La casa de los espiritus, which was translated as The House of the Spirits in 1985. A current copy of ‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ is available in the 1992 reprint edition of The Stories of Eva Luna, which was published by Bantam Books.
Tomás Vargas’s Buried Gold
‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ takes place in the fictional town of Agua Santa, in an unnamed South American country. The story begins with a short history of how the region’s people used to bury their gold and silver but stopped this practice when they began to put their money and trust in banks and new paper money. Unfortunately, the paper money loses its value in the long run and as a result, many people lose their savings. Tomás Vargas, however, never trusted the new banks and continued to bury his gold nuggets.
While he is rich from this buried gold, he shares none of it with his wife or children who sometimes have to rely on the kindness of others for food, clothes, and schooling. In addition, Vargas borrows money and does not pay it back, gets drunk often, commits adultery, and abuses his family. As a result, he is universally disliked by the town. The only person who is able to calm down Vargas is Riad Halabí, a Turkish storekeeper. Meanwhile, Vargas’s wife, Antonia Sierra, a nearly toothless mulatto woman, has become prematurely aged from the many births, miscarriages, beatings, and childrearing duties she has had to endure during her marriage to Vargas. Because Vargas refuses to pay for anything or dip into his buried gold, she also works as a cook to help support the family.
The Arrival of Concha Díaz
One day, Concha Díaz, a young, pregnant girl, comes to town. Halabí is the first to see her and although she is distraught and can hardly speak, she manages to tell him that she needs to see Vargas. Halabí sends for Vargas who is at the tavern, and when Vargas arrives, Halabí admonishes him for adultery with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter and says that the townspeople are not going to let him get away with it this time. Halabí offers to let Concha stay in his house until the baby is born, but Concha insists on staying with Vargas.
The Conflict between Concha and Antonia
When Antonia Sierra comes home from work and finds her husband’s concubine, she snaps. Although she has suffered silently in the marriage to Vargas, this latest transgression by her husband is the last straw and she flies into a blind rage that lasts for a week. She finally calms down, and other people try to get her to see that Vargas is to blame, not Concha, but Antonia is unconvinced. She silently curses Concha, who avoids Antonia, and refuses to feed Vargas, a task that now falls onto Concha. The townspeople fear that Antonia will kill Concha from jealousy.
A Friendship Develops
However, against her better judgment, Antonia ends up pitying Concha when...
(The entire section is 1100 words.)