Heartbreak Tango Themes

Themes and Meanings (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As in his first novel, La traición de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971), Puig explores the phenomenon of popular culture and the force of its fantasies in the lives of the people. Jean Harlow loved it when Clark Gable treated her roughly. It was the look in Joan Bennett’s eyes that made Edward G. Robinson think of murder. As long as one can smile (and this toothpaste lets one smile), one can be successful. “A woman’s lips set the frozen north aflame,” but for the modern woman (who uses this lipstick), personality is more important than beauty.

This sentimental view of reality is reflected in the written texts produced by the characters of the novel, the letters and diary entries. The police report of the murder of Francisco Catalino, on the other hand, presents a detailed but unemotional account of the crime, and the gypsy’s reading of Juan Carlos’ future accurately interprets his vapid, opportunistic hedonism.

The novelistic text, then, is a parody of the stereotypes of popular culture, in that the testimonies of many of the characters who are emotionally involved with Juan Carlos create their own stereotype of him. The truth lurking behind that image emerges from the text as a whole. Just as the objective critic of popular culture can understand the conflict of the ideal vision of life and the reality of experience, the objective narrator and reader can perceive the truth beneath...

(The entire section is 576 words.)