José Hernández Essay - Critical Essays


José Hernández represents one of the first markedly Latin American voices in literature. That is, his Argentine perspective was based on firsthand knowledge, and he wrote in a style that was not copied or transplanted from a European approach. Hernández lived in a tumultuous time during the nation-forming period of Argentina. The nation was undergoing a struggle between those who wanted to use the gaucho as a national hero and model and those who wished to eliminate the gaucho influence entirely. Hernández favored the incorporation of gaucho values into mainstream Argentine politics and realities. Therefore, he wrote his epic poems to enlighten the educated masses in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.

Hernández’s original audience was the educated and urban reader. The author himself had experienced prejudicial treatment during his lifetime in rural, marginalized sections of Argentina, and he believed the gaucho existence was threatened. His goal went beyond education of the urban elites, and he clearly hoped his epic poems would help bring about reconciliation between the urban and rural groups in Argentina. Later, his focus shifted to the gauchos themselves. Hernández was successful in his efforts to accurately describe the gauchos, as can be seen in the fact that his works were immediate best sellers and have continued to be considered essential reading for any serious study of historical and contemporary Argentine values and culture. The author’s goal was not limited to describing the lifestyles of the gauchos; he also sought to present their thoughts and values.

The poems address the day-to-day life of the gauchos, relating their social manners and colloquial language. Much like the American Wild West hero, the gaucho is presented as a hardworking, hard-fighting individualist who takes on the corrupt elements of an expanding frontier. Most of the challenges to this individualism result in a physical confrontation, generally a fight between two or more men. Literally all the fights are provoked by women. Unlike the North American counterpart, the gaucho does not win the respect of a woman in the end.

In The Gaucho Martin Fierro, the reader finds a determined defense of a marginalized group. The gauchos are presented as unfairly oppressed by a society that cannot or will not treat them fairly. Literally every governmental, military, and legal entity encountered in the poems is presented as corrupt. In this manner, Hernández extorts the reader to empathize with the neglected gaucho. Clearly, one of the goals of the author was to change his society through literature. The concept of the gaucho as a noble example of the new...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)