Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because this story was written originally in Spanish, the style of Carpentier’s writing is not so transparent in English. His techniques, however, are more readily available. The influence of the surrealists, resulting from his spending time in Paris from 1928 to 1939, is evident. There is a nightmarish, unreal quality as everything begins to go backward, including the hands on the clock. It is the physical descriptions of the house and its furnishings, paralleling the physical description of the man, that make the story so interesting to read. The whirlwind quality of the final section is particularly frightening. One example of his use of physical description is the lengthening of the candles back to their freshly cut wicks as Don Marcial’s dead body turns into that of a sick old man. For another example, as Marcial goes from being a teenager to a prepubescent adolescent, the furniture grows taller.

An interesting allusion used by Carpentier is a statue of Ceres, the Greek goddess of agriculture. The statue is used twice in the story, in the first and last sections. The statue witnesses the destruction of the house in the first section and is sold off to an antique store in the last section. Ceres is an appropriate allusion in this story about cycles, causes, and effects. Her counterpart in Latin mythology is Demeter. Because of the cyclic nature of agriculture, a cult grew up around her that, among other things, featured the Elysian Mysteries. These were dramas enacting life, death, and resurrection. “Journey Back to the Source” begins with death, goes backward through life, and awaits a resurrection at the end.