Latin American Literature
Latin American Literature
Latin American literature encompasses the national literatures of South and Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of the West Indies. Its roots lie in European language and literary traditions, combined with themes and images drawn from the physical landscape and indigenous cultures of the South American continent. As early as the 1600s European colonists documented their experiences in the New World. When Latin American colonies began to declare independence from Europe in the early part of the nineteenth century, the climate of rebellion fostered a desire among many writers to create a literature that accurately reflected the lives and concerns of Latin Americans. While the tradition of Romanticism that developed in Europe during the nineteenth century had been favored by early Latin American novelists and poets, this style gradually gave way to greater realism, increased focus on the lives of ordinary people, and, with few exceptions, an intense concern with social and political reform. Magical realism, or the introduction of supernatural or uncanny elements into otherwise realistic narrative, also became a common feature in the works of many Latin American writers during the second half of the twentieth century. Since the 1940s and the "Boom" period of the 1960s, Latin American literature has become increasingly available to a worldwide audience. Writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Juan José Arreola, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Miguel Angel Asturias have been internationally recognized for their contributions to world literature. The often chaotic political atmosphere of contemporary Latin America continues to generate writing that is both artistic and activist in nature. Recent decades have seen an increase in works devoted to the specific struggles of blacks, indigenous peoples, and other minorities. With the exception of Brazilian literature, which is written primarily in Portuguese, nearly all Latin American literature is in Spanish, and is often designated by critics as "Spanish-American" or "Hispanic-American" literature.
La serpiente de oro (novel) 1935
[The Golden Serpent, 1943]
El mundo es ancho y ajeno (novel) 1941
[Broad and Alien Is the World, 1941]
Raza de bronce (novel) 1919
Arreola, Juan Jose
Confabulario (short stories and essays) 1952
[Confabulario and Other Inventions, 1964]
Asturias, Miguel Angel
El señor Presidente (novel) 1946
[The President, 1963]
Hombres de maiz (novel) 1949
[Men of Maize, 1975]
Los de abajo: Novela de la revolución mexicana (novel) 1916
[The Underdogs, 1929]
Bioy Casares, Adolpho
La invención de Morel (novel) 1940
[The Invention of Morel, and Other Stories, 1964]
Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones (short stories) 1944
El Aleph (short stories) 1949
[The Aleph, and Other Stories, 1971]
Cabrera Infante, Guillermo
Tres tristes tigres (novel) 1967
[Three Trapped Tigers, 1980]
El reino de est mundo (novel) 1949
[The Kingdom of This World, 1957]
El acoso (novel) 1956
(The entire section is 587 words.)
Historical And Critical Perspectives
SOURCE: "Books in Flames: A View of Latin American Literature," in The Antioch Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 141-53.
[Cheuse is an American novelist and critic. In the following essay, he traces the influences and evolution of Latin American literature.]
The flat, swampy, low jungle of the Yucatan peninsula is hot enough even in winter for its inhabitants to live without using fires at night for heating purposes. But in the Mayan city of Mani, eighteen kilometers south of Merida, the state's present capital, in the year 1562, a great fire roared for days outside the walls of a convent newly constructed from the stones of a Mayan temple. Tens of thousands of religious articles and every extant Mayan holy manuscript that the priests, led by Bishop Diego de Landa, could find in the territory fed the flames in a book-burning that was much more devastating than those we have seen in films of the Nazi period in Europe. In the age of mechanical reproduction, book burning is a symbolic act. In sixteenth-century Mexico, the priests attempted to destroy an entire culture, the mind of a people, their past, their present, and their future. Nothing was more dangerous to the conquering theologians than the beautiful designs and colors of the Mayan hieroglyphic narratives. For several times a year, as Diego de Landa himself writes in his account of the Mayan culture he...
(The entire section is 22990 words.)
Helen E. Haines
SOURCE: "Fiction from Latin America," in What's in a Novel, Columbia University Press, 1942, pp. 169-96.
[In the following essay, Haines provides an overview of several Latin American novels published during the early 1940s.]
There must come a conception of life which, without denying the fundamental union between man and the earth would lift him past the barriers that had held him back until then to lead him to the more complete forms of existence.
—Ciro Alegria: Broad and Alien Is the World
To the vast majority of readers in the United States, Latin American fiction is more remote, more exotic, than any of the fiction of Europe. The two Américas share a hemisphere; they have never shared a common understanding. Underlying their deep separation are fundamental differences in folk roots, in historical development, in religion, in social and cultural conditions that set up barriers to mutual sympathetic response and that are not resolved by friendly trade relations or political agreements. With the rise of world conflict "hemispheric solidarity" has become not simply a pious phrase of political aspiration but a profound and urgent necessity. There is deepening realization in both continents of the need of closer social and cultural ties—of reciprocal relations in education,...
(The entire section is 9162 words.)
The Short Story
SOURCE: "Latin American Short Fiction," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 20, No. 4, Fall, 1983, pp. 297-306.
[In the following essay, Fleak provides an overview of the Latin American short story and its relationship to the novel.]
The critical history of the short story is both brief and incomplete. In an article entitled "The Modern Short Story: Retrospect," H. E. Bates refers to different studies on the recent development of short fiction: "The paradoxical answer is that the history of the short story, as we know it, is not vast but brief. 'The short story proper,' says Mr. A. J. J. Ratcliff, 'that is, a deliberately fashioned work of art, and not just a straightforward tale of one or more events, belongs to modern times'; 'the short story is a young art,' says Elizabeth Bowen, 'as we know it, it is a child of this century'." [H. E. Bates, "The Modern Short Story: Retrospect," in Short Story Theories, ed. Charles E. May, 1976]. William Peden states that "as a conscious literary form, the short story is a comparatively recent addition to the family of literary types" [Short Fiction: Shape and Substance, 1971].
In Latin America, the time that bridges the period between the genre's beginnings and the modern age is indeed short. But in spite of this brevity, in contemporary literature the popularity of the Latin American short story is...
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SOURCE: "Theatre and Crisis: The Making of Latin American Drama," in Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America, University Press of Kentucky, 1991, pp. 22-63.
[In the following excerpt, Taylor examines the connection between politics and contemporary Latin American drama.]
While commentators studying Latin American theatre generally recognize the dramatic transformation that has taken place in the quantity and quality of the plays produced from the 1960s onward, we still do not have a good name to describe the process (or perhaps multiple processes), or a very clear understanding of its (their) complexity or periodization. Various terms have been proposed. Beatriz Risk enumerates them in her work El nuevo teatro latinoamericano: Una lectura histórica: "theatre of identity, revolutionary theatre, committed theatre, historical theatre, theatre of violence, theatre of social criticism, documentary theatre, avant-garde, popular theatre"; she herself opts for "new theatre." Several studies have traced the history of that term and its practical applications, notably Rosa Eliana Boudet's Teatro nuevo and Marina Pianca's Diógenes. The term has gradually gained a degree of currency in Latin American studies, although it is doubtful whether everyone using it refers to the same phenomenon. While my use of "theatre of crisis" only partially...
(The entire section is 10636 words.)
Jorge Carrera Andrade
SOURCE: "Poetry and Society in Spanish America," in Reflections on Spanish American Poetry, State University of New York Press, 1973, pp. 21-38.
[Carrera Andrade was an Ecuadoran poet, essayist, and diplomat. In the following essay, he discusses the relationship between poetry and society in Latin America.]
"We are passing through calamitous times, during which it is not possible to speak or to keep silent without danger": these words which seem to allude to our epoch were written by the great Valencian thinker Juan Luis Vives in the sixteenth century. From then on, the two tendencies, toward acquiescence or toward dissent, were already emerging in the terrain of ideas, which means in today's vocabulary that men of letters took positions either in the ranks of conformity or of nonconformity. The most debated questions were the Counter Reformation, the right of Spain to conquer the New World, the crusade to redeem the Indians, known as infidels. While it is very true that the literature of protest and revolutionary literature are contemporary phenomena which are responsive to the present stage of sociological progress, it is an equally indisputable fact that Spanish-American literature from its beginnings was the fruit of social conditions in the colonies. In the colonial period there was none of what is properly called escape literature. The...
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The Writer And Society
SOURCE: An introduction to Lives on the Line: The Testimony of Contemporary Latin American Authors, edited by Doris Meyer, University of California Press, 1988, pp. 1-11.
[Meyer is an American writer and educator, and the author of several books on Latin American literature. In the following excerpt, she provides an overview of the role of the Latin American writer throughout history.]
We can say without irony or lack of respect that in order to speak solely of Latin American literature today one has to create an environment similar to that of an operating room with specialists who only look at the patient lying on the stretcher and the patient can be called novel or short story or poem. In all honesty I can say that the few times I have been in those operating theaters of literary criticism I have gone out into the street with a burning desire to drink wine in a bar and to look at girls in the buses. And each day that passes it seems more logical and necessary to approach literature—whether we are writers or readers—as one approaches the most basic encounters of one's existence, such as love or death, knowing that they form an inseparable part of the whole, and that a book begins and ends much before and much after its first and last word.
The integral relationship...
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Native Americans In Latin American Literature
SOURCE: "Primitivism in Latin American Fiction," in The Ibero-American Enlightenment, edited by A. Owen Aldridge, University of Illinois Press, 1971, pp. 243-55.
[In the following essay, Virgillo examines the distorted image of the Native American in romantic Latin American literature of the nineteenth century.]
L'enfant de la nature abhorre l'esclavage;
Implacable ennemi de toute authorité,
Il s'indigne du joug; la contrainte l'outrage;
Liberté c'est son voeu; son cri c'est liberté.
Au mépris des liens de la société,
Il réclame en secret son antique apanage.
These lines, written over two centuries ago, on the eve of the French Revolution, upheld the Indian as the product of a happy primeval society—a tangible dream for the freedom-starved European who longed to cut the bonds of social injustice. Today it is difficult to think of anybody who has been more abused and enjoys less autonomy than the American Indian, who, far from having impressed anything on the white man, remains, no doubt, the least recognized and understood inhabitant of the New World. This tragic fact is particularly true of most of Latin America, where the primitive who once was absolute master of his surroundings is today either...
(The entire section is 11332 words.)
Cohen, J. M., ed. Latin American Writing Today. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1967, 267 p.
Contains poetry and short fiction by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, César Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Anderson Imbert, Enrique. Spanish-American Literature: A History, translated by John V. Falconieri. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963, 616 p.
Provides an inclusive chronology of authors and literary movements from the Spanish conquest through 1963.
Brotherston, Gordon. Latin American Poetry: Origins and Presence. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975, 228 p.
Analyzes Latin American poetry in its historical context, and discusses the work of poets such as Ruben Darío, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and César Vallejo.
—. The Emergence of the Latin American Novel. London: Cambridge University Press, 1977, 164 p.
Analyzes the novels of authors such as Alejo Carpentier, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortizar, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Brushwood, John S. Genteel Barbarism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981, 233 p.
Discussion of eight Spanish-American novels of the nineteenth century, with a bibliography of history,...
(The entire section is 701 words.)