Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The symbols of the novel are rather difficult to understand without some historical background. Valenzuela found it strange that Argentina, such a European country (ninety-eight percent of the population is of European descent), could have fallen under the power of a sorcerer. It appeared to her that Argentina was more “Latin American” than the Argentines had supposed. For this reason, she chose the structure of a myth for her book in order to show the absurd extremes that could be reached when a people allows itself to be ruled by an insane leader. As she writes, “what more obvious metaphor than that of the Marshland” could be used to describe the relationship between the government, the repressive superego on the surface, and the sorcerer, the government’s repressive inverted-image underground? Valenzuela wrote The Lizard’s Tail to cure Argentina of its conspiracy of silence, its inability to speak out against the torture of dissidents and the desaparecidos (the “disappeared ones”).

Valenzuela had begun to write another book, about an ambassador and a woman, before she wrote The Lizard’s Tail. This book was inspired by her own experiences of helping Argentines to leave the country. After leaving Buenos Aires, however, where she had been writing, to spend some time in Mexico, she decided to stop struggling against the preliminary narrative and to write three shorter works using some of the same material,...

(The entire section is 457 words.)