Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The action of Men of Maize is divided into two periods. In the first part of the novel Gaspar Ilóm wages war against the professional maizegrowers who set fire to the brush and ruthlessly exploit the land. According to the Indians of Guatemala, the first men who were created, their ancestors, were made of corn. Therefore, this grain is sacred; it may be consumed but never exploited, eaten but never sold. The maizegrowers, however, prefer profits to traditions, an attitude which opposes them to the peasants both morally and ethically. This is why Gaspar and his Indian guerrillas revolt against them and gain the upper hand until the maizegrowers call in the Mounted Patrol. With the help of an Indian turncoat, Machojón, and especially of his wife, Vaca Manuela, the commander of the Mounted Patrol lures Gaspar and his men to a feast. During the celebration, Vaca Manuela tricks Gaspar into drinking poison, but Gaspar dives into the river and manages to “extinguish the thirst of the poison in his intestines.” He returns after dawn, only to discover that the soldiers have taken his men by surprise and massacred them. Gaspar dives into the river once again, and the maizegrowers return to the mountains of Ilóm, unaware that a curse has been cast. The yellow-eared rabbit sorcerers who accompanied Gaspar condemn all the perpetrators of the massacre to die before the seventh year is ended. One by one, in the chapters which follow, they are all punished. Machojón and his wife burn in an eerie blaze which razes their cornfields. On his way to ask for the hand of his intended, their son is surrounded by fireflies and mysteriously disappears. The man who sold the poison used on Gaspar is decapitated along with his entire family, and finally Colonel Godoy and his troops are consumed by “flames in the form of bloodstained hands” which “were painted on the walls of the air.”
The second part of the novel describes the adventures of three men whose lives become intertwined. The first, Goyo Yic, is a blind beggar whose wife, María, runs away, taking with her their many children. Goyo cannot live without her and seeks the help of a curer, who removes the veil of blindness from his eyes. He has, however, never seen María. For this reason, he becomes a peddler and travels from fair to fair; he coaxes women to buy his wares in order to hear their voices and one day, he hopes, recognize his missing wife. Goyo invokes O Possum, patron saint of peddlers, to guide him on his search, but...
(The entire section is 1019 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Callan, Richard. Miguel Ángel Asturias. New York: Twayne, 1970. An introductory study with a chapter of biography and a separate chapter discussing each of Asturias’s major novels. Includes a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.
Gonzalez Echevarria, Roberto. Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. A very helpful volume in coming to terms with Asturias’s unusual narratives.
Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream. New York: Harpers, 1967. Includes an interview with Asturias covering the major features of his thought and fictional work.
Himmelblau, Jack. “Love, Self and Cosmos in the Early Works of Miguel Ángel Asturias.” Kentucky Romance Quarterly 18 (1971). Should be read in conjunction with Prieto.
Perez, Galo Rene. “Miguel Ángel Asturias.” Americas, January, 1968, 1-5. A searching examination of El Señor Presidente as a commentary on the novelist’s society.
Prieto, Rene. Miguel Ángel Asturias’s Archaeology of Return. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. The best available study in English of the novelist’s body of work. Prieto discusses both the stories and the novels, taking up issues of their unifying principles, idiom, and eroticism. See Prieto’s measured introduction, in which he carefully analyzes Asturias’s reputation and identifies his most important work. Includes very detailed notes and bibliography.
West, Anthony. Review of El Señor Presidente, by Miguel Ángel Asturias. The New Yorker, March 28, 1964. Often cited as one of the best interpretations of the novel.