(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The narrative thread recounts one day in the life of a middle-aged peasant woman, from 5:00 a.m., when she arises at dawn, until 5:00 p.m., when she lights the candles as darkness closes in. The chapters divide the day’s segments as she goes about her routine activities of cooking, child care, house and garden work, and musing about the people and events that have shaped and informed her life. This interior monologue reveals her past—the unremitting, wretched poverty as well as her simple, humble acceptance of the inhuman conditions under which she and the other peasants in the village live.

She muses about her childhood, her betrothal to José (Chepe) Guardado, their marriage, their children, their work, and their efforts to better their lot. By exercising extreme frugality, they have bought a small piece of land of their own. The carefully tended crops have enabled Lupe and Chepe to provide a few comforts for their meager existence; for example, they are able to buy a few toys and candies for the children at Christmas. Lupe recalls the early hardships, as when their child died of malnutrition, dysentery, and worms as many of the peasant children do, and how the “old priests” advocated resignation and hope of eternal happiness in heaven.

Then the “new priests” came and offered instruction and help in forming cooperatives, recommended pharmaceuticals to treat worms and dysentery, and cheese as food for malnourished babies. They encouraged the farm laborers to seek higher pay and the peasants to sell their goods in town, where they could get higher prices than the local merchant offered. Then she remembers how the authorities came and began abusing the peasants and finally attacked the priests. The priests were sent away, but the changes they had wrought could not be stopped, and the authorities became increasingly abusive as the peasants became increasingly assertive. The abuses included torture, imprisonment, and murder. Lupe’s son was one such victim, decapitated by the guards and his head stuck on a pole outside the village.

As the hours pass, Lupe reminisces about the increasing involvement of her family members in...

(The entire section is 912 words.)

One Day of Life Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dickey, Christopher. Review in The New Republic 189 (November 21, 1983): 46-47. A useful critical perspective.

Edelman, Marc. “The Rural Terror.” Commonweal 111 (May 4, 1984): 283-284. Discusses Argueta in the context of Central American strife.

Flores, Angel. “Manlio Argueta.” In Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1992. A good overall view of Argueta’s work. Offers a brief critical analysis of selected novels and common themes that thread through Argueta’s fiction.