Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Palace of the White Skunks is embedded in a concrete historical event, the fight of the Sierra Maestra rebel forces against the Batista regime that culminated in Fidel Castro’s revolutionary victory of 1959. Yet, the presentation of the characters’ other levels of experience is never sacrificed for any type of accuracy or transparency, any hope to reproduce historical reality faithfully at a referential level of language. Arenas’s concern is not to rewrite history but to subordinate history to fiction, thus allowing free inquiry into the nature of human existence. The novel does not support the concept of an “official” history of a collective consciousness that simplifies human experience by reducing it to facts or figures; rather, the book examines the enigma of individual human existence.

The ironic and ludicrous title, The Palace of the White Skunks, already alerts the reader to the unconventional story that follows. In this novel, the notion of a well-structured plot is subverted by the presentation of a narrative time-space of multiple possibilities that invites the reader to sort out the various narrative threads and, thus, to work out a larger meaning. The text requires a flexible approach to reading, a letting go of traditional expectations. The reader is asked to make the text intelligible in spite of its violations and transgressions, to accommodate the shifting codes of a multifarious reality. Hence, the initial...

(The entire section is 500 words.)