Rodolfo Usigli Essay - Critical Essays


Mexico and its people have furnished the material for almost all of Rodolfo Usigli’s dramatic works. Psychology is the essential component of his writing and the soul of his interpretations. Usigli’s dramatic works can be classified into two major categories: the social satire of contemporary Mexico, and the treatment of certain historically significant figures or periods in the development of Mexico. The themes most frequently treated are insanity, hate, love, hereditary illness, stagnant lifestyle, cruelty, sex from a Mexican perspective, and culminating moments in Mexican history.

There are four elements that constantly recur in Usigli’s plays: fantasy, myth, family types, and humor. Fantasy is present in all of his works. Through examples that illustrate his philosophy, he sets the course that propels the action and motivates the characters: madness, absurdity, dreams, superstition, double identity, and illusions. The element of the fantastic is reinforced by dramatic techniques such as the play of lights, visions, flashbacks, and anonymous voices. Myth is of utmost importance in Usigli’s works. He sees Mexico as an outstanding example of a fusion of two cultures, the indigenous and the Hispanic, both of which are myth-oriented. Within the framework of Usigli’s Hegelian view of history, the central characters become transcendental myth figures. He uses myth to reinterpret historical events, clarifying their significance and offering a new and positive direction for Mexico’s future. Another recurring element found in Usigli’s dramatic productions is the character types based on members of the family. He treats all social levels—lower, middle, upper, and aristocratic—to portray segments of Mexican society. Usigli’s acute awareness of the inconsistencies in Mexican life and culture are often expressed in witty dialogue and amusing episodes.

The Great Middle Class, El gesticulador, and Crown of Shadows are considered to be Usigli’s finest works. Each portrays a conflict that tests the spirit. Human emotions are presented so as to diminish the distance between the public and the stage. Ridicule is not provoked from pathetic situations; rather, the audience feels a sense of spiritual elevation at the conclusion of each of these dramas.

Usigli dedicated his life to the creation of a Mexican national theater. He combined practical experience, a keen sense of the Mexican spirit, a thorough knowledge of the theater, stylistic creativity, and a new ideology to establish the basis for a new Mexican theater. His dramas are neither didactic nor doctrinal, but objective in their thematic treatment. Usigli’s desire was to bring the past and the present into harmony, to see them in a positive light, and to appeal to the faith of the Mexican people to overcome their weaknesses and gain a new and optimistic perspective on their country’s future. Through his acting, translating, teaching, and writing, he played a decisive part in the creation of a Mexican national theater.

The Great Middle Class

In the sociological drama The Great Middle Class, the mundane Sierra family is transformed by Usigli into a universal symbol of middle-class family life. This play depicts the problems that beset a typical middle-class family, not only in Mexico but anywhere in the world. Each family member has his own particular problem. The father has lost his job with the government because of his political affiliation and has taken refuge in pursuing other women. The mother’s overwhelming religious character prevents her from seeing that anything is wrong. Their sons also have problems. David, the eldest son and moderator of the family, suffers from tuberculosis. Victor is unhappy because he has no money with which to court a girl whom he has just met. Julio finds that everyone is hostile to him because of his Communist sympathies. Martin, the youngest son, is interested only in animals and is unhappy because animals are not allowed in their apartment. The daughters are also unhappy with their situations. Gabriela is frustrated because she cannot find a political party compatible with her beliefs; Enriqueta is suffering from the banalities of married life and from grave financial problems after the bankruptcy of her husband’s store; Sarah is in love with someone of whom the family does not approve. David alone realizes that the only form of salvation is unity. Still, it seems that each one must find his way by himself or herself because each finds the others to be incapable of understanding and showing compassion. An atmosphere of dissension, pessimism, confusion, and egotism prevails. Unknowingly, however, the family members share a sense of unity that will surface during a grave crisis.

At the end of the drama, the circumstances are much more serious than at the beginning. The father moves the family, which is very poor, to another province, and he must sell much of the family furniture in order to pay the rent. The mother is able to recognize and acknowledge her family’s difficulties and suffers much, knowing that Gabriela spent the night in jail for attending a Communist rally. David enters the hospital to seek help for his illness. Julio leaves for Spain to fight against the forces of Francisco Franco and the Fascists, and Sarah is pregnant. The difference, however, lies in the sense of consolidation and unity among the members of the family and their attempts to rescue one another. They feel a new freedom in thought and action, born of the now-prevailing atmosphere of mutual love and respect.

The Sierra family is a...

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