Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

I, the Supreme offers a complex interweaving of several themes equally important to the comprehension of the novel. The text is a reexamination of the nineteenth century dictatorship of the historical Francia, a figure of primary importance whose ambiguous presence continues to haunt Paraguay more than a century and a half after his death. Revered as the “Karai Guasu” (“great white father”) and hated as the instigator of the infamous Paraguayan Reign of Terror, Francia still lives in the imagination of the nation. Roa Bastos challenges these images through the juxtaposition of documentary “fact” and novelistic “fiction,” in what he himself calls a “transhistory” or an analysis of the validity of the historical interpretations of that period. This means that he does not attempt to rewrite history so much as to demonstrate the shortcomings of historiography (the historians’ task to write the “truth” of history) as a scientific process. The fictional Francia continually argues in self-defense against his historians, revealing their political and emotional biases. This theme is directly embodied in the split of the character into “I” and “HE,” an important opposition that permeates the novel. The “I” represents the dictator as human being, while the “HE” symbolizes the image of Francia that has been perpetuated in history books.

Since much of the novel deals with the historical dictatorship of Francia, there...

(The entire section is 577 words.)