Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although politics might be expected to take on considerable importance in a novel concerning the months immediately prior to Castro’s takeover of Cuba, such is not the case with Three Trapped Tigers, which the author himself has described as “the least political book ever written in Latin America.” This is probably a reflection of the fact that Cabrera Infante had worked fairly closely with the Castro government for a time, but then became disillusioned, not only with it, but with political ideologies in general.

Instead, one of his major concerns in this work is the way in which the essence of a society can be re-created through that society’s popular language. He insists that the novel is not written in Spanish but in “Cuban,” as spoken in 1958 by the “voices” that now make up the text. Thus, the work’s language is preoccupied mainly with itself as a creative phenomenon. The text consists largely of puns and other types of wordplay, which has caused some readers to conclude—very wrongly—that the novel is frivolous and not to be taken seriously. While it is consistently humorous, it is no more frivolous than Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615). In both Don Quixote de la Mancha and Three Trapped Tigers, humor becomes a tool for the attainment of some very serious ends. The joke, according to both Aristotle and Immanuel Kant, operates by presenting the hearer with something...

(The entire section is 441 words.)