The Underdogs Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Limón

*Limón (lee-MOHN). Rural village in Zacatecas in which the novel begins and ends. In the opening pages, Federalists raid Demetrio’s humble home, kill his dog, threaten his wife, and burn his fields. Demetrio flees to the mountainside and calls for his fellow revolutionaries to join him. Severe contrasts in the landscape symbolize the rugged nature and simple beauty of country life. The steep slopes, giant rocks, and dry branches of the river canyon contrast sharply with the delicate San Juan roses that dot the landscape. The rebels are outnumbered five hundred to twenty but because they have a more intimate connection with their surroundings, they force the Federalists to retreat.

At the end of the novel, Demetrio, who has risen in rank from chief to general, returns to Limón and briefly rejoins his wife and son, whom he hardly recognizes after his absence. Although Demetrio, too, has gone through many changes, the village landscape remains unchanged. When his wife asks him why he continues to fight in the revolution, he throws a stone against the mountainside and watches it slowly roll down. Like the tumbling stone, Demetrio is propelled, beyond his will, by the momentum of the revolution. The novel’s cyclical structure denies a sense of progress that signifies the defeated aims of the revolution. Demetrio dies, rifle in hand, at the same ravine in which he won his first victory.

Camila’s ranch

Camila’s ranch. Tiny ranch owned by the Indian woman Camila, who tends Demetrio’s wounds as he and his men recover from their battle with Federalists at Limón. Demetrio falls in love with Camila, whose ranch comes to symbolize the simplicity, honesty, and integrity for which he longs.

Vacant mansion

Vacant mansion. Abandoned home of a wealthy Federalist who has fled in advance of the rebels, who ransack the house. Filled with expensive books, carpets, furniture, and artwork, the mansion contrasts sharply with the houses of the revolutionaries, whose greed for material wealth combines with their brash, often violent behavior, to depict the seedy underside of the revolution.

*Moyahua

*Moyahua (moy-AH-huah). Small Mexican town in the state of Zacatecas, where the rebels raid the home of a landowning Federalist, Don Mónico. In many ways, this raid parallels that of the Federalists on Demetrio’s home in the first chapter. Although the revolutionaries want to ransack Don Mónico’s house, Demetrio forbids such action. An idealist, he feels that such material pursuits distract the rebels from the true cause of their revolution. Moreover, if the wealth simply changes hands from the Federalists to the rebels, then corruption will not be defeated, and the revolution will be in vain. Instead of looting the house, Demetrio runs Don Mónico and his family off their property and has the house burned to the ground. Ironically, Demetrio and his men then spend the night in a dingy building that is used as a garbage heap.

*Juchipila

*Juchipila (hoo-chee-PEE-la). Zacatecas village at the base of a high hill in which Pancho Villa won his first victory in 1910. When Demetrio and his men enter this village, he finds that the villagers no longer want to support the rebels. The town stands for both the promise and the failure of the revolution.

*El Paso

*El Paso. Texas border town to which the pretentious Federalist-turned-rebel Cervantes escapes. In a letter he tries to encourage fellow rebel Venancio to join him and start a new life. His flight marks his abandonment of the revolutionary cause.

*La Bufa

*La Bufa (BOO-fah). Mountain near the city of Zacatecas where Demetrio leads a brave charge against the Federalists. His leadership earns him the rank of general.

The Underdogs Setting

The Underdogs is set in the countryside and mountains, small villages, and cities of Mexico from 1910-1915. The revolutionaries and Federales are woven together in the fabric of Mexico’s fight for its identity in the early twentieth century. Azuela shows the crisis of ideology as the two opposing forces impose their wills across the country.

When the novel begins, the reader immediately falls into the sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and smells of a small village in Mexico. Demetrio’s home of Límon is filled with the sound of dogs barking, Federales and horses intruding upon a poverty-stricken rural area, and the smell of tequila, eggs, and tortillas. By the time Demetrio steps out of a room to meet the intruding Federales, readers exhale in relief. The men all know each other and Demetrio’s wife and son run out to Demetrio’s father’s house to escape any further terror. Demetrio escapes to the mountains to meet the rest of his men.

The mountainsides and ravines carve out the military and rebel trails snaking their way through Mexico. Azuela describes the landscape in its sharpness and barrenness. When Demetrio is climbing the mountains, they are described as rocky, veined, and with enormous cracks. The trees are not lush but have crags upon which the moon casts its shadows. Everything is dry and withering as if the Federales and the Mexican government have extracted the very life from the countryside to claim it as their own.

The trees also become a source of horror when Quail finds Serapio and Antonio, two men that have gone missing. They are up in the branches of a mesquite tree swaying gently in the wind. Like the branches of the tree, they hang limp and rigid. The trees are a metaphor for the death that permeates the landscape.

As each side uses the mountainside to advantage, bodies are strewn along the hills and ravines. The sharp edges and deep cliffs absorb the men. In a surprise attack, the men and the horses are startled and then descend to their deaths, and become “fused” into one. A boy loses his footing and tumbles over an edge, followed by a group of men falling over the crest. Azuela describes one slope nearly six hundred meters long. It is covered with dead bodies, tangled hair, and clothes stained with blood and mud. The earth accepts these bodies.

White and black...

(The entire section is 963 words.)

The Underdogs Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Brushwood, John S. The Spanish American Novel: A Twentieth-Century Survey. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. The second chapter of this scholarly work is dedicated to Azuela’s best-known novel. Compares and contrasts it to other novels produced in 1916.

Leál, Luis. Mariano Azuela. New York: Twayne, 1971. A full-length biography and examination of Azuela’s life and works. Asserts that Azuela’s novels, especially The Underdogs, are the best recording of Mexico’s transition from the past to the present.

Rutherford, John. Mexican Society During the Revolution: A Literary Approach. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Describes the themes, structure, characters, and social context of Azuela’s novels. Discusses Azuela’s portrayal of peasant revolutionaries; characters as mouthpieces for the author; and portrayals of Villistas, Indios, and intellectuals during the revolution. Extensive annotated checklist of history and criticism.

Schwartz, Kessel. A New History of Spanish American Fiction. Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1972. A close analysis of the novels of the Mexican Revolution, with an extensive discussion of The Underdogs. Describes the novel as Azuela’s masterpiece; asserts that Azuela has come close to writing the definitive novel of the Mexican Revolution.

Spell, Jefferson Rea. Contemporary Spanish-American Fiction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944. A good study of Azuela’s novelistic techniques. Chapter 3, which is dedicated to Azuela as portrayer of the Mexican Revolution, contains a description of the characters, events, and methodology of The Underdogs.