Where the Air Is Clear Essay - Critical Essays

Carlos Fuentes

Critical Evaluation

In Where the Air Is Clear, Carlos Fuentes offers a kaleidoscopic presentation, in numerous vignettes, of contemporary life in Mexico City. The title of the novel is a quotation from the work of the Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes and refers to Anahuac, the valley of Mexico, as a region where the air is clear. At least the region was so at one time, before the drying up of Lake Texcoco and modern industrialization brought dust and smog, changing what was once a high tableland with a relatively low population density into an overcrowded metropolis with air pollution.

Fuentes’s novel is divided into three sections that are not equal in length or intent. Each section is in turn subdivided into parts, each with a title, generally the name of a character who provides the point of view for the section. Fuentes’s great contribution to this modernist technique of fragmentation of point of view is largely the novel’s use of setting, both philosophical and psychological. The novel presents a portrait of Mexico City.

In Where the Air Is Clear, myth occupies a significant place. Fuentes presents a mythical history of Mexico City and its inhabitants. The characters who represent the historical aspects of the novel are products of the Mexican revolution and, at the same time, are representative of Mexican society during the 1950’s. Federico Robles is a revolutionary turned into a conservative banker. His wife Norma Laragoiti is a social climber who marries for money. Manuel Zamacona is a brooding intellectual.

Each one of the main characters is sacrificed for the sake of a myth. It is the myth of bourgeois stability in the case of Robles the banker. It is the myth of success in the case of the poet Rodrigo Pola. It is the myth of narcissism in the case of Norma. It is the myth of the intellectual in the case of Zamacona (who dies by the pistol of a deadly drunk while trying to buy gas to escape from Acapulco). All myths, the author demonstrates, are false; all are deadly; all are projections of human desires.

Ancestral voices and indigenous mythologies are very powerful in the novel. For Fuentes, myth combines past, present, and future. As a creator and perpetuator of myths, Fuentes builds a modern version of ancient patterns, including rituals of sacrifice and battles between male and female principles. In the narrative, these ancestral voices link the reader not only with the past, present, and future but also with the universe. Fuentes works within the universal time of myth and within the limited, linear, and subjective time of individual history. In Where the Air Is Clear, the...

(The entire section is 1082 words.)