Drawing primarily on Carlos Fuentes’ novel The Old Gringo, discuss how processes of empire and nation played out during the Mexican Revolution?

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Natalie Saaris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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tw13j | Student

As a point to begin your investigation, it is important to make connections in Mexican history prior to the Mexican Revolution.  This story works as a fictional history to exemplify the way the revolution becomes corrupted, often as a result of the socio-cultural wounds that the country is still coming to terms with.  The changing nation is captured very concisely within the complex structure of the Mexican Revolution, as many of the driving powers behind the revolution were deeply rooted issues that spanned across several centuries, from the time of 'las conquistas'.  Mexican history works excellently on the level of exploring a 'collective history', in which referenced characters most likely represent a specific figure or idea (La Malinche and "the revolutionary leader" respectively).

A primary example of a representation of Mexico's collective history is General Arroyo.  His parentage, a product of the rape of his indian* mother by a wealthy powerful land owner, functions on two important levels.  The first is that one of the driving forces of the revolution was the need to redistribute land ownership, to allow for economic growth of a large percentage of the poverty stricken population, and the overwhelming inequality between the impoverished and the wealthy landowners.  Secondly, this literary rape of his mother represents the metaphorical cultural rape of the indigenous population.  This scenario mirrors La Malinche, a polemic figure whose muddled past as a possibly willing accomplice to Hernán Cortés during his conquest in Mexico.  She is considered to be the symbolic mother of the new Mexican population after the time of conquest. This parallel to an iconic figure in Mexico's history is intentional, and works to provide an example of how Mexico must revisit its past in order to progress.

Pancho Villa, a real general fighting for the Revolution, whose wartime experience as a leader and a prisoner during this turbulent time, provides a nearly mythical example of how these polemic historical figures carry heavy weights in determining their intention.  Like La Malinche, revolutionary figures like Villa are undoubtedly symbols that represent key points in the history of Mexico.  

Carlos Fuentes, in his other key novel "The Death of Artemio Cruz", is drawn to the exploration of how Mexican history moves, with revolution and power struggles.  Key figures in Mexican history, La Malinche and Villa, are both real and representational of moments when power shifts sides and corruption sinks through the smallest of cracks of well intended revolutions.  

*It is important to note that as a translated work, terminology like 'indian' is politically correct, as it comes from the Spanish word indio, meaning indigenous, and works to represent the subset of the population with direct lineage from Pre-Columbian times.