In the book Doña Barbara,  how does the author Romulo Gallegos use the two ranches, Altamira and El Miedo, to reflect what was happening in early 20th century Venezuelan society?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romulo Gallegos' novel Doña Barbara reflects social and political struggles Venezuela suffered through during the 1920s and 30s. Specifically, Gallegos, former first democratic president of Venezuela and author, used the novel to speak out against Venezuelan dictator Juan Vicente Gomez, a fact that made Gallegos flee the country, taking refuge in Spain before returning to become politically active. Gomez was a military general who became an unelected military strongman in 1908 until he died in 1935, and his brutality is portrayed in Gallegos' character Doña Barbara, a tyrannical woman rumored to use demons to maintain her power and willing to do anything to protect her ranch El Miedo, as well as obtain the ranch Altamira. Aside from being a militant dictator, Gomez was also the typical, older generation Plainsman, a form of society Venezuela was beginning to move away from under Gomez's rule as Venezuela moved from being a poor agrarian culture to a wealthy oil-producing culture. Gomez grew up near the Andes as a cattle herder who was barely literate, much like Doña Barbara. Also, like Doña Barbara, by the time of his death, Gomez had become the wealthiest man in the country, having used his henchmen to acquire the wealth. Hence, Gallegos uses Doña Barbara, who wants control over Altamira, to represent Gomez's tyranny, tyranny that the country of Venezuela truly was suffering under.

In contrast, the protagonist Santos Luzardo, a lawyer who graduated from the Central University of Venezuela, represents the new, educated and wealthier class of Venezuela society, a class brought about by the new oil market. Luzardo travels to the Plains of Apure to sell Altamira, the ranch that he inherited from his deceased father, but is stopped by Doña Barbara who engages in a battle with him from El Miedo. As a result, Luzardo knows he must do everything in his power to put an end to Doña Barbara's tyranny. We particularly see Luzardo's knowledge that he must defeat Doña Barbara's tyranny expressed in the passage:

To struggle against Dona Barbara, symbol of the times, was not only to free Altamira, but to destroy the forces which were holding back the Plain. (p. 27)

Doña Barbara falls in love with Luzardo, but he overcomes her. By the end of the novel, Doña Barbara has lost everything, including both Altamira and Luzardo's heart, and abandons the Plains.  Doña Barbara's losses was Gallego's way of stating that Dictator Gomez should also be defeated and driven out of the country.

Hence, the ranch El Miedo represents Venezuela's old, illiterate, agrarian society under Gomez as well as Gomez's tyranny, while Altamira represents the new, wealthier, educated Venezuelan society that is budding and could become very strong if Gomez was usurped.