These two novels of the Mexican Revolution share several similarities. Both The Underdogs and The Death of Artemio Cruz convey the nuances and complexities of the early 20th-century movement, including both negative and positive effects. Both novels include characters who are sincere in their commitment to seeking a more just society, as well as others whose motives were more ambitious or self-serving. The differences include the heritage of the central characters and the time frame in which the action takes place.
In The Underdogs, Mariano Azuela follows the protagonist, Demetrio Macías, a peasant with both practical and idealistic motivations. Demetrio believes society can be transformed, but even as he develops as a leader, he retains doubts about the methods and possible outcome. The novel is set during the revolutionary era of the 1910s, ending as the armed conflict subsides and Demetrio goes home to try to make sense of all he endured.
Carlos Fuentes chooses a different kind of protagonist. Artemio Cruz traces his heritage both to the elite landowners and to poor, mixed-race workers on their lands. Artemio is motivated as much by his personal desires, for he resents rejected as illegitimate. The weaknesses in his character seem to represent the paradoxes of Mexican society through much of its history. Fuentes begins the novel about a half-century after the revolution, as Cruz looks back on his life. As the author also delves into Artemio’s family history, he connects the early 19th-century independence movement to the revolution a century later.