Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Theme, language, tone, and mood are the controlling elements of All Green Shall Perish. Mallea is essentially a lyric writer, a poet, who conceives the human, novelistic material of all his works in musical terms that he controls thematically, like an essayist. In structure, the novel’s division into two parts allows for greater intensity and control in each. Indeed, the two halves can be read as interrelated novellas; the only link is the tortured self-awareness of Ágata, which informs the whole. She is the sole survivor of part 1. In part 2, Ágata is given what amounts to a chance for a new life in Bahía Blanca with a new cast of characters. Unfortunately, Ágata remains the same. She cannot forget her past, which colors her present and foreshadows her future.

In All Green Shall Perish, character cannot be separated from theme. This is ritual narration in which the central character is offered as a sacrifice to the universe. The near consummation of part 1 is fulfilled in part 2. The rite is complete.

In La vida blanca (1960; the sterile life), Mallea describes what he calls the “inner war”: “A sweet immanent charity illumines the lives of men; all the rest is uncertainty, pettiness and betrayal.” This sentence beautifully synthesizes the theme, tone, and message of All Green Shall Perish. In spite of the somber conclusion, never in doubt, what draws and holds the reader’s attention is the defenseless lyric affirmation of the human condition that is sensed throughout Mallea’s requiem for Ágata Cruz.

Another theme, secondary in All Green Shall Perish but central to Mallea, is the search for authenticity in a specifically Argentine context. In Historia de una pasión argentina (1937; history of an Argentine passion) and other essays which probe the Argentine national character, Mallea advocates a spiritually authentic Argentina as opposed to a shadowy and successful materialism. In this context, it is clear that Ágata and, to a lesser extent, Nicanor, represent aspects of the “invisible Argentina” as opposed to the inauthentic “visible Argentina” of Sotero, Romo, and Ema de Volpe.

Yet it is in universal terms that All Green Shall Perish is best understood. The capacity to struggle against one’s fate and to suffer is equated with authenticity and emerges as the supreme human value of Mallea’s fiction.