Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca Criticism - Essay

Henry R. Wagner (essay date 1937)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca: Alvar,” in The Spanish Southwest, 1542-1794: An Annotated Bibliography, Part I, Arno Press, 1967, pp. 42-50.

[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in 1937, Wagner cautions against looking at the Relación as an accurate historical document because it appears that many sections were added later by editors hoping to increase book sales and also because the explorer's apparent reticence in describing the land and resources was designed to prevent further exploration that would interfere with his own dreams of personal glory and fortune.]

The first person to attack the general credibility of [Cabeza de Vaca]...

(The entire section is 2652 words.)

Thomas McGann (essay date 1960)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Ordeal of Cabeza de Vaca,” in American Heritage, Vol. 12, No. 1, December 1960, pp. 32-7; 78-82.

[In the following essay, McGann recounts the major adventures of Cabeza de Vaca as described in the Relación]

A crude boat carrying forty exhausted Spaniards drifted close to the long Texas beach. “Near dawn it seemed to me that the tumbling roar of the sea could be heard. Surprised, I called the boatswain and he replied that we were near the coast. We sounded and found ourselves in seven fathoms. It seemed to the boatswain that we ought to keep to sea until sunrise and I took an oar and pulled on the land side until we were a league off-shore. Then we...

(The entire section is 6643 words.)

Cyclone Covey (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Preface to Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, translated by Cyclone Covey, University of New Mexico Press, 1997, pp. 7-17.

[In the following preface to his 1961 translation of the Relación, Covey argues that the explorer's adventures are fascinating for more than their tales of survival and Native American customs, as they also show his transformation from a Spanish conquistador into a visionary whose compassion for native peoples would tragically be ignored by subsequent Spanish expeditions.]

This sixteenth-century odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca's is one of the great true epics of history. It is the semi-official report to the...

(The entire section is 3455 words.)

José Fernández (essay date 1975)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Some Observations on the Style and Language of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca,” in Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: The Forgotten Chronicler, Ediciones Universal, 1975, pp. 125-27.

[In the following excerpt, Fernández praises the narrative quality and rich detail of the Relación,which he maintains amply compensate for the author's poor organization and lack of literary sophistication.]


As one of the earliest records of Spanish penetration into the North American continent, the Relación of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca has a certain literary value regardless of its style and form. This will...

(The entire section is 1453 words.)

William T. Pilkington (essay date 1983)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Epilogue to Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, translated by Cyclone Covey, University of New Mexico Press, 1997, pp. 145-51.

[The following essay was first published in 1983 as an afterword appended to a reissue of Cyclone Covey's 1961 translation of the Relación. Pilkington argues that the literary importance of the Relación outweighs its historical significance, stressing that its racial themes, allegorical style, and parable of the human spirit have come to characterize American literature.]

“How shall a man endure the will of God and the days of the silence?” asks the narrator of Archibald MacLeish's poem...

(The entire section is 2213 words.)

Lee W. Dowling (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Story vs. Discourse in the Chronicle of the Indies: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion,” in Hispanic Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1984, pp. 89-99.

[In the following essay, Dowling claims that one of the most interesting elements of the Relación is its tension between historical and fictional narrative.]

One of the most abundant types of Latin American Colonial writings, the chronicle of the Indies, has proven to be at the same time one of the most difficult for literary critics to approach.1 The purely historical approach preferred by historians, geographers, and ethnographers tends to pursue the referent while neglecting...

(The entire section is 5082 words.)

Peter Wild (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Boise State University, 1991, pp. 1–51.

[In the following study, Wild argues that Cabeza de Vaca's account of the years he spent lost and near death in North America has many elements of the modern novel and that the explorer masterfully blends factual events with literary devices to win favor for himself and gain support for his conviction that Native Americans were more likely to be conquered with a loving Christianity than the conquistador's sword.]


Recounting his adventures on an unknown continent, Cabeza de Vaca passes on a story he heard in an Indian village:


(The entire section is 14847 words.)

Rolena Adorno (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Negotiation of Fear in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios,” in Representations, Vol. 33, Winter 1991, pp. 163-99.

[In the following essay, Adorno traces the evolution of Cabeza de Vaca from slave to shaman and argues that the most important theme of his narrative—namely the peace and resettlement the explorer initiated in lands devastated by earlier sadistic conquistadors—has been largely ignored by critics.]


When the Gentleman of Elvas begins his account of the expedition of Hernando de Soto to Florida, he tells how a certain hidalgo (nobleman) arrived at court after the concession to de Soto had been...

(The entire section is 17941 words.)

Martin A. Favata and José Fernández (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Martin A. Favata and José Fernández (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Introduction to The Account: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación, translated by Martin A. Favata and José Fernández, Arte Público Press, 1993, pp. 11-19.

[In the following essay, Favata and Fernández recount details fromCabeza de Vaca's life, his route through North America, and the literary qualities of his chronicle.]

During Spain's process of exploration and conquest in the Western Hemisphere, the chronicle, a traditional genre in Spanish literature, continued to be written by the participants in this enterprise. Many of these men were neither learned scholars nor creators...

(The entire section is 3606 words.)

Enrique Pupo-Walker (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to Castaways: The Narrative of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, edited by Enrique Pupo-Walker and translated by Frances M. López-Morillas, University of California Press, 1993, pp. xv-xxx; 139-40.

[In the following introduction to a 1993 translation of the Relación, Pupo-Walker links the literary qualities of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative with medieval romances and adventure stories, and suggests that the chronicle has had a profound impact on modern Latin American fiction.]

Governor Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition that set out on “the seventeenth of June in the year fifteen hundred and twenty-seven” consisted of five ships, and crews...

(The entire section is 6366 words.)