*Buenos Aires. Capital of Argentina and the primary setting of the novel. Argentina’s only major urban center, Buenos Aires is represented as an essentially heterogeneous metropolis, populated by immigrants from all over the world who maintain many of their cultural traditions and have not yet succeeded in synthesizing them into a homogeneous, organic community. This view is often expressed in terms of the unplanned jumbling together of various foreign styles of architecture, which effectively symbolizes the diverse and often incompatible influences that characterize the city’s intellectual as well as social life.
The manner in which Tregua presents an objective account of his subjective impressions of Buenos Aires is central to the narrative’s thematic and stylistic concerns. Although often critical of the banality and immaturity of his fellow citizens, Martín is so alert to the subtle nuances of Buenos Aires that even his harshest comments display an affecting sensitivity. His extraordinarily active mind registers its perceptions of place in graphic detail as well as reverent contemplation and often interrupts the novel’s linear organization of plot events to do so. Thus, descriptions of Tregua’s frequent walks along the city’s streets are typically interspersed with paragraphs that record strings of sense impressions that seem to have no obvious relation to what he is doing or thinking. For example, while he muses about the meaning of life when he is on his way to an appointment, his stream-of-conscious thoughts are suspended while he takes note of the wetness of the sidewalks, the movement of the traffic, the sparkling windows of tall office buildings, and the behavior of women soliciting charitable donations by jingling coins in small earthen bowls.
Although this is to some extent part of the process of scene setting that every writer of fiction undertakes, Eduardo Mallea’s approach to this task is a distinctive as well as remarkably effective one. His seamless integration of places and persons represents human nature as inextricably interwoven with the material circumstances in which it originates and develops; the conventional barriers between the mind and...
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