Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 913

*Buenos Aires

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*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 the body, the animate and the inanimate, and the real and the imaginary are collapsed by Mallea’s assumption that these usually opposed categories in fact interpenetrate one another to the extent that any attempt to separate them can only be artificial. In downplaying the role of abstract thought in humanity’s understanding of experience, and in stressing that things must come into being before one can begin to think about what they mean, Mallea has many affinities with such existentialist thinkers as Søren Kierkegaard and Miguel de Unamuno; as a consequence, Bay of Silence is generally considered to be an existentialist novel.

*Argentina

*Argentina. South American nation which, in Tregua’s view, is a national entity related to, but distinct from, its major city, Buenos Aires. Whereas the latter is a perhaps excessively civilized milieu that, although complex and confusing, is all too easy to scrape along in, the Argentinean countryside is portrayed as an enigmatic, mysterious, and profound landscape that contains essential truths necessary to individual survival in the modern world. Tregua believes that there is a “submerged, healthy country” slumbering underneath the widespread social and political corruption sanctioned by Argentina’s ruling class, and much of the novel’s plot is devoted to discussions of how the necessary reforms might be achieved. Tregua’s status as a middle-class person who admires the simple authenticity of those beneath him on the social scale, while nonetheless tempted by the material comforts enjoyed by those above him, is conveyed in a number of scenes set in places of amusement: a rowdy strip club and an elegant literary reception are two notable examples of the novel’s portrayal of social class distinctions.

*Brussels

*Brussels. Capital of Belgium in which Tregua lives for several months during a prolonged visit to Europe. This is the first city other than Buenos Aires in which he has spent an appreciable amount of time, and its differences from what he is used to lead him to speculate about the factors that distinguish one urban community from another. Tregua’s characteristic sensitivity to the particularities of places leads him to discern a distinctive rhythm to the pulse of life in Brussels, which, as in the case of Buenos Aires, is demonstrated through close attention to details of architecture, landscape, and public behavior.

The most important venue of Tregua’s time in Brussels is an abandoned theater in which the city’s radical intellectuals debate the public issues of the day. The decrepitude of this building and the brilliant but ineffectual rhetoric displayed there are telling symbols of the helplessness of the European intelligentsia on the eve of World War II—the period in which the novel concludes.

*Lake Como

*Lake Como. Resort community in the Italian Alps. Tregua’s view of the fundamental irrelevance of the upper classes is conveyed in another portrait of socialites with too much money and too little sense, and whose frivolity in the face of approaching chaos he finds unendurable.

*Monte Hermoso

*Monte Hermoso. Argentinean coastal town where Tregua and the woman he loves spend an idyllic holiday. This is a modest vacation spot whose cuisine—like its guests—is wholesome rather than pretentious. Both Martín and his companion are spiritually healed by this affirmation of how Argentinean life might be revitalized by returning to the timeless truths exemplified by the country’s natural landscape.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 224

Foster, David William, and Virginia Ramos Foster. “Mallea, Eduardo.” In Modern Latin American Literature, edited by David William Foster and Virginia Ramos Foster. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. Surveys Mallea’s production by providing excerpts from critical studies by various critics. A good introduction to Mallea’s most famous works.

Gertel, Zunilda. “Mallea’s Novel: An Inquiry into Argentine Character.” In Retrospect: Essays on Latin American Literature, edited by Elizabeth Rogers and Timothy Rogers. York, S.C.: Spanish Literature, 1987. A short analysis that concentrates on Mallea’s oeuvre and indicates his contribution to the formation of contemporary Argentine society. Focuses on Mallea’s literary and political importance.

Lewald, H. Ernest. Eduardo Mallea. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Excellent introduction to Mallea’s life and works. Provides an overview of his works and gives strong biographical and historical background.

Mallea, Eduardo. History of an Argentine Passion. Translated by Myron Lichtblau. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Latin American Literary Review, 1983. Mallea’s autobiographical accounts as they relate to the history of Buenos Aires and to his own literary works. Essential for readers interested in the influence of Mallea’s autobiographical writings on his fictional works.

Polt, John Herman Richard. The Writings of Eduardo Mallea. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. In-depth analysis of Mallea’s literary production. Places strong emphasis on contemporary literary theories. A good source for advanced readers of Mallea’s works.

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