Literary Techniques

Puig's highly innovative techniques are what are most often commented on by critics of his novels. The most obvious of these is his use of popular culture in the form of movies, tangos, advertisements, and soap operas. For this reason his novels have been described as an amalgamation of "high" and "low" culture.

Puig has said that he prefers copying to creating, and this is perhaps a key to his unique style. Betrayed by Rita Hayworth consists of a series of manuscripts, interior monologues, and conversations recorded over a period of fifteen years. Rather than developing full-blown characters and weaving complex plots, he practices what Roland Barthes has called "zero degree" writing. This is style at its most transparent: writing as a window on reality. The author seldom intrudes into the text and, in fact, avoids all third person narration. Puig's intent in Betrayed by Rita Hayworth was to let the people he had known present their own characters and speak in their own voices with their unique style and vocabulary. The result is a "gallery of voices" technique, which shows Puig to be a master stylist. And while Puig is ever the invisible and nonjudgmental author, the result of the technique often borders on playfulness and parody.

The montage technique that Puig borrows from film allows him to juxtapose images and build on his theme through repetition and contrast rather than logical development. As with many contemporary...

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Social Concerns

Manuel Puig's first novel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth is set in a small Argentine town called Coronel Vallejos, which was modeled on the village of General Villegas in which the author grew up. As might be expected, it abounds with local color and, like most of Puig's work, has a strong strain of social realism. In portraying a wide range of the town's varied inhabitants, Puig focuses on the cultural, political and social myths by which they live. These characters present themselves through a series of interior monologues in which they reveal their values and concerns: the cultural attitudes, religious beliefs, and assorted dreams that have shaped their lives. Primary among these is the influence of the Hollywood vision that has filtered into their unfulfilled lives and shaped their perceptions of reality. The romantic ideal presented by the cinema and other influences from popular culture, such as escapist fiction and popular songs, is contrasted to the everyday lives of the characters and the harsher reality of their dirt floors, class consciousness, crude sexuality, and limited prospects for bettering themselves.

Puig's chief social concern is also the theme of the novel: the betrayal of the individual by the particular illusion he or she embraces. Puig examines the origin of such illusions as well as the manner in which environment determines personality. A case in point is the fascination with gangster movies that one character reveals in a...

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Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bacarisse, Pamela. The Necessary Dream: A Study of the Novels of Manuel Puig. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble, 1988. Chapters on the major novels. The introduction provides a useful overview of Puig’s career and themes. Includes notes and bibliography.

Kerr, Lucille. Suspended Fictions: Reading Novels by Manuel Puig. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Chapters on each of Puig’s major novels, exploring the themes of tradition, romance, popular culture, crime, sex, and the design of Puig’s career. Contains detailed notes but no bibliography.

Lavers, Norman. Pop Culture into Art: The Novels of Manuel Puig. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. Lavers finds a close relationship between Puig’s life and his literary themes. Biography, in this case, helps to explain the author’s methods and themes.

Magnarelli, Sharon. The Lost Rib: Female Characters in the Spanish-American Novel. Toronto: Associate University Presses, 1985. In “Betrayed by the Cross-Stitch,” Magnarelli provides a close reading and feminist analysis of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.

Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. New York: Twayne, 1993. The best introduction to Puig. In addition to providing useful survey of Puig’s career in his introduction, Tittler devotes separate chapters to the novels. Chapter seven discusses Puig’s theatrical scripts, screenplays, and short stories. Includes detailed notes and an annotated bibliography.

Wheaton, Kathleen. “The Art of Fiction: Manuel Puig.” The Paris Review 31 (Winter, 1989): 129-147. An intensive exploration of Puig’s themes and techniques.

Literary Precedents

Whenever Puig is asked about literary influences, he denies that he comes from any literary tradition, insists that he does not read much fiction, admits to having casually leafed through Ulysses (1922), and claims that the greatest influence on his work was an extra literary one: the cinema. However, his use of cinematic techniques together with other aspects of his style make his work most closely resemble the French new novel. The new novelists, such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes, imitate the cinema by presenting sharp visual images and by recreating "things" in all their concrete reality. Often, this amounts to a cataloguing of external objects as can be seen repeatedly in Heartbreak Tango, 1969 ("On the wall opposite the bed a window, on one side of it a mantelpiece laden with dolls, all with natural hair and movable eyes, and on the other side a bureau with a mirror"). The pared-down style that is evident here is another characteristic of the new novel, for in order to present "things" in a cinematic fashion, the author must not intrude in the text.

There is also a degree of mystery in this style of writing. For the sake of realism, the author does not pretend omniscience or draw conclusions for the reader. Thus, the reader is often required to piece together the available evidence in order to fully understand a situation. For instance, when Puig reproduces a character's letter in Heartbreak Tango with a generic salutation, the reader must decipher...

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