Carlos Fuentes Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Fundamentally a realist, Carlos Fuentes’s search for the quintessence of Mexican reality often led him to its mythological roots. Yet, for him, Mexico’s Aztec, Christian, and revolutionary past is not merely a literary theme but a powerful force to be dealt with when representing contemporary society. The foremost concern of his fiction is the Mexican Revolution and its eventual betrayal, a subject that has earned for him both the hostility of the Mexican establishment and the admiration of new generations looking to him for ideological leadership. The form of this literary search for Mexico’s past has been termed “Magical Realism.” Fuentes states that he has “always attempted to perceive behind the spectral appearance of things a more tangible, more solid reality than the obvious everyday reality.”

Fuentes began his literary career with a collection of six short stories, Los días enmascarados, published in 1954. In this work, the author denounces customs and primitive modes of life that he views as burdensome to modern Mexican life. The stories are fantastical. Like Aura, Fuentes’s 1962 magical novella about the desire for eternal youth, the stories contain eruptions of the fantastic into everyday life and can be included in the category of Magical Realism.

“Chac Mool”

“Chac Mool,” the first story in Los días enmascarados (and also in a later collection, Burnt Water), records the “takeover” of the protagonist, Filiberto, by a statue of the ancient rain god—the Chac Mool—that he had bought at a flea market. The Chac Mool reemerges into the twentieth century, but with this rebirth come old age and presumably death. This story illustrates well the major themes and styles of Fuentes’s fiction, since it combines the author’s penchant for fantasy and joins two periods of time—or, more precisely, it demonstrates how the past continues to be a vital element of the present. The story describes the residual impact of the primitive gods on the subconscious mind of a man who was born of Mexican heritage and who must eventually come to terms with that heritage.

Cantar de ciegos

The seven stories contained in the volume Cantar de ciegos, published in 1964, portray various psychological or social deviations; they are not magical but are often bizarre. In the ten years between the two collections, the development of the writer and artist is significant. Although Fuentes has denied any close connection between these stories and the scriptwriting that he was doing at the time, several of the stories appear to be conceived in cinematic terms. The attitude common to these stories is that modern society is decadent and that the few “decent” individuals encountered are eventually destroyed by this decadence.

The first story, “Las dos Elenas” (“The Two Elenas”), is a subtle study in amorality. It is a triple character sketch constructed around a young wife, the first Elena, her husband, Victor, and her mother, the second Elena. The wife, a very modern young woman, attempts to persuade her husband of the theoretical acceptability of a ménage á trois as a way of life. The irony is that the husband is already carrying on an affair with his mother-in-law, the second Elena. The true decadent element is that the wife is naïvely honest in her approach to the problem of marital boredom, while her husband and her mother play the game of adultery furtively, in the age-old dishonest and traditional way. The author seems to imply that so-called modern morality may actually be an innocent sort of naïveté when compared with the old dishonesty. Fuentes’s incongruous realism produces a chillingly controlled effect.

“Vieja moralidad” (“The Old Morality”), often considered the most accomplished story of the collection, again echoes the theme of loss and innocence, as it recounts the disruption of an eccentric but happy household by traditionally moral but inwardly corrupt meddlers. The provincial atmosphere, with its moral and sexual hypocrisy, links this story to the novel Las buenas conciencias (1959; The Good Conscience, 1961). In this story, the presentation is much more straightforward than in “The Two Elenas,” and amorality is again seen to be more honest than the “old morality” of the title, although now the old morality is not so much presented as decadent but rather as a form of psychological ignorance. The characters are tortured into perversion and incestuous outlet because of an unreasonable adherence to the old, hypocritical ethics of Mexican Catholicism.

Aura, Holy Place, and Cumpleaños

Aura, Holy Place, and Cumpleaños (birthday) are three novellas comprising a trilogy. In the novella...

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