Dear Rafe Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Dear Rafe is based on Rolando Hinojosa’s vivid experiences in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas from 1929 to 1946 as well as on his knowledge of the Korean War. Dear Rafe is a fictionalized portrayal of the area’s white power brokers and their attempts to control the economy in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Dear Rafe is divided into two parts, forming a total of forty-seven chapters and a conclusion. The first part consists of twenty-three chapters made up of Jehu Malacara’s letters to Rafe Buenrostro. The second part is made up of twenty-four chapters that deal mainly with speculation on Jehu Malacara’s mysterious departure from Klail City First National Bank in Belken County.

The book begins with Jehu’s letters to his cousin Rafe, who is recovering in Belken County War Memorial Veteran’s Hospital from wounds incurred during the Korean War. Both are now employed; Rafe, although convalescing, is an attorney and a lieutenant of detectives in the district attorney’s office in Belken County, while Jehu is the chief loan officer of the Klail City First National Bank. Jehu tells Rafe of the political activities going on in the valley. He focuses on the subtle games played by the area power brokers, mainly Noddy Perkins and Ira Escobar. Jehu is indirectly involved in various political power plays, for he not only knows who is manipulating whom but is also in charge of money being lent to selected businesses that are subsequently taken over by Klail City First National Bank. During these socioeconomic and political fracases, Jehu becomes involved with two women, the beautiful Becky, the Mexican American wife of Ira Escobar, and the younger Sammie Jo, the spoiled daughter of Noddy Perkins. Ira is so caught up in his quest to be county commissioner—giving his undivided attention and services to Noddy, who can and does make his ambitions a reality—that he is not aware of his wife’s love affair with Jehu. Sammie Jo, who has been married before and who is known to be promiscuous, is also having an affair with Jehu, perhaps because she is being neglected by her husband, Sidney. Sidney is having a homosexual relationship with a high-ranking state official, Hap Bayliss, who is also controlled by Sammie Jo’s father, Noddy. During this time, Jehu is also dating, off and on, Olivia (Ollie) San Esteban, an aspiring pharmacist in Klail City.

There are also two important minor characters in the novel. Morse Terry eventually takes Hap’s position as a Texas state representative. Terry, once a successful real-estate broker, let a big land deal fall into the hands of a group of Mexican Americans, an economic and political faux pas that caused him to fall from grace with the white power brokers, especially Noddy Perkins. The price he had to pay was to become a politician who would be controlled by Noddy. Viola Barragan is a powerful white figure in the real-estate business in Belken County and also a key figure in Jehu’s rise to a prestigious role in the Klail City First National Bank’s money-lending sector, an upward move unusual for a Mexican American. She is also Jehu’s firm supporter, regardless of his political and personal activities.

In the latter portion of the series of letters to Rafe, the reader is led to believe that Jehu gets so tired of the underhanded ploys of the white power brokers, especially Noddy, that he resigns his position as head loan officer at the Klail City First National Bank and also breaks off his relationships with Becky and Sammie Jo—especially since he has good reason to believe that Noddy has found out that he has been having an illicit affair with Noddy’s daughter. Hence Jehu goes back to his ever-faithful Ollie, who, it is believed, sells her part in a drugstore business to her brother so as to pursue a medical degree at the University of Texas at Austin. Jehu goes with her to give her his full support.

Part 2 is based on interviews with various characters in Belken County. The unnamed...

(The entire section is 1,175 words.)