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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 879

In The Death of Artemio Cruz, Fuentes’s most widely known novel, Cruz uses his memory to fight against death; Fuentes uses his novel to fight for the memory of the original ideals of the Mexican Revolution, subsequently forgotten and betrayed. The text that Artemio Cruz narrates during the final twelve hours of his life is perhaps his final attempt at domination before he is conquered by death. Struggles for power, however, pervade not only individual relations within the novel but also social relations. The hunger for power consumes not only Cruz as an individual but also society at large. During the Mexican Revolution, the original impetus of the struggle was fragmented, its spirit weakened by the power struggles of its generals; in the years following the revolution, the disruptive desire for power persists, in Fuentes’s view.

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Private power struggles, fragmenting and disintegrating intimate relations, are most fully developed in the war between Artemio and his wife, Catalina. The tension between the couple is only one manifestation of the continual play of opposing forces in the novel. Like Cruz, who is divided between past and present, body and mind, love and domination, Mexico is divided between the rich and the poor, Spanish and Indian heritages, modern buildings and ancient ruins, revolutionary ideals and mundane compromises. Compressed into the mind of one man, as he lies dying, these divisions take on urgency and universal significance.

The confrontation between memory and death continues throughout the novel. It motivates the most striking aspect of the novel—the division of the text into three different modes of narration and three different verb tenses. The interest of the novel depends to a large extent on the carefully orchestrated interplay between the different voices of Cruz.

With few exceptions, Artemio narrates the entire book. His sickness and imminent death are recounted in the first person and present tense; his meditations and desires in the second person and the future tense; and the events of his past life in the third person and the past tense. While the persons and tenses of the voices are clear, the perspectives of the voices preclude precise descriptions, since they share many images and ideas. They are often described as three distinct parts of the mind: the conscious, the subconscious, and the unconscious. These three different voices demonstrate the coexistence of Cruz’s separate selves.

The novel reveals a continual interplay of historical and individual forces. Fuentes’s technique is to alternate the three voices in brief sections rather than to present three long narratives, a technique that heightens the tension that the reader experiences between sympathy for and condemnation of Cruz. The shifting perspectives make the choice difficult.

From the novel’s central focus on the conflicts within Cruz, the reader moves outward to the conflicts that divide Mexican society as a whole, particularly to the problems posed by the Mexican Revolution. Fuentes has compressed approximately 150 years of Mexican history into the novel. As in Cruz’s personal story, so in the historical panorama of Mexico the narrative moves backward in search of origins.

Through the figure of Cruz’s paternal grandmother, Ludivinia Menchaca, the historical narrative begins in 1810, the year of her birth and the year of the first revolution, the war of independence from Spain. Cruz’s grandmother embodies the old order, the landed aristocracy, which resisted reform movements even back in the mid-nineteenth century. Artemio Cruz is born on her family’s land...

(The entire section contains 879 words.)

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