Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Theme and structure come together in the novel to depict a journey on the part of the narrator-protagonist in search of spiritual and psychological wholeness. The narrator relates the story of his life as a young gunman in the Brazilian backlands in order to discover whether he made a pact with the devil and whether the devil really exists. The psychological journey of the narrator is mirrored by the journey to manhood and leadership of the young protagonist, Riobaldo.

The story is narrated in three days, consistent with the structure of Riobaldo’s adventure, which includes three threshold experiences. In the first experience, the protagonist meets Diadorim and goes for a boat ride with his new friend. The event symbolically initiates Riobaldo into the world of the backlands.

In the second, Riobaldo goes to a crossroads at midnight and calls for the devil. Although the devil does not appear, Riobaldo comes back invigorated with a power that allows him to take the leadership of the outlaw band.

In the third and last part, Riobaldo’s band defeats part of Heremógenes group and prepares for the final battle. After the initial victory, Riobaldo leaves the group briefly to look for his betrothed. In leaving the group, he also leaves behind the power that made him invincible. He later returns to the group but becomes a minor participant in the last battle, which sees Diadorim and Heremógenes die at each other’s hands.


(The entire section is 407 words.)