The Devil in Texas

by Aristeo Brito

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Devil in Texas is a novel by Mexican-American writer Aristeo Brito. The author—who was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas—is a prominent figure in Chicano literature. The short novel centers on the lives of a Mexican American family in the border town of Presidio, Texas. The novel has a somber atmosphere and a biblical tone that resembles Joshua's wandering in the desert for decades, trying to reach the Promised Land despite tribulations (Joshua 1-24). The story is also reminiscent of One Hundred Years of Solitude, both in terms of setting and the mixture of realism with the fantastical.

Brito's novel depicts sharecropping in southwestern Texas during the twentieth century, and how many working-class families had to depend on seasonal agricultural work for survival. The vivid symbolism of the dusty Texas desert represents death, hellish terrain, and a time when no source of income could be attained. The barren wasteland is haunted by the Devil himself and the family has to fight him off. The Devil represents the hardships in their life, whether he comes in the form of a drought or a tragedy. When the seasonal work returns along with the growth of the Rio Grande Valley vegetation, it marks a victory over the Devil, and a sense of hope and renewal.

It is also interesting to note that the town's name, Presidio, is the Spanish term for a military fort, but it could also be used to refer to a military prison. In this small border town, the protagonists have to go to war with the Devil. It is also a place where some of the family members—especially the younger ones—feel they are stuck, or incarcerated. In the story, one of the sons is arrested for dodging the draft, thus further emphasizing the themes of military and imprisonment.

Through their struggles, the multi-generational Chicano family learn the complicated nature of the Mexican American identity. Like a border town, they are close to both their Mexican and American roots, but never quite being one or the other fully.

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