Don Segundo Sombra

by Ricardo Güiraldes

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Places Discussed

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Fabio’s village

Fabio’s village. Small Argentine village where Fabio lives with two aunts as a boy. The opening chapters of the novel describe the village as having forty blocks of flat houses and streets as monotonous as a prison. Village life represents order, structure, and civilization. Fabio flees his dull home in search of adventure in the countryside.

La Blanqueada

La Blanqueada (blahn-KAY-ahdah). Village saloon in which Fabio often hangs out while playing hooky from school. Occasionally, he makes a lot of money by selling his freshly caught catfish to the owner. Otherwise, Fabio wastes time, gossiping and playing pranks on the seedy characters who frequent the bar. The saloon symbolizes the wasteful and destructive side of village life. Ironically, it is here that Fabio first encounters his mentor, Don Segundo.

Galván’s ranch

Galván’s ranch (gahl-VAHN). Ranch of Don Leandro Galván, to which Fabio flees from his aunts’ home in the middle of the night, following Don Segundo there. He is hired as a ranch hand and taught the ways of the gaucho. After much struggle, he tames his first wild horse and ropes his first steer. Fabio thoroughly enjoys the physically demanding work but is slow to adjust. He tries extremely hard to prove his courage and strength to the gauchos. He admires the camaraderie among these rugged cowboys and soon joins them around campfires for boastful stories, fire-roasted beef, and maté, a hot tea made from shrubs.

At the end of the novel, Fabio returns to Galvan’s ranch after an absence of more than five years. After going through life thinking himself an orphan, Fabio learns that a father he never knew, Don Fabio Cáceres, has died and left him his ranch and fortune. Don Leandro becomes the legal guardian of Fabio, who is not yet eighteen. Fabio thus begins and completes his journey toward maturity at Galvan’s ranch, which represents a blissful middle ground between the adventure-filled but dangerous pampa and the boring predictability of village life.


*Pampas (PAHM-pahs). Wide, open plains of Argentina, in which most of the novel takes place. Fabio persuades Don Leandro to let him participate in his first cattle drive, for half salary. Although Fabio initially fails to saddle his first colt and injures himself while trying, he eventually learns to ride like a true gaucho. His struggle to live as a cowboy only strengthens his character. He develops a sense of fairness and gains courage as he wanders across the enormous plains. Fabio often describes the open road of the pathless pampa in idyllic terms. The limitless landscape and the distant horizon represent freedom and the human lust for adventure.

At other times, however, Fabio describes the land as cruel and dangerous. When the dry, yellow land does not have enough water, cattle stampede in fear. In another instance, the gauchos come across a swamp that threatens to swallow man and beast whole. During these battles of man against nature, Fabio struggles, but eventually triumphs over adversity. The day-to-day difficulties of a gaucho’s labor mark significant milestones in Fabio’s journey toward maturity.

Fabio’s mentor, Don Segundo, embodies the mysteries of the pampa. A man of silence, he represents both the danger and the adventure of pastoral life. His surname, Sombra, means “shadow” in Spanish and symbolizes the shadows into which the heyday of the gaucho is passing. Don Segundo is the last of a dying breed. After he helps Fabio establish the ranch the boy has inherited from his father, Don Segundo rides off into the sunset. While Fabio must now accept the sedentary life of a landowner, Don Segundo...

(This entire section contains 622 words.)

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cannot. He returns to his true home—the pampa.


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Alonso, Carlos J. The Spanish American Regional Novel: Modernity and Autochthony. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Discusses representative novels, illustrating the search for an autochthonous artistic expression. Focuses on the complexity of Don Segundo Sombra’s discourse, noting the text’s reference to its own process of production.

Beardsell, Peter R. “Güiraldes’ Role in the Avant-Garde of Buenos Aires.” Hispanic Review 42, no. 3 (Summer, 1974): 293-309. Explores Güiraldes’ participation in the avant-garde movement of the 1920’s, and shows how this is reflected in his poetry and narrative. Concludes that Don Segundo Sombra would not have been possible without the influence of avant-garde literature.

Fitz, Earl E. Rediscovering the New World. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. Approaches the writings of the Americas as a cohesive literary type. Compares Güiraldes to writers such as Mark Twain and William Faulkner, exploring how their works transcend the local to attain the universal, representing “deep regionalism.”

Franco, Jean. Spanish American Literature Since Independence. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973. Compares Fabio’s training to a spiritual exercise and emphasizes Don Segundo’s spirituality. The regional setting of the novel is seen as conducive to attaining spiritual goals away from the industrialized world.

Vazquez Amaral, José. The Contemporary Latin American Narrative. New York: Las Americas, 1970. Includes the chapter “Ricardo Güiraldes and the Metaphysical Gaucho: Don Segundo Sombra,” in which Vazquez discusses Güiraldes’ “Argentinity” and the importance of Don Segundo Sombra as the summation of the entire literature of the gaucho.


Critical Essays