Doña Bárbara is the novel of the llanos, the tropical grassland bordering the Orinoco River in the center of Venezuela, a republic almost as large as America’s Southwest. The llanos had once supplied the cavalry that filled General Simon Bolívar’s revolutionary army’s ranks, giving it victory over Spain’s Royalist armies during Venezuela’s war of independence from Spain. Next to the geography itself, the ranchwoman Doña Bárbara, who symbolizes barbarism, is the most clearly etched character, for she is a wild, dreadful, beautiful half-breed from beyond the remotest tributaries of the Orinoco. Her very name reeks of barbarism. Opposite her is Santos Luzardo, who symbolizes the civilizing energy that is trying to penetrate the llanos’s savagery and tame it.
Rómulo Gallegos uses symbols for barbarism, such as the great tolvaneras, or whirlwinds, that periodically flay the llanos. There are also rampaging herds of horses and steers; a midnight-black stallion as savage as Satan before Santos tames him; the power of flowing rivers and currents; a fire that scorches the plains and leaves a swath of blackened embers behind; and, evoking the violent spirit of the llanos, the llanero horsemen who threaten to destroy any tendrils of civilization that come within reach. Gallegos describes the area’s beauties—the flowers, sunset tints, breezes, white clouds, rains, and pink herons—but ever lurking in the background is the malaria that earlier had nearly depopulated the llanos and had caused the region’s inexorable decline.
(The entire section is 651 words.)