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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398

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Doña Bárbara is a 1929 fictional novel written by Venezuelan novelist and politician Rómulo Gallegos (Rómulo Ángel del Monte Carmelo Gallegos Freire). As it was written in the Criollismo movement (the Spanish regionalist literary movement), and portrays scenes, images, languages, landscapes, characters, and character’s mannerisms which are typical for Gallegos’ native country Venezuela (especially its rural environment), Doña Bárbara is considered a regionalist novel as well.

An interesting element of the novel is the fact that it was rewritten and reedited several times. In the second edition of Doña Bárbara, published in 1930, Gallegos added five chapters and rearranged the order of the existing ones. In the years to come, he made several other changes to the book’s content and structure, until he was finally satisfied with the novel’s 1954 edition.

The story follows a well-educated lawyer named Santos Luzardo, who goes back to his home village in Apure to sell his father’s land. Upon arrival, he discovers that his land is ‘owned’ by a cunning, unscrupulous, capricious, and often violent woman named Doña Bárbara Guaimarán, who apparently flirts with the men and manipulates the people to gain power.

She is the polar opposite of Santos, and her character represents the wild and barbaric side of human nature, while Santos represents the good, civilized, and calm side. In other words, they represent the clash between barbarism and civilization, hence their names: Bárbara means ‘wild’ in Spanish, while Santos means ‘Saint’ or ‘light.’ Interestingly enough, Doña Bárbara falls in love with Santos, but fails to make him reciprocate her feelings, as he falls in love with the kind Marisela.

Gallegos managed to incorporate a plethora of socially relevant themes such as love, loyalty, kindness, manipulation, abuse, corruption, violence, fragility, and the complexity of human nature. However, because of his heavy criticism of the long dictatorship of the then-Venezuelan-‘ruler’ Juan Vicente Gómez, Gallegos was forced to flee his country and take refuge in Spain, where he continued to write.

Upon publication, Doña Bárbara gained worldwide critical acclaim, with critics and other authors branding it a Venezuelan masterpiece and calling it the most influential regionalist novel ever written in Latin American, and even World, literature. Thus, it received its first English translation in 1931 and gained several adaptations for film, television, and opera.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 628


*Llano (YAH-no). Great savanna plains region of central Venezuela that represents nature in its wild and unruly state. Although beautiful and powerful, and therefore much like Santos’s nemesis, Doña Bárbara, the plains resist the order and discipline of any civilizing force. Danger lurks in the muddy, alligator-filled quagmires that threaten to consume interlopers whole. Rómulo Gallegos provides a poetic description of the enormous prairie. This region, with its unbroken horizon, conveys a sense of solitude and loneliness.


Altamira (ahl-tah-MEER-ah). Ranch on which Santos grows up and to which he returns after completing his university studies. Santos maintains an ambivalent relationship with his family estate. When he returns to Altamira, he finds it overgrown with neglect and thinks about selling it. Soon, however, he learns of Doña Bárbara’s underhanded schemes to cheat him out of his property, and decides to stay and put up a fight. Resolving to end the dispute by civilized means, he attempts to defend his claim legally, through the courts. Meanwhile, he struggles to tame the wild savanna, as well as stem Doña Bárbara’s greed. Eventually, he puts up a fence to mark the border of his property. Santos’s ultimate triumph over Doña Bárbara represents a victory for civilization over barbarism. In Spanish, Altamira signifies highmindedness. In the novel, the law prevails over unbridled power.

El Miedo

El Miedo (ehl mee-AY-doh). Ranch owned by the Luzardo family’s rival, the Barquero family, until Doña Bárbara, a beautiful woman of humble origins and a violent past, swindles Lorenzo Barquero out of its title. Doña Bárbara—whose name resembles the Spanish word for barbarism—dabbles in the occult and otherwise takes advantage of the dark forces of nature.

El Miedo, which means “fear” in Spanish, represents the danger and power of barbarism. Where Santos builds a fence to contain his land, Doña Bárbara sets fire to her fields in an attempt to encourage growth. Her ranch hands steal and brand the stray cattle from Santos’s fields and move the boundary posts that mark the division between El Miedo and Altamira. At the end of the novel, Doña Bárbara mysteriously disappears and leaves her estate to her estranged daughter, Marisela. Marisela marries Santos, and El Miedo becomes part of Altamira. Thus, highmindedness, or civilization, triumphs over fear, the ruling principle of barbarism.


*Caracas (kahr-AH-kahs). Capital of Venezuela, to which Santos moves as an adolescent, along with his mother. The two flee the Altamira ranch after Don José’s violent and deadly rage against his eldest son, Felix. In Caracas, which symbolizes civilization, the passions that led to Don José’s and Felix’s deaths are constrained by law and order. At first, Santos finds the city dull and longs to return to the adventures of his childhood in the plains. Soon, however, he embraces the discipline and culture of the city and longs to flee his homeland for the civilization of Europe. In Caracas, Santos studies law and excels at many intellectual pursuits. At the university, he first speaks out against the barbarism of the plains.

Barquero house

Barquero house (bahr-KEH-roh). Dilapidated shack in which Lorenzo, once an ambitious student in Caracas, now lives as a pathetic drunk—another of Doña Bárbara’s victims whose uncivilized dwelling represents the consequence of unchecked barbarism. Once the owner of the Barquero ranch, El Miedo, Lorenzo lives with Marisela, the daughter he had with Doña Bárbara.

The Lick

The Lick. Stretch of savanna crossing the creek that Lorenzo Barquero sells to Señor Danger, an unscrupulous American capitalist who wants to usurp the fertile plain. He bribes the addicted Lorenzo with liquor.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

Alonso, Carlos J. “‘Otra sería mi historia’: Allegorical Exhaustion in Doña Bárbara.” Modern Language Notes 104 (March, 1989): 418-438. Examines symbolic figures and the presence of allegorical constructions in Gallegos’ novel.

Amaral, José Vázquez. “Rómulo Gallegos and the Drama of Civilization on the South American Plains: Doña Bárbara.” In The Contemporary Latin American Narrative. New York: Las Américas Publishing, 1970. Discusses the social background of the characters and provides information about the locale and how Gallegos used it in the development of his plot.

Brushwood, John S. “The Year of Doña Bárbara (1929).” In The Spanish American Novel: A Twentieth Century Survey. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. Analyzes the novel’s characterization and narrative techniques, and situates Doña Bárbara in the development of the Spanish American novel.

Englekirk, John E. “Doña Bárbara, Legend of the Llano.” Hispania 31, no. 3 (August, 1948): 259-270. Explains the actual terrain of the novel and compares the real characters with their fictitious counterparts.

Spell, Jefferson Rea. “Rómulo Gallegos, Interpreter of the Llanos of Venezuela.” In Contemporary Spanish-American Fiction. New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1968. An excellent starting point for a study of Doña Bárbara. Discusses the novel’s depiction of the struggle between civilization and barbarism.


Critical Essays