Doña Bárbara

by Rómulo Gallegos

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Doña Bárbara is a novel by Rómulo Gallegos that examines the corruption and disintegration of a family's structure due to selfishness. Two powerful and wealthy ranch owners violently fight over claims over the plantation. I've selected a couple of quotes from the novel below.

"The hares of the dawn"—the ingenuous metaphor of the cowboy poet—are the little round clouds on the horizon behind the dark fringe of the thicket, golden in the sunrise.

The setting of the novel is essential to the narrative. Doña Bárbara can be viewed by literary critics as a form of fictional ethnography due to its depiction of a local culture. Gallegos explores the rich history and multilayered culture of the plains region of central Venezuela. The people of Apure state in Venezuela have a long history of cattle herding and ranching, and thus it developed a "cowboy" culture. In this culture, the land is the most important aspect of life. Their livelihood is completely dependent on the land, which gives a context on why the bloody rivalry between the two landowning families is intense. The above quote paints a portrait of the Apure cowboy awake early at dawn like an energetic and industrious hare. The symbolic cowboy in the passage is also depicted as a cloud in the horizon, which is a romanticization of the cowboy life and iconography. However, the "round clouds" also symbolize one of the main characters who moves to the city with his mother. The passage shows that while cowboys may drift away like clouds, they will always return to the land they love—which is what the main character does at the end of the story.

They belong to an inferior race, cruel, gloomy, and entirely unlike the inhabitants of the Plain.

The context of this quote is a reference to a passenger on a train with one of the main characters. Gallegos describes this passenger as "Asiatic" in appearance. Although to readers this passage is interpreted as a racist observation that serves no purpose in the arc of the story, the quote illustrates the mentality of the wealthy ranch owners of the Plain. This perception that those who don't fit the wealthy landowner class are inferior illustrates the social and economic structures explored in the novel. For instance, one of the matriarchs of the warring families opines that the rural Plain region is filled with savages and uncultured people, which refers to the wealthy landowners she is related to. She believes that Caracas is modern and more civilized in comparison. Therefore, there are different levels of perception between the social classes: the landowners believe they are superior, but those outside the Plain region believe that it is those who live on the Plain who are inferior.

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