Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

El Señor Presidente by Miguel Ángel Asturias explores the effects of a military dictatorship on the people living under it by showing the rise and fall of both a person who was in favor with the president and one who wasn't. They lose their standing in society—and eventually their lives.

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The two characters who experience the most dramatic falls are General Canales and Miguel Angel Face. General Canales is a rival of the president whom the president frames for murder at the beginning of the novel. Rather than arrest and execute him, the president sends Angel Face to warn Canales to flee.

Canales goes on a journey to escape arrest and imprisonment. He sees the effect of the dictatorship on the poor people living in smaller towns without access to the things that people in favor in the cities have. As he explores the way that the president and his government make life harder for the people of the country, he comes to realize how deeply awful the corruption is. He plans to overthrow the president.

Angel Face, on the other hand, is close to the president and is the one who helps him carry out his plan to frame Canales for murder. Staying in line essentially gives Angel Face a guarantee of a good life. However, he falls in love with the daughter of General Canales when he kidnaps her and is appalled when he realizes that no one will take her in because of the accusations against her father. They're too worried about offending the president.

Angel Face struggles with his life as an advisor to the president, his feelings for the general's daughter, whom he marries, and the sense that things he's doing for the president aren't right. Ultimately he chooses Camila, is betrayed by people he works with and the president, and dies in prison. Even someone deeply embedded in the system isn't safe.

General Canales also dies after he finds out—falsely—that the president attended the wedding of Camila to Angel Face.

The fates of other people connected with the president also show how a dictatorship isn't a safe environment for anyone. Lucio Vasquez is an ally of Angel Face and the president and still ends up in jail under the regime. His counterpart, Genaro Rodas, loses his wife and child. His wife is taken in for questioning about the general's escape. She's tortured, and, as a result, her child is unable to feed from her breasts and dies.

Under the president's dictatorship, no one is safe—even if they hold a high position and favor. That type of government causes people to live with anxiety and fear. It causes the downfall of not only a country but the people who make up the country. El Señor Presidente shows this downfall on every level, from Angel Face to the villagers the general meets during his escape.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

Cathedral

Cathedral. Unnamed cathedral in whose shadow the novel opens as the sleep of several homeless men is disturbed by a police officer who starts to taunt a mentally disturbed man, who in turn inadvertently kills him. In medieval Europe, cathedrals were once places where those pursued for any reason could take refuge without fear of reprisal. However, this is decidedly not true in this unnamed country, where everyone from the rejects of society to the one-time elite may suffer arbitrary and senseless violence in any location, including a church.

Presidential palace

Presidential palace. Home of the dictator of the unnamed country, “el presidente” of the novel’s title. There, the ruthless president and his henchmen make arbitrary decisions about life and death, based upon their own selfish and greedy motives. Opposites abound in the palace. The beautiful—such as the president’s aide Angel Face—are evil, the powerful are duplicitous, and friendship and personal loyalty cannot be trusted.

General Canales’s house

General Canales’s house. Home of General Eusebio Canales, a once-trusted ally of the president, whom the president falsely suspects of involvement in the death of the colonel killed at the cathedral. The general’s home is invaded and destroyed by officials, and he and his daughter, Camila, must flee. The president’s own aide, Angel Face, later falls in love with Camila and takes her under his protection in his own home, but even his house proves to be unsafe.

Two-Step Tavern

Two-Step Tavern. Public house where Camila, a fugitive general’s daughter, is nursed back to health and protected. Drinking places are ordinarily associated with society’s excesses and sins and are not regarded as places of safety. In the novel, however, the Two-Step Tavern is just the opposite: a true sanctuary. In this regard, it contrasts sharply with police headquarters, where a woman named Fedina is detained by the police, who prevent her from feeding her baby until it dies, while demanding that she provide information about a situation she knows nothing about.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 191

Calan, Richard. Miguel Ángel Asturias. New York: Twayne, 1970. Calan devotes two lengthy chapters to El Señor Presidente. “El Señor Presidente” is an overview of the major themes and technical strategies in the novel. In “Babylonian Mythology in El Señor Presidente,” Calan argues that Asturias relies on themes and imagery derived not just from Mayan mythology, as scholars have long noted, but also from Babylonian mythology.

Campion, Daniel. “Eye of Glass, Eye of Truth: Surrealism in El Señor Presidente.” Hispanic Journal 3 (Fall, 1981): 123-135. Campion’s essay is a helpful analysis of Asturias’ style in the novel.

Himelblau, Jack. “Chronological Deployment of Fictional Elements in Miguel Ángel Asturias’ El Señor Presidente.” Hispanic Journal 12 (Fall, 1991): 181-209.

Martin, Gerald. “Miguel Ángel Asturias: El Señor Presidente.” In Landmarks of Modern Latin American Fiction, edited by Philip Swanson. London: Routledge, 1990. Martin’s essay is a fine overview of the central issues in the novel.

Prieto, René. Miguel Ángel Asturias’ Archaeology of Return. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Prieto discusses the novel in a broader context of Asturias’ life and work. Specifically addressed are surrealism, sexuality, and Dionysian elements in the novel.

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