El Zarco, the Bandit

by Ignacio Manuel Altamirano

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

All that is needed is a little courage.

This is spoken by Nicolas, a young man with strong principles and a good moral compass. He is replying to Manuela's mother, Doña Antonia, who believes that courage is what will win against the corruption and evil plaguing the country. Like Doña Antonia, as well as Pilar (whom he will eventually marry), Nicolas has a strong will and is not cowardly.

The principles and personalities of Nicolas and Doña Antonia are the direct opposite of those of El Zarco and Manuela. The fact that Nicolas agrees with Doña Antonia shows that they form a collective representing heroism in the novel. The act of courage is necessary, because the towns are being easily overrun and pillaged by El Zarco and his bandits. Likewise, some of the local officials are either too corrupt or too scared to fight back.

"As long as you'll always love me and let me love you, and take me away from this place."

Deeply moved by this outburst, El Zarco took her in his arms and covered her face with kisses.

The quote is from a confession of emotions by Manuela to El Zarco. Manuela and El Zarco become Bonnie and Clyde figures—two lovers who going on a criminal spree. Manuela represents the cliché literary trope of the bored small-town girl falling in love with the bad boy. Manuela is desperate to leave her middle-of-nowhere town behind and live a life of adventure and danger. El Zarco fascinates her because his lifestyle is the opposite of everything she has ever known. Their love is genuine, but it seems that Manuela is slightly more in love with the bandit than the other way around. He does love her—in a dysfunctional way. Instead of protecting her and preventing her from following in his footsteps, he makes her his partner in crime. The subplot of Manuela and El Zarco's love story is an attempt by the author to portray their humanity; they are not simply sociopaths but are capable of genuine emotions as well.

Our deaths wouldn't achieve anything.​

If there is a single sentence in the entire novel that sums up the power of El Zarco's forces, it would be this. The army of bandits is so ruthless and organized that militias and official government troops have to combine forces in order to defeat the enemy. Homicide is a normal act for El Zarco's men, so a militia member or solider dying a martyr's death wouldn't make a difference in defeating the bandits. This sentence also highlights the cosmic fight between good and evil, which are represented by various factions in the book.

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