Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449

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Goytisolo’s early novels, Juego de manos (1954; The Young Assassins, 1959), Duelo en el paraiso (1955; Children of Chaos, 1958), and Fiestas (1958; English translation, 1960), attacked the repression and psychological deprivation of Franco’s Spain in a conventional narrative style typical of social realism. The publication of Marks of Identity represents a significant shift in the development of Goytisolo’s fiction. His disillusionment with the possibilities of traditional fiction, and with the values and mores of Western society, becomes evident in the first novel of the Exile Trilogy and then more pronounced in Count Julian and Juan the Landless. His disenchantment with the repressive society created by the regime of Franco, his pessimism, and his experimentation with narrative form are not unique for his time. They are also evident in the work of other Spanish novelists of the postwar period, such as Carmen Laforet, Luis Martin-Santos, Juan Marse, and, most of all, Juan Benet. Goytisolo’s view of the corrupted, obscenely degenerate nature of Western society, however, is the most disturbing. It is a nihilistic vision that offers no hope for redemption within the boundaries of Western concepts of morality.

The novelist’s emphasis on the analysis of the role of language is one of the significant aspects of the trilogy, for it makes coherent the maze of obscene, perverted portrayals of a wide range of cultural and historical signs. Goytisolo is destroying an intricate complex of myths associated with Western culture and Hispanic tradition, myths that are entrenched in and inseparable from the language that has conveyed them and kept them entrenched in the European experience for centuries. The “marks of identity” of Alvaro Mendiola—his race, profession, class, family, and homeland—can be conceptualized only in terms of language. The destruction of those marks is possible only through the annihilation of language itself.

The theme of the trilogy, then, is closely linked with the cultural context in which it was created. The destruction of the myths of Western society and, more specifically, of Spanish society is effected through the destruction of the language that embodies them. The trilogy presents the process of annihilation through an innovative historical metaphor—the Arab invasion of Spain, reenacted in its most terrible form, as the subjugation of the sexually repressed Spanish society to the violent, licentious carnality of the Arab world. The perverted fantasies of the narrator in Count Julian and Juan the Landless become a demythologizing of Hispanic culture. The traditional Spanish themes of purity of the blood and of the spirit are contaminated by visions of penis worship, anal intercourse, sodomy, defecation, vaginal fixations, masturbation, and by the prevailing theme of the pollution of Spanish blood with the poisonous semen of the African.