(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A wealthy Cuban merchant dies in Havana, leaving behind an orphaned son and daughter, Carlos and Sofía, and a nephew, Esteban, also an orphan who grew up with Carlos and Sofía. In the absence of paternal authority, the three adolescents are free to pass the time as they wish. They eat and sleep at odd hours and transform the family mansion into a house of “perpetual games,” a disorderly labyrinth of unpacked shipping crates. Their harmonious existence in the midst of external chaos is brought to an abrupt end, however, when Victor Hugues, a cosmopolitan businessman from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, arrives one stormy Easter Sunday. Victor, executor of their father’s will, restores order to the house and assumes the role of surrogate father. He restores the old values of their deceased father and introduces both Esteban and Sofía into the world of adulthood. He also introduces the young people to the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. When Victor, a Freemason, is threatened with arrest by the colonial authorities because of his subversive ideas, Sofía offers the family’s country home as a refuge to him and his friend, Ogé, a mulatto doctor from San Domingo. Sofía and Esteban accompany the two men to the estate. There they become fascinated by heated political discussions about revolution, class war, liberty, and equality.

Although Victor and Ogé use the same language in their discussions about the necessity for social change, Victor, though he upholds the egalitarian principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, is primarily concerned with business. For him, the advanced ideas of the New Age are important because they challenge the colonial monopoly of trade in the Americas. He is one of several Creole merchants who set up a contraband organization to circumvent specifically the Spanish monopoly. His mission in Havana is to contact local merchants sympathetic to Freemasonry and to form a secret organization to combat the economic tyranny of Spain, but he finds little active interest in social issues among the Cubans.

In contrast to Victor, Ogé, though a man of science, espouses...

(The entire section is 876 words.)