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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

Alejandro Carpentier's Explosion in a Cathedral (Spanish: El Siglo de las Luces) is a commentary on the Cuban Revolution as well as, more generally, a nuanced portrait of the concept of revolution as it is played out among island nations. First published in 1962, the novel follows closely on the heels of the Cuban Revolution, wherein Fulgencio Battista's military dictatorship (which allied itself with US commercial interests) was overthrown. Young lawyer Fidel Castro organized a group to rebel against Battista's rule, which, though surpassed at first, eventually took power in 1959.

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Carpentier's novel is, in a way, a defense of Cuba’s contemporary political power. Victor Hugues sought profit via power and was primarily a businessman with similar principles and practices as former Cuban president Fulgencio Battista. A strong supporter of Fidel Castro, Alejandro Carpentier himself was jailed for his political views. Explosion in a Cathedral can certainly be read as a defense of the very recent Cuban Revolution.

Foreign powers, embodied chiefly by the fictionalized figure of Victor Hugues, sought to export revolutionary ideas and activity from Europe to the various islands of the Antilles for their own gain. The novel depicts the relative vulnerability of the islands and their residents, which is represented symbolically by the orphaned children who are seduced by Hugues.

Victor is staunchly opposed to the capitalist monopolies of the United States and Spain and tries to locate merchants for the smuggling of contraband. Though championing egalitarianism, Victor proves his capacity for killing when his enemies are put to death by the guillotine back in France.

The novel suggests that revolution is cyclical. While Victor Hugues is a more complex character than an analog for Battista or Castro, the author highlights this figure to demonstrate how rhetoric can be well-intentioned but misguided. Revolutionaries can be degenerated by a lust for power, and they are not immune to brutal and inflexible policies.

Regardless, Carpentier demonstrates with sympathy and historical accuracy the varied circumstances of Carlos, Sofía, and Esteban. They are representatives of the island natives who dare to rise up and alternately join or challenge those who would lay claim to their nation as an exploitable people.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

Home of Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia

Home of Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia. Havana residence of the three orphaned young-adult members of a prominent, although never named, merchant family. Both the dwelling and the offspring have been neglected by the late father, and in her new role as female head of the household, Sofia decides to refurnish the home completely. The result is a material avalanche of furniture, crockery, books, and musical instruments that turns their living quarters into a labyrinth of stacked packing cases and narrow passageways. Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia move among these as if gingerly exploring a strange new world, while delighting in their random encounters with this profusion of worldly goods.

The bizarre manner in which these mostly European objects are treated, and in particular the many descriptions of how Havana’s heat and humidity lead to the rapid deterioration of the new furnishings, exemplifies the novel’s related theme of the breakdown of meaningful communication between Europe and its New World colonies. Although Carlos, Esteban, and Maria are initially delighted with the imported luxuries that their colonial wealth enables them to buy, they soon tire of this essentially meaningless pastime, and welcome the help of the Haitian merchant Victor Hugues in restoring their family’s place in the world. Subsequent plot developments...

(The entire section contains 1183 words.)

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