On the literal level, The Fair, by Juan José Arreola, concerns the planning and execution of the yearly fair in Zapotlán el Grande, a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. A complication arises upon the untimely death of one of the more influential citizens, as he was to have sponsored the event. The conflicts that develop as the townspeople proceed with the preparations, however, have their real source in the foundations of that society. On another level, then, The Fair is an ideological portrait of provincial life in Mexico, in that it examines those foundations. The town itself is the protagonist, but it will acquire character and meaning from the personalities of its inhabitants and their relationships, attitudes, and ordeals. The saga of Zapotlán is a composite of the stories of those who live there which, in turn, become significant when understood in a larger context.
The novel opens with the voice of Juan Tepano, who locates the origins of his people’s plight in the conquest, the spiritual and territorial occupation of the country by a foreign power. An elder of the Indian community, he leads the struggle for restitution of the land to its rightful owners, working side by side with the people in the fields and passing down traditional legends that sustain the community’s sense of identity. His way of life is ancient, tied to the land which has been appropriated by others and sold over and over to yield maximum profits. Through Juan Tepano, the Indians continue their efforts to rectify a five-hundred-year-old injustice, acknowledged but not resolved by the Mexican Revolution.
Similarly, Don Manuel is involved with the land, but neither does he belong to it as the Indians do, nor is he capable of profiting from it; therefore, he will be a victim not only of his own mistaken ideas but also of the Commission of Land Distribution. To the Indians, he is another boss, the renewed presence of a centuries-old obstacle between them and ownership of the land. On the other hand, Don Manuel marvels at their primitive rituals but dismisses their beliefs as superstitious. He will find, however, that precision, rationality, and modern methods are inappropriate or at least insufficient when dealing with nature. His journal is a testimonial to the enthusiasm and good faith with which he undertakes his new venture, but a lack of experience and much adversity work against him. Like the enamored poet who is eventually forced to give up on Maria Helena when she puts him off again and again, Don Manuel admits defeat, but not without regret, considerable financial losses, and a sense of disillusionment.
The opposing interests are the subject of the second section of the text, a division signaled by a shift in scene from countryside to...
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