Characters Discussed

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Heraclio Inés

Heraclio Inés (ehr-AH-clee-oh ee-NEHS), the youngest of five brothers born into a family of horsemen, a fact that places him above the peasants in the oppressive social structure of the Hacienda de la Flor but below the owner, Don Aurelio Becerra, his godfather. After mastering his craft and the code of honor that attends it, Heraclio casts off the rigid authority of his family in order to fulfill his individual potential, something that the prevailing sociopolitical tradition in Mexico would deny him. In an assertion of his independence, Heraclio enters into a passionate affair with Don Aurelio’s daughter. When threatened with exposure and violence, Heraclio kills a man; thereafter, seeking refuge from the brutality of the rural police, he joins a group of bandits and, eventually, the forces of Pancho Villa. Democratically at one with the people and moved always by his growing sense of justice, Heraclio fights hard for the revolution only to see the cause fail as Mexico falls once again into the grips of easy compromise and corruption. In his last revolutionary act and in order to preserve his integrity, Heraclio executes a traitor. Defeated but not broken, he then leaves Mexico for exile in the United States.

David Contreras

David Contreras (kohn-TREHR-ahs), the illegitimate peasant son of Don Aurelio and a healer. David befriends Heraclio while the two herd sheep together, but he begins to turn against Heraclio when Heraclio leaves the flocks in order to learn the craft of the horsemen. Rejected by his natural father and condemned by the social system to a life of peonage, David becomes embittered. After Heraclio sleeps with David’s half sister, Carmen Becerra, David’s bitterness turns to hatred, a hatred that finds its only outlet in lawless violence. Unable to kill Heraclio, the focus of his frustration, David kills Heraclio’s wife and child, acts of brutality for which Heraclio, in turn, kills David.

Carmen Becerra

Carmen Becerra (beh-SEH-rrah), Don Aurielo’s daughter, who is passionately in love with Heraclio. Like both David and Heraclio, however, she is trapped by the rigid social and political stratification of a system that condemns her to marry the corrupt Domingo Arguiú, a Spanish aristocrat. To Carmen’s credit, she attempts to break the barriers that restrain her in order to fulfill her love for Heraclio, but in the end, denied anything beyond a temporary physical relationship, she fails.

Marcelina Ortiz

Marcelina Ortiz (mahr-seh-LEE-nah ohr-TEES), the innocent young woman Heraclio marries. Bearing the same name as Heraclio’s dead mother, Marcelina represents the continuing embodiment of the pure wife and virtuous Mexican mother. In clear terms, she stands for the sanctity of home and hearth. In a better Mexico, the Mexico for which Heraclio fights, she would not only survive but also prosper. The destructive Mexico into which she is born, however, kills her and her baby.

Xochitl Salamanca

Xochitl Salamanca (hoh-chee-TEEL sah-lah-MAHN-kah), a circus performer who meets Heraclio amid the chaos of the revolution. When Heraclio extracts her from the clutches of Pancho Villa, she becomes his wartime wife and lover. More a symbol than a fully drawn character, Xochitl represents the spirit of the revolution, waxing strong during the period of Villa’s victories but dying of smallpox in the sick world that follows in the wake of Villa’s defeat.

Teodoro Inés

Teodoro Inés (teh-oh-DOHR-oh), Heraclio’s older brother. Teodoro takes over as head of the family after the death of his father. Proud and brutal within his own family, Teodoro grovels willingly before Don Aurelio, places the landowner on the level of a god, thereby ensuring the survival of the oppressive social system.


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Jiménez, Francisco, ed. The Identification and Analysis of Chicano Literature. New York: Bilingual Press, 1979. A comprehensive collection of scholarly essays that chronicle the history of the rise of Chicano literature, with an emphasis on current critical approaches to Chicano literary texts. Provides detailed analysis of important trends, the role of women, and the issue of Mexican American identity.

Rocard, Marcienne. The Children of the Sun: Mexican-Americans in the Literature of the United States. Translated by Edward G. Brown, Jr. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989. Examines the forging of Chicano identity from both the Anglo and the Hispanic perspective. The work is notable for its careful tracing of the progression of Chicano cultural attitudes and their influence on self-representation.

Shirley, Carl R., and Paula W. Shirley. Understanding Chicano Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. Considers the canon of Chicano literature largely along generic lines and contains a separate section on literatura chicanesca, works about Chicanos by non-Chicano authors. Provides thumbnail sketches of Villarreal’s three novels.

Sommers, Joseph, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, eds. Modern Chicano Writers: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. An excellent volume of diverse essays exploring the historical and cultural influences on contemporary Chicano literature, from indigenous folkloric traditions to the impact of the Mexican-American War. A narrative section focuses on Tomás Rivera.

Tatum, Charles. Chicano Literature. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Places Villarreal among the pioneer novelists of Chicano literature. While critical of the author’s black-and-white portrayal of good versus evil, the study praises his evocative depiction of Mexico’s exploitative prerevolutionary social order centered around the hacienda.




Critical Essays