Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 730
Considered the initiator of the literary movement known as the Novel of the Mexican Revolution, Mariano Azuela offers in his works an eyewitness account of historical incidents in the Revolution of 1910. A revolutionary ideologue, Azuela was an army surgeon in Francisco (Pancho) Villa’s guerrilla forces from 1910 to 1920. His writing depicts his experiences as a doctor and as a revolutionary. In 1941, Azuela received a national award for his literary craft. His active participation in the political arena won for him a reputation as a founding father of modern Mexican society. He was buried with other heroes of the revolution in an official ceremony in Mexico City.
Azuela’s novel of the Mexican Revolution belongs to the literary trend of realism, which sometimes offers a photographic depiction. Azuela presents the revolution’s struggle against oppression by the former power structure. His simple, direct literary style documents the revolution as the first Latin American armed movement of the twentieth century. Aware of the fact that the revolution produced radical changes in the social core of Mexican life, Azuela presents the movement in a positive light. His characters are representative of those involved in the political reorganization that leads to a new group in power as the economic center shifts from millionaire landowners to the peasant class.
The new literature of writers such as Azuela incorporates the political themes reflected in the motto “land for all.” These writers propose an examination of the new ruling class’s role in the shaping of contemporary Mexican society. Their works also offer harsh criticisms of the revolution, and they constantly monitor the movement, praising its successes but also denouncing its irregularities.
Azuela assumes the tasks of documenting, acclaiming, or censuring the revolutionary events that he has witnessed. His analysis differs from that of other writers, however, as he is clearly inspired by socialist political theories of justice for the working masses. With the rational precision of a scientist, Azuela conducts a detailed observation of the characters involved in the reshaping of Mexican society, as promoted by the revolution. Azuela documents these changes, which are diverse and controversial, especially those related to landowners’ loss of power (political and economic). Azuela accomplishes this by becoming a newspaper reporter. His numerous articles published in Mexican and Spanish newspapers in the United States are the work of an eyewitness.
Azuela is not, however, a historian. His training as a reporter provides him with material for documentation of scenes of the revolution in a literary form known as costumbrismo, an early genre of realist literature that reproduces everyday customs and incidents of historical relevance that create the spirit of an age. By means of careful reproduction of revolutionary times, Azuela aims to achieve a twofold purpose: to explore the significance of the revolution as a historical occurrence of worldwide importance, and to bring in fresh literary material that offers a metaphorical exploration of human behavior.
The Flies brings together a collection of stories at the moment when Francisco Villa and Venustiano Carranza, two legendary revolutionary leaders, were fighting for political power. Although these men do not appear in the text, their presence is strongly portrayed by characters who represent their leaders’ political platforms. For instance, characters who take advantage of others (such as Marta and her children) reflect Carranza’s ruthless ambitions for the Mexican presidency—in clear disregard of Villa’s and other revolutionary leaders’ services in deposing the brutal Victoriano Huerta.
The plot, although simple, reflects the strong personalities involved in the revolutionary fighting. The Flies exposes those who oppose the revolution solely because of their loss of wealth and social prestige. By contrast, the lower classes, in search of a better life, illustrate Francisco Villa’s strong ethical values. Although the characters of the lower classes are scarce in The Flies, they are true heroes because they stand for positive moral values. On the other hand, the upper-class protagonists are parasites and opportunists. These formerly respected individuals are compared to flies, hanging together in a desperate attempt to survive by means of their old tricks.
Azuela’s characters are not, however, caricatures. They are clearly Mexicans bound to a particular historical movement who, by their relation to that movement, would help or hinder the creation of a new society. His well-researched literary works promote the revolution as a key movement in the shaping of the modern Mexican psyche.