Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Train. Railroad train traveling from Mexico City to Irapuato whose hospital car is the principal setting for the first half of the novel. The Reyes Téllez family, fleeing with their portable belongings, is first to find this relatively empty space on a crowded train. Soon others join them, revealing a cross-section of humanity under stress as the train chugs forward through the night. Because there are no sick or wounded in the car the doctor in charge cannot turn the able-bodied away. The Reyes Téllez women set up a makeshift cooking area and offer him eggs and toast, ensuring his goodwill. People sprawl out on the floor or discuss rumors, which are as plentiful as the sparks flying off the train’s wheels.

The furnishings within the hospital car are rudimentary but not primitive, reflecting both the era and place and the middle-class status of the riders. Riding atop the roof and in the dangerous spaces between train cars are other people, presumably poorer and more desperate, of whom readers catch brief glimpses. The division is more significant than it first appears. People inside the hospital car are trying to hang on to what they have, be it General Malacara’s big gray motorcar or Matilde Reyes Téllez’s caged canary. The peasants and migrant workers, lacking land, have nothing to hang on to. The author, as a supporter of Pancho Villa, is sympathetic toward the latter, but his focus during the train journey and in the novel is on how the minor functionaries are not certain where their own best interests lie.

The train’s jerky motions and belches of smoke form a metaphor for the Mexican Revolution, whose turmoil lasted many years, with noise and action obscuring the hoped-for...

(The entire section is 712 words.)