Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 824
Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, to Argentine exiles, Florencio Sánchez was brought up in a poverty that made him closely acquainted with an emerging working class that flooded such major Latin American cities as Montevideo and Buenos Aires before World War I. Himself the child of immigrants, Sánchez showed a marked interest in the migration of thousands of foreigners to the cities. In The Foreign Girl, he shows the animosity and discomfort of the local population, especially the local peasant class, who felt displaced by an aggressive foreign working class.
The Foreign Girl also raises another important issue: What local traditions should be preserved despite the tremendous changes experienced in the area as the result of worldwide technological advances? Sánchez answers this question in the various types of characters he uses to define the social groups involved in the controversy.
As a newspaper reporter, Sánchez became an indefatigable traveler, which allowed him to witness local traditions representing the Argentine identity. Since much of that local folklore belonged to the lower social groups, he also got to know intimately the problems faced by those marginalized classes. Sánchez’s characters represent genuine types of people, and his play The Foreign Girl is a realistic portrayal of life at the turn of the century. In fact, Sánchez’s total production could be labeled a reliable reproduction of rural life in the outskirts of Southern Cone urban centers.
The Foreign Girl’s main character, Victoria, represents the new Argentine of the twentieth century: a first-generation country girl of Italian parents. Her derogatory nickname, Gringa, reflects local animosity against foreigners. In the play, Victoria has the positive, sympathetic role of a hardworking young woman, who is well liked in the neighborhood because of her kindness and consideration toward all around her, including her Argentine neighbors. She considers herself an Argentine and displays deeply rooted attachment to the land.
Her father, Don Nicola, is her opposite: an abusive father and husband who forces his daughter and wife to do long hours of heavy farm labor. This strong Italian man has no connection to the land, from which he tries to force optimal productivity, showing no concern for environmental damage. Nicola keeps himself apart from the Argentine community, a fact that brings further resentment from the local inhabitants.
Sánchez achieves dramatic tension by contrasting Nicola’s desire for quick wealth with the local people’s more relaxed work ethic. A neighbor, Don Cantalicio, is typical of the native Argentine farmer, who takes time away from work to enjoy nature. Cantalicio loses his farm because he owes money to Nicola, which leads to a confrontation between these two strong-willed men.
Sánchez’s social views rescue the play from being inflammatory antiforeigner propaganda. His stand is clear: The conflict between Nicola and Cantalicio is not due to one man’s being more hardworking than the other, but to Nicola’s exploitation of the land and his lack of attachment to the country. Such lack of connection to the host country is not shared by the first generation born in Argentina, represented in the play by Victoria and Horacio, Nicola’s son. Horacio, a university-trained land surveyor, instructs his father on more efficient ways to cultivate the land and warns him about the dangers of overworking the land. Some of this advice had already been offered by Cantalicio to Nicola.
In a dramatic turn of events, Cantalicio is also taught a lesson by his son, Próspero, who blames his father for losing his farm to Nicola because Cantalicio had not rotated his crops to revitalize the aging soil. Having fallen in love with Victoria, Próspero sets out to prove to her that he is a worthy, hardworking, intelligent man. He transforms a nearby farm into one of the most productive in the area. Final recognition of Próspero’s knowledge of agricultural matters comes from Horacio, who seeks Próspero’s advice for his father’s farm, of which Horacio is now overseer.
The Foreign Girl’s happy ending—Victoria and Próspero getting married with their parents’ permission—reflects Latin American society’s positive attitude at the time toward the twentieth century. Sánchez expresses a widespread belief that Latin America’s entrance into the twentieth century began when its people accepted foreign help in the shaping of their society. Sánchez recognizes, however, that native values are in jeopardy, and he urges that modern Latin American society observe a balance between the ancient, local South American customs and the ideas of European industrialism.
Sánchez’s contribution to Latin American theater lies in his concrete expression of social ideas. His characters, presented in photographic detail, prove that rural life with its many problems and joys is material worthy of the drama. Sánchez’s aim to educate by means of simple plots and real characters makes him a precursor of the popular theater.
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