The Glass of Milk

by Manuel Rojas

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Critical Overview

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The short story "The Glass of Milk" has long been a favorite of readers in South America and in the United States. It is a tightly written story that captures the frustrations and desperation of a youth who is down on his luck. But just as with Rojas' other writing, it does this without preaching or demeaning the characters. Rojas' characters are largely drawn from his personal experiences when, as a lad, he wandered around the mountains of Chile and Argentina with his family in search of work and food.

His literary style is easily understood, without a lot of confusing detail. The action in his stories is concise, intense, and direct. Little extraneous information is included. His style is often called plain, according to Naomi Lindstrom. His narrators seldom make commentary on the actions of the characters. Much of his writing falls within the general category of Naturalism, a literary style that attempts to depict the life and times of characters in a brutally real manner. Its characters are drawn from the lower classes of society. Giovanni Pontiero says of Rojas' approach to character development, "his characters and situations are drawn with vigor and conviction." But even though they are from the lowest class of society they are creatures who maintain their "dignity and pride ... even under the most abject conditions" according to Fernando Alegría.

In "The Glass of Milk" Rojas explores a day in the life of a down-and-out youth who is trying to make his way as a stevedore. Herman Hespelt says that the youth is portrayed with a "deep sensitivity and a warm understanding" that lets readers arrive at an affection for the lad. But Rojas does not preach and beg for this result. His writing is fraught with intensity and a strong dramatic impact but the story is the most important aspect of his writing.

In his fiction he is interested in telling a story, not so much in making a philosophic statement. As Mary Cannizzo states, "his novels reflect a social consciousness, but instead of being a propagandist he is primarily an artist." It is precisely his artistry that keeps readers coming back to his works. Another of his well-known tales, "El hombre de la rosa," "draws the reader back irresistibly, inviting a closer look," says Susan M. Linker. Rojas' works can be viewed "as a long biographical narration," but without the injection of his own person, says Fernando Alegría. Rojas calls upon his own youthful experiences to fill out the characters in his stories.

Rojas' short story "The Glass of Milk" is a widely anthologized and published tale. It was included in his first collection of short stories, Hombres del sur, published in 1927 and "acclaimed by Chilean critics as one of the best collections of short stories ever published in the country," according to Cannizzo. These tales are the first fictional works that look at the lower stratum of Chilean and Argentinean society with the same compassionate approach that would mark Rojas' major novels and later short stories. Cannizzo adds that his success as a writer on the world scene derives from the fact that he depicts Chilean characters and cultural customs in a universal manner by "attributing human significance to them." Their localized behaviors therefore become universal behaviors. According to Grafton Conliffe, Rojas' "innovative techniques and ability to delineate memorable characters" are those aspects of his style that elevate his work to the position of high acclaim among Chilean writers.

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