Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ciro Alegría was born in 1909, on a ranch in the Peruvian province of Huamachuco, and he spent his childhood in that region, which is depicted in The Golden Serpent. He grew up with people like the Calemar villagers, and from his parents and ranch hands he heard the songs and stories that he retells in this book. He says that these people and these tales “made me understand their sorrows, their joys, their great and overlooked gifts of intelligence and fortitude, their creative ability, their capacity for endurance.” Exiled to Chile because of his political activities, Alegría supported himself as a journalist and writer. In 1935, poor, ill, and homesick for Peru, Alegría expanded a short story, “The Raft,” into the manuscript of The Golden Serpent, which won for him first prize in a contest sponsored by a publisher in Santiago, Chile. His second novel, Los perros hambrientos (1938), and his third novel, El mundo es ancho y ajeno (1941; Broad and Alien Is the World, 1941), were also prizewinners. These novels also portray the native people of northern Peru, but they are primarily concerned with the plight of Indians in mountainous areas. Like The Golden Serpent, they depict communal village life in harmony with natural forces, but while The Golden Serpent reveals the strengths and beauties of traditional values, often shown in contrast to the motives and actions of outsiders such as the state...

(The entire section is 440 words.)