Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Good Conscience is a novel of social criticism written in the tradition of the great nineteenth century Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós. As such, it possesses several elements reminiscent of the master of Spanish Realism: introductory chapters (in this case, two) providing detailed background information concerning setting and the social and familial milieus; a clearly defined, society-oriented conflict, with each side of the conflict represented by easily recognizable principal characters supported by a series of lesser characters associated with one of the two sides of the conflict. In a novel of this type, there is little gray area and little room for reader interpretation. Everything that the author hopes the reader to see and, ultimately, to think is clearly laid out so that there can be no mistaking the writer’s intentions.

All of these elements make The Good Conscience an intriguing piece of work within the context of Fuentes’s literary canon. The direct, easily followed narrative of this novel is not characteristic of the author’s other works. For proof of this, one need look no further than the novels that immediately precede and follow the work in question. La región más transparente (1958; Where the Air Is Clear, 1960) and La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964) both present a much more complex narrative, characterized by alterations of the conventional ordering of events, shifts of focus and voice, and more subtly expressed themes—all of these elements being basic characteristics of the Latin American New Novel. That The Good Conscience does not fit this pattern does not detract from the work in any way; it merely makes the novel that much more interesting, particularly for readers already familiar with the author’s other works.