Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In assessing the novel’s theme, it must be noted that the title in the original Spanish is in the plural, Las buenas conciencias, implying that Jaime’s conscience is not the only one under scrutiny in the work, the other conscience being that of Guanajuato’s provincial society itself. Because of this, Fuentes’s message must be viewed as being two-tiered.

On one level, that dealing with the individual, Fuentes seems to suggest that the isolated individual is virtually powerless in his struggle against the pressures of the society in which he lives, that the lone rebel must ultimately conform and become part of the society that surrounds him. It is not, then, Jaime’s fault that he succumbs to the pressures of his society. If anything, he should be applauded for at least having made the attempt at rebellion.

On a broader level, that which constitutes Fuentes’s real social criticism, the author implies that the burden of change should be placed on the guilty society. Though Fuentes does not appear to offer any solution to the problem, he at least points the finger of blame, often the main function of social criticism. Before the problem can be solved, it must first be identified, and Fuentes has done that in this work.