Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624
The Green House is a multilayered work filled with overlapping dreams and memories that bring to mind William Faulkner’s belief that the past remains in the present. The action in the novel occurs over a forty-year span during which there is an allusion to World War II. The structure, however, is not linear. Present, past, and dreamworlds intermingle, changing time and place, leaving the reader uncertain about some actions.
This discontinuous structure is Mario Vargas Llosa’s attempt to present the separate worlds of each character as a combined whole, or totality. The seeming lack of structure prevents the omniscience that is often granted to a reader of a conventionally structured story. The purpose of this blending of past, present, and different points of view is to underscore the relative nature of reality. Just as one cannot know all the details and effects of causes, or situations, in life, one cannot know these things in The Green House.
The connective bonds in the novel are the five lines of narrative that tell the stories of Bonifacia, Fushía, Don Anselmo, Jum, and the slum. The story lines are presented in a predictable order within each chapter, creating a circular structure. Common to all of Vargas Llosa’s novels is the idea that there are no “closed and autocratic orders” in society. In The Green House, for example, Don Julio Reátegui, governor of Santa Maria de Nieva, is a smuggler who abuses the Indians and his employees while at the same time supporting the mission and seriously striving to maintain good rapport with the sisters. Vargas Llosa highlights this idea when he compares the nuns to buzzards and death angels, showing the evil embodied in the good as the nuns destroy lives in the name of Christianity.
The theme of the novel, broadly stated, is exploitation. Throughout the work, the strong oppress the weak, the educated oppress the illiterate, and the wealthy oppress the poor. Bonifacia is forced into prostitution by Josefino, one of the champs, to support him and later Lituma. The champs’ theme song expresses the men’s desire to live well and carefree while others supply their needs.
Fushía exploits his own wife when he trades her for a boat, knowing she will have to give sexual favors, at least temporarily, to Julio Reátegui in return. The children whom the nuns “civilize” are also the victims of exploitation. The young women who grow up in the mission cannot go back to the jungle, so they are hired out as servants to the wealthy and to members of the military. The Indian women are sexually exploited. The soldiers, patrolmen, and smugglers rape the women frequently and without remorse, reducing them from humans to mere conveniences, and leaving them with illegitimate children. This type of exploitation is not new to South America. As one critic points out, women received the same treatment from the Spanish conquistadores.
The Indian men, with their superstitions and lack of business knowledge, are cheated by the smugglers. Jum knows he has been cheated, but he cannot prove it. His inability to speak the language of the businessmen prevents him from being treated fairly.
The novel also touches on the theme of predestination. This theme is evident when Fushía and Lituma bemoan their bad luck. Neither man has the ability to see that he has caused his condition.
The Green House presents a radical departure from traditional organization. With the novel’s complex structure, the author is able to reveal more to the reader than simple story lines. The reader is forced to think about reality and totality. Vargas Llosa’s successful experiment delves into philosophy and offers insight into Latin American history and culture.