Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1727
In Mexico a new novel is being created. It is simple in art, realistic in subject, and rooted firmly in native Mexican life and culture. Because it is a social novel, written with a vigor new to modern Mexican letters, drawing its inspiration, ideals, and much of its subject matter, from the Mexican Revolution of 1910, it has become known as the "Novel of the Revolution". The word "Revolution" in the title itself indicates the importance of the new novel, for only significant economic and social reforms and the cultivation of national arts and crafts are popularly identified by Mexicans as outgrowths of the Revolution.
[There are] … three main figures responsible for this literary creation,—Mariano Azuela, Martín Luis Guzmán and Gregorio López y Fuentes…. (p. 23)
Gregorio López y Fuentes is the most important, for although he is a newcomer and little known abroad, in Mexico his novels are in great demand. In the United States there is a growing interest in them, several having been very favorably reviewed in newspapers and periodicals. And now his latest work, El indio, has just been published in an English translation….
López y Fuentes has rapidly risen to fame in Mexico through his steady output of novels. Each successive work marks an advance in technique and reveals a deeper understanding of the social problems of his country. With Guzmán self-exiled in Spain, and Azuela entering his sixties, López y Fuentes—just turned forty—is likely to become Mexico's most prominent contemporary novelist. Certainly he seems the most promising at this moment. (p. 24)
The reader will recall that the Revolution awakened Mexico to the serious plight into which it had been thrown by four centuries of military abuse, feudal land conditions, and Church corruption…. [Toward the end of the conflict the "revolutinary ideals" originating in the people's discontent] … were permanently synthesized, and embodied in the Mexican Constitution of 1917. In essence, this notable document insists that labor be granted equality with capital, that land be redistributed fairly among Mexicans, and that the indio and the Mexican be made the basic considerations of every social, economic, and cultural manifestation of the nation's life.
These ideas López y Fuentes uses as focal points in his examination of Mexican life. A survey of his novels will show the direction his social criticism takes as well as his rapid development in skill as a novelist.
Campamento marks the beginning of a satire that is to strike deeper and deeper in his later novels at the roots of social evils. Here the thrust is light, yet he manages through a study of revolutionary masses to point out the wide gap between revolutionary ideals and the actual conditions under which people are forced to live during war. He is an objective observer. His descriptions are vivid. The Indian, who in real life turns out to be the chief protagonist in the drama of revolution, is portrayed in this novel as the victim of all the warring factions. A nameless Indian guide runs beside the general staff's horses, driven on by the trampling hoofs, until he dies of exhaustion…. His death elicits a few pitying remarks from the soldiers. Nevertheless, the same men—most of whom also have Indian blood in their veins—who watch him die with the blood spurting from his exhausted lungs, will witness similar brutality again and again without uttering a word of protest!
In this work of brief span—fifteen hours of life in a military camp—the author relies upon the unities of time and place to integrate his vivid and precise descriptions of the Revolution. The restless human beings act out their individual rôles of tragedy upon the serene and beautiful stage of the Mexican Valley. Their actions are natural. As individuals they play petty parts; as a group they reach epic grandeur in their tremendous struggles, sacrifices, and accomplishments.
The style of the author is supple, well suited to his task. His pages are crowded with turbulent military masses madly fighting for ideals that are vague but impelling…. (pp. 24-5)
Humor, sketches of individuals, descriptions of interesting local customs and crude camp life, and gentle between-the-line irony, all go to make up a thoroughly enjoyable, though loosely woven, novel.
Tierra, his next novel, has been acclaimed by some Mexican critics as his best…. The author shows that unlike most literati of his country he is not an isolated observer deriving his style and his realism from European fonts, but that he lives intimately associated with the history of his people. Here the author's ideas of the Revolution have grown coherent and are increasingly stressed as the work progresses. López y Fuentes presents the most vital problem of Revolutionary Mexico—the fundamental right of the people to cultivate for themselves the land on which they live. Tierra, then, is a thesis novel treating the agrarian problem in southern Mexico.
Designating the chapters by years instead of numbers does not hide the lack of unity in the novel as a whole. This objection is minimized, however, by the directness of the author's approach to his problem and by his critical attitude, sustained throughout the novel. (p. 26)
With the exception of Zapata, who is drawn true to life, the characters are merely outlined. This is a sacrifice made to the thesis and to the rapidity with which the action must move to cover the long period of history here dealt with. Thoroughly readable, the novel is replete with concrete instances of the people's need of land, and with understanding accounts of their struggles to obtain it. They are just now coming into their full inheritance. Tierra is the agrarian novel of the Revolution.
López y Fuentes writes a social satire of broader scope in ¡Mi general!, which is in some ways a parallel to Mariano Azuela's Los de abajo. Both deal with what may be called the "General cycle". A man of lowly birth rises to fame as a general, rejoices in his success, and then sinks again into oblivion…. Both have very simple plots, and both are strong indictments of the time. (p. 28)
Starting as a cowboy, [the protagonist of ¡Migeneral!] is swept along into numerous political and military offices as the revolutionary movement gathers momentum, rising at last to the military zenith of generalship. Fortune soon frowns and the general, humiliated and in great anguish, slides back to his former obscurity. All the points in his cycle,—rancher, cattle trader, captain, general, deputy, counter-revolutionist, fugitive, body-guard, and cowboy—offer the author opportunities to examine the political corruption, the military "racket", and the cynical side of revolution. The General is interesting as an individual, yet he is more understandable and significant as a type of revolutionary, and it is in this latter rôle that the author has cast him.
Accurate descriptions, scenes of turbulent military life, reveal the author's intimate knowledge of the Revolution. For interest as well as for movement, ¡Mi general! is easily the equal of Tierra. His style has improved in this work in carefulness of detail, while still retaining its conversational flow and its Mexican flavor.
In his latest novel, El indio, López y Fuentes turns his satirical pen toward another problem fundamental to all social progress in Mexico—"the incorporation of the Indian into the life of the nation", as José Vasconcelos expresses it. The Indian had appeared in an occasional episode in his early novels as the victim of the class struggle; here López y Fuentes develops fully what he previously had only touched upon, and his novel becomes a brilliant revelation of the actual living conditions of the indio.
This is the story of a primitive people living in their rude palm-and-mud huts, practicing their age-old crafts, defending their time-honored customs, a people thrown into unwilling contact with the civilized white men who half-heartedly try to "incorporate" them. In a series of vividly descriptive passages which reveal the author's intimate knowledge of the indio, a native community comes to life for the reader. Strong, full-blooded men and women carefully till their meager fields, ply their crafts, fish, hunt, and yet barely manage to supply themselves with enough food to live. Their own work is done in addition to toiling at sugar ovens and on the lands of the local hacendados, who use every means in their power to enslave their workers. (pp. 28-9)
López y Fuentes sketches in his symbolic, nameless characters, a people exploited by the landowner and the priest, and lately by the politician. That they are hardy, their capacity to bear their crushing burdens has proved. They will survive, for all their sufferings, says the author. In contrast to their outnumbered and "vanishing redskin" brothers in the United States, they are the bulk of the Mexican population, and they continue to add to their numbers by absorption of the white populace. Eventually they will possess their land and rule their country. It is the author's purpose to help them come into their rightful inheritance, to apply the Revolutionary ideals in their behalf now, not by forcing reforms upon them which they do not understand or accept, but by studying their languages, seeing the good in their customs and traditions, teaching them useful crafts and modern methods in agriculture,—in a word, by restoring their confidence. (pp. 30-1)
López y Fuentes on the basis of his own experience among the indios of Veracruz tries to portray Indian life as it really is, neither pathetic nor ideal. For this reason El indio contains some of the best descriptive passages to be found in the modern Mexican novel. The pages that describe the death of a hunter attacked by a herd of wild boars, the strange rites of Indian witchcraft, or the curious tribal marriage, fill the reader's mind with vivid images of Mexican folk life….
López y Fuentes shares with other "novelists of the Revolution" the sincere conviction that Mexico offers a wide and fertile field of study for the modern Mexican novelist. But he stands alone in his ability to create a novel that, fusing the critical and the pictorial, scrutinizes the soul of changing Mexico. (p. 31)
Ernest Moore, "López y Fuentes, Novelist of the Mexican Revolution," in The Spanish Review, Vol. IV, No. 1, April, 1937, pp. 23-31.
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