John S. Brushwood
In 1931 there was not one novel of importance published [in Mexico] that did not deal with the [Revolution] … in one way or another. (p. 205)
There were two facets to the Revolution, even during its military phase: one was predominantly political and looked toward a genuinely democratic, capitalistic society; the other was social and anticipated fundamental changes in the economic structure. One was middle class, the other was proletarian. The first was the initial and predominant force. The second, whose principal exponent during the military phase was Emiliano Zapata, came later and was in the position of having to exert its influence on the middle-class, political revolt that had already started. (pp. 205-06)
The Revolution had been a combination of heterogeneous forces. It was chaotic; and although sporadic moments of glory were apparent, the tragedy of civil war was even more so. The Revolution as an entity, as an achievement of men in search of freedom from a static society, could not possibly have been felt in the years immediately following, when the sense of tragedy prevailed. Because the interpretation of the Revolution was ambiguous, and its presence persistent, the need to discover its nature arose; and the first step was to look at what had happened.
The wave of novels of the Revolution in 1931 shows several different ways of telling the story, but with some characteristics that are common to most books on this theme: they are lineal accounts, episodic, with sketchily drawn characters. In general, everything—structure, style, characterization, even ideology—is subordinate to each author's need to tell what it was like. (p. 206)
The best novel of 1931 was Gregorio López y Fuentes' Campamento, which is important not only for its intrinsic merit, but also for what it forecasts of a distinguished literary career, Campamento is less a story than an illumination of a revolutionary encampment. The author's view flashes across the entire scene and reproduces the reality of a night, a moment in the long struggle…. The reactions of the revolutionaries are an intensification of ordinary human emotions. They are in a special situation which is becoming commonplace. They take advantage of the freedom that comes from the anonymity of belonging to the revolutionary band. The author accepts their state of anonymity as reality, and focusses his attention on the band rather than on individuals. Individuals do appear, but their real identity is with the group rather than as separate people. What matters in Campamento is what "the revolutionaries" do. López y Fuentes cultivated this device of the group protagonist in later novels, and also continued the same flashy style of obvious satire, easy irony, and broad antithesis. His prose is not beautiful, it is "catchy."
A year later, López y Fuentes published Tierra, a story of the whole course of the Revolution, with emphasis on the zapatista movement. Although this book is not a profound study, it is one of the clearest pictures of what happened from the end of the dictatorship to the end of the military phase of the Revolution. The lineal character of the narrative is emphasized by the use of dates as chapter titles. The real protagonist of the novel is the movement of the Revolution. Its effect on the ranchería (where the peons live on a large hacienda) is the central theme. It is mildly disconcerting that none of the characters, not even Zapata, is a protagonist; and it is possible to misread the novel if one tries to make it conform to a more conventional narrative method.
Tierra opens on a scene in which the peons are changing the boundaries of the hacienda. They know that the owner is able to do this because he has the power to influence the necessary authorities. But they are resigned to the facts of life. Several narrative sketches of the peons' life follow: payday, a death, a birth. The effect of these sketches is not surprising. They show the same picture of feudal society under the Díaz...
(The entire section is 2,528 words.)