Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gringos is the story of a mission to free a silly adolescent girl from the influences of an evil, deranged man, partly for pecuniary and partly for humane reasons. The mission concludes in a bloody gun battle. Gringos is also a spoof of the flying-saucer mania and the New Age silliness so prevalent in America during the last decades of the twentieth century. The novel is also a perceptive, though understated, commentary on the clash between North American and Latin American cultures. Finally, it is a study, simultaneously wry and sympathetic, of a community composed of outcasts.

All the gringos in the novel have come to Mexico in search of something—wealth, fame, enlightenment, sanctuary from the law or alimony payments or some past disgrace. The quest is the motif around which all of Portis’s novels are constructed.

Another consistent element in Portis’s novels is their tone of tolerance and undemonstrative compassion. Following the success of True Grit, Portis was sometimes compared to Mark Twain because of the subject matter, the setting, and the humor of the book. The comparison is not very apt. While the angry, bitter Twain is a descendant of Juvenal and Jonathan Swift, Portis is from the line of Geoffrey Chaucer, Miguel de Cervantes, and William Shakespeare—writers who could satirize human beings and institutions, yet retain an affection for them. Gringos glows with affection for the flotsam...

(The entire section is 465 words.)