Jorge Ibargüengoitia Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Jorge Ibargüengoitia 1928-1983

Mexican novelist, essayist, short story writer, critic, and playwright.

The following entry provides criticism on Ibargüengoitia's works from 1985 through 1998. For criticism prior to 1985, see CLC, Volume 37.

Ibargüengoitia is known for his satirical novels, stories, and dramas that probe Mexico's political and social realities. Much of his fictional work focuses on the crooked side of Mexican politics and law enforcement and suggests that unprincipled individuals were a product of corrupt Mexican values. Critics praise his humorous and pointed satire of Mexican government and social behavior and view him as a talented storyteller.

Biographical Information

Ibargüengoitia was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, on January 22, 1928. He studied drama at the National University of Mexico and he later became professor of drama theory and composition there. In 1955 he was awarded a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to study theatre in New York. He began to write plays in the mid-1950s and published his first novel, Los relámpagos de agosto (The Lightning of August), in 1964. That same year he became director of the Escuela de Verano at Guanajuato University and then a teacher at the Summer Institute at Bradley a year later. Ibargüengoitia also worked as a columnist for the Mexican newspaper Excélsior for eight years, writing on theater and cultural issues. In 1963 he won the Casa de la Américas award for his play El atentado (1963). In 1969 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. He was a teacher of Spanish literature at various universities. He died in a plane crash on November 27, 1983.

Major Works

The first of his novels to be translated into English, Las muertas (1977; The Dead Girls), is a fictional rendering of an actual event—a white slavery and prostitution network run by two Mexican sisters. Ibargüengoitia's documentary-style narrative utilizes the viewpoints of authorities, victims, and victimizers to show how a sensational and tragic scandal was overlooked as a commonplace occurrence in Mexico. Dos crimenes (1979; Two Crimes) centers on a political radical whose shallow revolutionary principles are undermined by greed when he becomes involved in a family's competition for a dying uncle's inheritance. Ibargüengoitia's play El atentado, written in 1963 but banned in Mexico until 1975, is a sardonic treatment of José de León Toral's assassination of President-elect Alvaro Obregón in 1928. The Lightning of August is a satirical novel that chronicles the inept and corrupt Major General Lupe Arroyo as he struggles to overthrow the Mexican government. Maten al león (1969) humorously recounts the numerous conspiracies to overthrow the despot Don Manuel Belaunzaran of Arepa.

Critical Reception

Much of the critical reaction to Ibargüengoitia's work focuses on his novels, particularly his use of satire. His acerbic treatment of the Mexican government, military, and class system has garnered critical acclaim. Commentators have identified and discussed the different types of satire and humor used in his fiction; moreover, although critics note that Ibargüengoitia utilizes specific Mexican figures, events, and cultural mores as the basis for his satire, they contend that his humor is universal and tends to translate well for non-Mexican readers. The implications of Ibargüengoitia's biting satire has also been a topic of critical interest, as a few commentators view his work as social commentary and a reflection of the Mexican people's reaction to their government and culture during that time. Recent criticism has examined his dramatic theory as well as his prolific years as a theater critic for Mexican newspapers. Yet Ibargüengoitia remains best known for his satirical novels and stories that provide a glimpse into Mexican life.