Juan Carlos Onetti Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Juan Carlos Onetti first gained recognition with the publication of his novels, particularly El astillero (1961; The Shipyard, 1968) and Juntacadáveres (1964; Body Snatcher, 1991), which confirmed his role as an international literary figure. He has also published the novels Dejemos hablar al viento (1979; Let the Wind Speak, 1997) and Cuando ya no importe (1993; Past Caring?, 1995). In addition to his short stories and novels, Onetti has published a number of novellas, including The Image of Misfortune in 1960 and Tiempo de abrazar in 1974. In 1975, a number of his literary essays were collected in the volume Réquiem por Faulkner (1975).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Among Juan Carlos Onetti’s many awards is the Premio National de Literature, Uruguay’s most prestigious literary prize, which he received in 1962. He received the William Faulkner Foundation Certificate of Merit that same year for his novel The Shipyard. His novel Body Snatcher was a finalist for the prestigious Rómulo Gallegos Prize, given only once every five years to the author of the best Spanish-language novel. In 1980, Onetti was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and was awarded the Premio Miguel de Cervantes Prize.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

“Los niños en el bosque,” one of Juan Carlos Onetti’s unpublished novels, dates from 1936. “Tiempo de abrazar,” a novel written in 1933 and circulated in manuscript form among Onetti’s friends, was not published, despite the praise it received from respected writers such as Roberto Arlt. The manuscript was entered in the contest for the Rinehart and Farrar Prize in 1941. After coming in second, it disappeared, except for a number of fragments, which were published in various journals over the years. In 1974, the Uruguayan critic Jorge Ruffinelli gathered these fragments, a good portion of the original, along with “Los niños en el bosque” and Onetti’s uncollected short stories dating from 1933 to 1950, into one volume titled Tiempo de abrazar, y los cuentos de 1933 a 1950. There are to date at least eleven short-story collections, with overlapping items. The most complete of these is Cuentos completos (1967; revised 1974), edited by Ruffinelli.

Onetti’s Obras completas (1970) is far from complete, the title notwithstanding. Still uncollected are the many literary essays written by Onetti for Montevideo’s weekly Marcha, where the author served as editor for two years (1939-1941). Under a variety of exotic pseudonyms and humorous epithets, Onetti wrote not only essays and criticism but also short pieces of fiction as “fillers” for that weekly, all of which remain uncollected. During his first stint in Buenos Aires, from 1930 to 1934, Onetti wrote a number of film reviews for the periodical Crítica, and they also remain uncollected. While he may have attempted genres other than prose, only two poems exist in print: “Y el pan nuestro,” in Cuadernos hispanoamericanos (1974), and “Balada del ausente,” in Casa de las Américas (1976).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Until the mid-1960’s, when Latin American fiction moved into the international limelight and its younger practitioners acknowledged Juan Carlos Onetti as one of their forerunners, Onetti’s popularity was limited to a devoted few. His first published novel, The Pit, did not go into a second printing for twenty-six years after its initial edition of five hundred copies. The pivotal work of his career, A Brief Life, was not reissued until fifteen years after its publication. Onetti is now internationally acclaimed, with his works translated into many languages and constantly being reissued in Spanish editions.

In the mid-1930’s, Onetti was becoming increasingly well known in his native Montevideo. His stint as literary editor of Marcha from 1939 to 1941 furnished him with a forum for his literary ideas during what was a very productive period for his own writing. His intellectual activities did not abate when he moved to Buenos Aires for the second time, in 1941—where he would remain for a decade and a half—but the move did sever prematurely his growing influence in his own country.

In 1951, Onetti’s countrymen gave their first public recognition of his achievements when the important Montevideo review Número dedicated a special issue to his work. Ten years later, The Shipyard was selected by a jury in a literary contest sponsored by Compañía General Fabril Editora, which published that novel. In 1962, Onetti was awarded Uruguay’s national literary prize, and in 1963, The Shipyard received the William Faulkner Foundation Certificate of Merit. Italy awarded the same novel its prize for the best foreign work translated into Italian for the year 1975. In June of 1980, a group of distinguished writers and critics from all over the world gathered at the Universidad Veracruzana de Méjico to pay homage to Onetti and his career on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Today, Onetti’s significance in Latin American letters is established beyond any doubt.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, M. Ian. Three Authors of Alienation: Bombal, Onetti, Carpentier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. Includes an extended discussion of Onetti’s novella The Pit; shows how Onetti’s artistic manipulation of schizophrenia creates a sensation of participating in an alienated world.

Deredita, John F. “The Shorter Works of Juan Carlos Onetti.” Studies in Short Fiction 8 (Winter, 1971): 112-122. Surveys Onetti’s short fiction, focusing on the two ages of man—naïve youth and the age of conformity—in such stories as “Welcome, Bob” and “A Dream Come True.”

Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. “Juan Carlos Onetti or the Shadows on the Wall.” In Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers. New York: Harper and Row, 1967. Claims that in Onetti’s middle-aged protagonists there is a yearning for vanished youth and innocence. Discusses Un sueño realizado y otros cuentos, Onetti’s Faulknerian style in Goodbyes, and his pessimism.

Lewis, Bart L. “Realizing the Textual Space: Metonymic Metafiction in Juan Carlos Onetti.” Hispanic Review 64 (Autumn, 1996): 491-506. Discusses four Onetti works in terms of his use of metonymy as a metafictional device. Argues that the plasticity of Goodbyes gives it a composed, pictorial quality absent from his other works. Discusses the...

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