Juan José Arreola Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Primarily known for his short stories, fables, and experimental literary sketches, Juan José Arreola also wrote the novel La feria (1963; The Fair, 1977), some one-act plays, and several essays. Known for his prodigious memory and a legendary ability to talk eloquently and entertainingly about a variety of topics, the best of Arreola’s “oral prose” from lectures, round-table discussions, interviews, and radio and television talks shows over the years has been carefully edited by Jorge Arturo Ojeda and published as La palabra educación (1973; the word education) and Y ahora, la mujer . (1975; and now, woman ).


Juan José Arreola has a special place in Latin American literature for successfully experimenting with fictional modes and techniques. A cosmopolitan man of letters, he pushed the genre of the short story in new directions. At the core of his creative representations is the interaction between rational, objective reality and idiosyncratic, subjective perceptions of it. His work includes more than one hundred short prose pieces: stories, fables, parables, biographical portraits, diary entries, advertisements, articles, science-fiction reports, and many sketches best classified as microtexts.

Acclaimed for steering Mexican literature beyond traditional realism with its emphasis on political and socioeconomic problems, Arreola deals imaginatively with the nature of human values in the face of twentieth century materialism. He probes the perverse ways in which alienated people behave when confronted with matters of love, life, and death. Like Jorge Luis Borges, he delights in making philosophical speculations and devising scenarios, although in a more playful manner, in which the line between the real and the unreal is blurred.

Arreola’s irreverent humor, clever use of language, prodigious vocabulary, and vast repertoire of images are hallmarks of a unique and stimulating style. Writers from several generations have acknowledged his influence on their work, among them such prominent figures at Rosario Castellanos, Salvador Elizondo, Carlos Fuentes, Luisa Josefina Hernández, José Agustín, Vicente Leñero, Carlos Monsiváis, and Gustavo Sainz.


Burt, John R. “This Is No Way to Run a Railroad: Arreola’s Allegorical Railroad and a Possible Source.” Hispania 71, no. 4 (1988). Compares “The Switchman” to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad” (1843).

Gilgen, Read G. “Absurdist Techniques in the Short Stories of Juan José Arreola.” Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century 8, no. 1/2 (1980): 67-77. This concise treatment of the notion of the absurd focuses on techniques that help explain Arreola’s artistic philosophy. The notes provide references to a few other studies on the absurd as well as on Arreola’s work.

Heusinkveld, Paula R. “Juan José Arreola: Allegorist in an Age of Uncertainty.” Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana 13, nos. 2/3 (1984). Argues that Arreola’s short stories need to be seen as allegories of the modern world. Shows that Arreola chooses symbols such as animals or nameless antiheroes that represent human limitations rather than human potential.

Larson, Ross. Fantasy and Imagination in the Mexican Narrative. Tempe: Arizona State University Center for Latin American Studies, 1977. A systematic survey of the substantial, although somewhat neglected, body of literature of fantasy and imagination written in Mexico over the years. Arreola is viewed as a major contributor to the movement away from literature with an explicit social...

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