The Labyrinth of Solitude

by Octavio Paz

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Labyrinth of Solitude is an essay by the renowned poet Octavio Paz. This essay discusses life in Mexico and how the Mexican people struggled to adapt to the modern world while holding on to their traditions and culture.

The essay begins with a discussion about pachucos, Latino youths whose behavior, and the combination of Mexican and American culture, alarmed Mexican society during the 1940s and 50s. Paz claims the hostile attitudes pachucos were famous for was caused by their alienation from both the United States and Mexico.

Paz also states that Americans are bound by three laws: Calvinism, the political code of the Founding Fathers, and the moral code of the Victorians. North Americans deal with the complex universe by denying anything that conflicts with these laws. Paz says Mexicans are not bound by these laws and allow themselves to recognize the complexity of the universe.

However, Paz also admits that Mexico lacks a sense of community, and life in the country is highly combative. This results in a focus on self-preservation, instead of charity and compassion. This combative lifestyle ceases only during the fiesta, when Mexicans can let down their guard and escape their social and cultural solitude. Paz provides historical background on the creation of Mexico, such as the combination of Spanish and Aztec culture, to explain this lack of community ties.

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