Quotes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472

The Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays in which Octavio Paz explores aspects of Mexican and Mexican American identity in the 1940s-1950s.

In the first essay, Paz explains the social position and overstated fashion (e.g. Zoot Suit) of the pachucos as the failed defense of a lost orphan,...

(The entire section contains 472 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Start your Subscription

The Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays in which Octavio Paz explores aspects of Mexican and Mexican American identity in the 1940s-1950s.

In the first essay, Paz explains the social position and overstated fashion (e.g. Zoot Suit) of the pachucos as the failed defense of a lost orphan, a:

…stubborn desire to be different, this anguished tension with which the lone Mexican—an orphan lacking both protectors and positive values…. The pachuco has lost his whole inheritance: language, religion, customs, beliefs. He is left with only a body and a soul with which to confront the elements, defenseless against the stares of everyone.

Paz's essay on “masks” as the public face that Mexicans put on conveys his attitude toward Mexicans in general and male “machismo” identity in particular:

The Mexican macho—the male—is a hermetic being, closed upon himself, capable of guarding both himself and whatever has been confided to him. Manliness is judged according to one’s invulnerabilitv to enemy arms or the impact s of the outside world. Stoicism is the most exalted of our military and political attributes.

Paz claims that attitudes toward death, perhaps more than to life, reflect modern Mexicans’ worldview:

Death … is no longer a transition, an access to another life more alive than our own. But although we do not view death as a transcendence, we have not eliminated it from our daily lives….. The Mexican… is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.

Further alleging that Mexicans do not “dare” to be themselves, Paz locates the origins of this fear in the country’s colonized origins, in women’s violation by the conqueror which, to him, also indicated women’s complicity in their own abuse, a kind of treason. He centers this in analyzing the word “chingada” which has a decided sexual connotation and also means cheated, and the "hijo" or "child" of a woman so violated:

The Chingada is the Mother forcibly opened, violated or deceived. The hijo de la Chingada is the offspring of violation, abduction or deceit…. To the Mexican [dishonor] consists in being the fruit of a violation.

Although he emphasizes solitude as a Mexican condition, in the last essay Paz speaks of it as the universal human condition, as man futilely searches for communion:

To live is to be separated from what we were in order to approach what we are going to be in the mysterious future. Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another.… [W]hen [man] he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Labyrinth of Solitude Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Analysis