Latin American Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Latin American Literature

Latin American literature encompasses the national literatures of South and Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of the West Indies. Its roots lie in European language and literary traditions, combined with themes and images drawn from the physical landscape and indigenous cultures of the South American continent. As early as the 1600s European colonists documented their experiences in the New World. When Latin American colonies began to declare independence from Europe in the early part of the nineteenth century, the climate of rebellion fostered a desire among many writers to create a literature that accurately reflected the lives and concerns of Latin Americans. While the tradition of Romanticism that developed in Europe during the nineteenth century had been favored by early Latin American novelists and poets, this style gradually gave way to greater realism, increased focus on the lives of ordinary people, and, with few exceptions, an intense concern with social and political reform. Magical realism, or the introduction of supernatural or uncanny elements into otherwise realistic narrative, also became a common feature in the works of many Latin American writers during the second half of the twentieth century. Since the 1940s and the "Boom" period of the 1960s, Latin American literature has become increasingly available to a worldwide audience. Writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Juan José Arreola, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Miguel Angel Asturias have been internationally recognized for their contributions to world literature. The often chaotic political atmosphere of contemporary Latin America continues to generate writing that is both artistic and activist in nature. Recent decades have seen an increase in works devoted to the specific struggles of blacks, indigenous peoples, and other minorities. With the exception of Brazilian literature, which is written primarily in Portuguese, nearly all Latin American literature is in Spanish, and is often designated by critics as "Spanish-American" or "Hispanic-American" literature.