Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator is not the victim of a single ideology or historical movement but is a kind of Everyman (hence his namelessness) leaving for war, as it were, simultaneously from several countries thousands of years apart. The significance of the departure is deepened by the layering of history. The falsehoods stretch thinner and thinner until they can no longer provide supportive ideology for the narrator. The Trojan War is a matter of honor and manhood, the Spanish conquest begins in order to win souls, and modern war promises eternal brotherhood. None of those promises is kept, as history has proved, but in the story they keep reappearing as new heads on an old monster.

Although it debunks the narrator’s idealism, Carpentier’s technique of movement through time also magnifies the human pain his folly causes those who love him. His parents suffer, certainly, though the main focus is on his fiancé being left unfulfilled, the promise of their future together hopelessly ruined. The central section is given to their argument about his enterprise in the West Indies among the local people. She has no faith in the European claims of uplifting the Indians, who, according to Michel de Montaigne (whose Essais, 1580,1588, she is reading), have been corrupted by the example shown them in the behavior of the explorers. The duplicitous European treatment of the Indians is but one example of a cyclic historical process, a pattern of exploitation that has been repeated for thousands of years.