Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Locos: A Comedy of Gestures is a sly, well-constructed mosaic of stories that indicts the Spanish people, enslaved by Catholicism and their own inability to choose between self-interest and the common good. The author also comments, in a larger fashion, on human foibles and their attendant problems as well as the subjective quality of truth and reality. Perhaps most touching is the last story, “A Romance of Dogs,” as the boy Garcia struggles futilely against his Catholic education that insists on mindless absorption of arcane material, thus depriving him of the joys that learning can bring. Although the adult Garcia dies insane and blind, he is nevertheless a poet in love with spring. Alfau cautions the reader both to reserve judgment about the characters and to refrain from taking the following events too seriously. While his inventions do double duty as multiple personas, the themes of criminality and justice intertwine. What dominates in Locos is the inherent conflict between religious purity and religious totalitarianism. Children are terrorized, and women are abused; strutting about at the center, nostrils flared, is a dangerous kind of Spanish machismo, one which imposes itself on other countries as well as on the “weaker” sex. Nevertheless, many of the stories manage to underscore a certain affection for the national character. One feels inclined toward accepting the melodrama of such women as Tia Mariquita, one of Chinelato’s wives, as a foil against a harmful reality. Giving in to passion in a less condemning society, Alfau indicates, may produce happier people. Despite the tales’ dark qualities, such as the outrageous abuse many of the women suffer at the hands of their less than loving men, a sense of playfulness prevails. Alfau understands that the human mind receives satisfaction from piecing together parts of a picture, and he uses his abilities as a writer to give or withhold information. In “Fingerprints,” Don Gil is the one who hires Garcia as a fingerprint expert. Later, Prefect Benito declares that even Garcia checked the murderer’s prints for verification of Don Gil’s culpability. Regardless of the hard physical evidence, did Don Gil really commit murder? How can a womanizing baby killer like Chinelato also be capable of charming butterflies into spelling out his name? As in life, appearances in Locos are deceiving, and the reader is invited to play detective.