(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This fictional account of approximately a year in the life of a young man dramatizes the real plight of the migrant Mexican farmworker attempting to enter and work in the United States. Macho! is divided into three major parts, each labeled as a book and further subdivided into chapters. Books 1 and 3 are short, with the action set in the rural Mexican village of the principal characters; book 2 chronicles the odyssey of the protagonist, Roberto Garcia, into the violent underworld of the illegal migrant farmworker. Although the omniscient third-person narrator occasionally reveals thoughts of other characters, the narrative perspective is almost entirely Roberto’s.

In addition to the main fictional narrative, each chapter begins with a brief quasihistorical preface, designed to inform and to persuade the reader. The first and longest of these prefaces describes the dramatic 1943 appearance of the volcano Paricutin one hundred miles from Roberto’s village and the volcano’s far-reaching effects. Through these prefaces, Villaseñor suggests that the natural threat of Paricutin, a blessing in disguise for Roberto’s community, has been replaced by the less visible, more insidious threat of airborne industrial pollution. The threat of pollution lingers before being dismissed summarily, like dirt in the wind, at the story’s end. Most of the novel’s remaining prefaces indict American agribusiness interests for exploiting cheap Mexican migrant farm labor and chronicle César Chávez’s challenge to the status quo during the tumultuous 1960’s.

The novel itself begins well into Roberto’s seventeenth year, during the planting season of his native Mexican village. Roberto’s father has over the past year begun drinking heavily, leaving...

(The entire section is 728 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In this novel about a young Mexican who immigrates illegally into the United States, Victor Villaseñor suggests that the protagonist, Roberto, extracts his identity from the soil of the fields that he works. On the first and last pages of the novel, Villaseñor describes how volcanic ash has enriched the soil of a Mexican valley. At the end of the novel, Roberto has returned to this valley to work the land, applying what he has learned in the United States.

These homages to volcanic ash suggest that soil is not just the earth’s outer covering but also its soul. Likewise, the soil is the soul of the people who work it. The novel refers to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which was a popular movement to redistribute the ownership of land. In other words, land is fundamental to understanding not only the Mexican people but also the country’s politics and history.

According to Villaseñor, Mexico’s geography dictates the country’s indigenous law. Mexico is mountainous, so villages are very isolated. As a result of their isolation, these villages develop their own systems of justice and never appeal to a higher authority. This law of the land is a violent code of honor, and the novel documents how this code places a premium on a woman’s virginity and on a man’s ability to fight. The definition of “macho” must necessarily emanate from an understanding of this law of the land.

The novel makes frequent references to César...

(The entire section is 446 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Barbato, Joseph. “Latino Writers in the American Market.” Publishers Weekly 238 (February 1, 1991): 17-21. Discusses the obstacles facing Chicano authors and the troubled publishing of Villaseñor’s Rain of Gold. Also includes an interview with Villaseñor, who gives his side of the publishing debate.

Guilbault, Rose Del Castillo. “Americanization Is Tough on Macho.’ ” In American Voices: Multicultural Literacy and Critical Thinking, edited by Dolores LaGuardia and Hans P. Guth. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1992. Guilbault provides a sociolinguistic framework and a more complete understanding of the original Hispanic meaning of macho. (This book also contains an interview with Victor Villaseñor originally printed in the San Jose News.)

Hartman, Steven Lee. “On the History of Spanish macho.” Hispanic Linguistics 1, no. 1 (1984): 97-114. Deals with one of the most misunderstood loan words in contemporary American society. The transmogrification of macho from positive to negative ideal is chronicled, with reasons for the change outlined.

Kelsey, Verlene. “Mining for a Usable Past: Acts of Recovery, Resistance and Continuity in Victor Villaseñor’s Rain of Gold.Bilingual Review 18 (January-April, 1993): 79-85. In this critical study of Rain of Gold, Kelsey briefly mentions Macho! as a transition novel in Villaseñor’s literary career. Both novels share similar characteristics: “epigraphs that refer to natural cycles and mythic phenomena, chapter prologues/epilogues that set a historical context, and chapters that reveal the characters’ personal experiences.”

Lewis, Marvin A. Introduction to the Chicano Novel. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin, Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, 1982.

Rocard, Marcienne. The Children of the Sun: Mexican-Americans in the Literature of the United States. Translated by Edward G. Brown, Jr. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1989. A general literary history that discusses works by Anglo and Mexican American writers. The descriptions of stock type characters are helpful in understanding Villaseñor’s work. A good introduction to the subject.

Sandoval, Ralph, and Alleen P. Nilsen. “The Mexican-American Experience.” English Journal 63 (January, 1974): 61. Sandoval suggests that while verisimilitude may be strained in parts of this first book by Villaseñor, the drama portrays empathetic characters who may have real-life counterparts. Moreover, the novel is compelling and powerful, told in language the reader will recognize as realistic and direct.

Shirley, Carl R., and Paula W. Shirley. Understanding Chicano Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Tatum, Charles M. Chicano Literature. Boston: Twayne, 1982.