Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Macho Camacho’s Beat is a razor-sharp, deep-cutting indictment of Puerto Rican culture. Sánchez’s prose is rich with the colorful and often obscene language of the streets, loaded with the language of consumerism, and abundant in references to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, fictional and otherwise. The fragmented, baroque surface of Sánchez’s highly allusive prose is a brilliant reflection of the kaleidoscopic confusion caused by the indiscriminate acceptance of the material values espoused by a profit-oriented consumerist society. Language defines thought, and in this novel, language is the product of a largely American-controlled mass media. The resulting inability to communicate on an intimate, personal level creates in the reader a sense of the moral and spiritual poverty of Sánchez’s characters.

Macho Camacho’s Beat clearly calls for a radical reformation of Puerto Rican society and of the ways in which individuals perceive themselves. The political push to Americanize Puerto Rico and the corruption of government officials is exemplified in the character of Reinosa. The moral decay of the population is sardonically expressed in the Mother’s prostitution and Benny’s love affair with his Ferrari, which supersedes his affection for any human being. Even the personal physical reality of the people is being transformed, Americanized, foreignized. This is clearly expressed in Graciela’s obsession with makeup, hair, and fashion, in her social life, and in her absurd proposed design for typical Puerto Rican dress: a tailored suit in spotted calfskin.

The key metaphor of the monstrous traffic jam symbolizes the stagnation of a Puerto Rican society that constantly denies its own seedy reality as it becomes obsessed with the fleeting distractions offered by a sensationalist media and subscribes to the seductive but clearly false philosophy of the seductive guaracha. No element of Puerto Rican society is immune from Sánchez’s irreverent and biting sense of humor. The sins of elitism, racial discrimination, and denial of self are laid bare before the grotesque feet and obtuse minds of the sinners. Just as the Kid is forced to confront his ugly and deformed reality reflected in the surface of a fragmented mirror, Sánchez compels his fellow Puerto Ricans to confront themselves in the fragmented and glittering surface of Macho Camacho’s Beat.