Roberto personifies what it means to be macho, without bluster or crude language (though the language of others is occasionally blunt). The desperate situations into which he is drawn neither oversimplify nor glamorize that ideal: a fight with a thief; the clash with Pedro; a barroom rescue; and finally, the novel’s climactic confrontation. Although Roberto outwardly displays the Mexican cultural ideal of fierce arrogance, he also uses his intellect to question tradition and to preserve both life and honor.
Finally, it becomes clear that the central struggle in Macho! is not simply one of peace versus violence but of the struggle to reconcile tradition with change. Roberto succeeds not merely because he can endure the old ways of violence, but because he is willing to challenge his cultural traditions with the tools of change (reason), to create new roles that are both more honorable and more productive than death by violence.
Juan Aguilar, prematurely aged by his life as a norteño, at first impresses the reader with his knowledge of the road to fortune beyond the Mexican border. As the novel unfolds, however, Juan shows, not only by his speech and actions but also by comparison with more sophisticated migrant workers, that his knowledge of American culture and customs is as limited as his possibilities in, and perhaps for, life.
Juan’s role as Roberto’s protector is also flawed, for that...
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