Mariano Azuela Azuela, Mariano - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Mariano Azuela 1873-1952

Mexican novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry provides criticism on Azuela's works from 1935 through 2002.

Mariano Azuela was one of the foremost Mexican authors of the twentieth-century and is remembered for his depiction of the Mexican revolution in novels such as Los de Abajo (1916; The Underdogs), Las tribulaciones de una familia decente (1918; The Trials of a Respectable Family), and La luciérnaga (1932). His best-known work outside Mexico continues to be his first major novel about the Mexican revolution, The Underdogs. The work is lauded as a masterpiece of modern Spanish-American fiction for Azuela's realistic and objective portrayal of the trials and tribulations of the revolution, as well as its social and political consequences. This work, along with his later novels, has led critics to place Azuela among the best authors of twentieth-century Mexico, especially in light of his significance to the development of the larger literary landscape in Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth-century.

Biographical Information

Azuela was born on January 1, 1873, in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. His parents, Evaristo Azuela and Paulina Azuela owned a grocery store in town and led a fairly prosperous, middle-class life. At an early age Azuela became interested in reading, and would often read books at his father's store. Azuela entered the seminary in 1887, but left a few years later to pursue a medical degree in Guadalajara. Azuela pursued his literary interests in addition to his medical education and in 1907, he published his first novel, María Luisa, based on the desperate conditions he witnessed while working as a physician in the slums of Mexico City. Azuela's writing became more politicized following the Mexican revolution of 1910, and most of his subsequent works incorporated both the historical events and political and social impact of the revolution. Except for a brief sojourn in Lagos, where he was elected to political office, and later working as a military physician for the revolutionary leader General Pancho Villa, Azuela spent most of his professional life in Mexico City. He died of a heart attack on March 1, 1952.

Major Works

Azuela's early novels, including María Luisa, Los fracasados (1908), and Mala Yerba (1909; Marcela) are all concerned with the social inequalities he witnessed while working as a doctor in Mexico City. Praised for his vivid portrayals of social and cultural details, Azuela's writing in these novels was faulted by some for his lack of character and plot development. Following the revolution of 1910, which resulted in the ousting of dictator Porfirio Diaz, Azuela supported General Pancho Villa's claim to govern Mexico. Forced to flee the country with Villa, Azuela was able to return to Mexico City only after the close of the war. His novels during this time, including The Underdogs, Los caciques (1917; The Bosses), Las moscas (1918; The Flies), and The Trials of a Respectable Family, all chronicle the affects of the revolution in one way or another. While Azuela deliberately shied away from writing a political history of the revolution, instead focusing on its social and political impact on ordinary Mexicans, his work is lauded for its objective portrayal of the horrors of war and its aftermath. Of these novels, The Underdogs is considered his masterpiece, reflecting many of Azuela's concerns about his country. The novel follows the story of a poor country boy named Demetrio Macias, and his rise to power in General Villa's revolutionary army. After rising to power, Macias is corrupted by the very powers he is fighting against—greed and corruption. On the other hand, Azuela's next novel, The Bosses, tells the story of a powerful family of Diaz supporters who live in a small Mexican town. Once again, Azuela uses his characters to expose the injustice and corruption of the system that the revolution meant to overthrow. His next major novel, The Trials of a Respectable Family was somewhat of a departure from his earlier works—this time Azuela focused on the story of a prosperous, middle-class family as they try to survive during the revolution. Although this work was not well-received by critics at the time of its publication, probably due to its perceived sympathetic tone towards the wealthy families that the revolution intended to displace, it is now acknowledged as one of Azuela's best works, second only to The Underdogs. Azuela's later novels, including La Malhora (1923), El desquite (1925) and La luciérnaga are more experimental in nature. More focused on the techniques of writing than his previous works, these works nonetheless continue to reflect Azuela's concern with social and political justice in Mexican society.

Critical Reception

Azuela is acknowledged as one of the most influential writers of twentieth-century Mexico. His works are considered remarkable not only because of the subject matter he explored in them but also because of his pioneering place in Spanish literary development. Influenced by many contemporary European writers, Azuela used a mixture of naturalism and modernism in his writing that, critics note, has deeply impacted Mexican writers in later decades. Despite the accolades, however, most critical study on Azuela in English has focused on The Underdogs, his novel about the Mexican revolution. The work was originally published in serial form in 1915, at the height of the revolution. However, it did not gain national or critical attention until 1920, when it was published whole, in a revised and expanded edition. Since then, the novel has been translated into numerous languages, with its first English translation being issued by Enrique Manguía, in 1929. Titled The Underdogs, it has generated a significant portion of the literary scholarship on Azuela, including issues surrounding its translation from the original. The Underdogs is also studied as a precursor to many of Azuela's later works, and in his review of these, Jefferson Rea Spell remarked that the imagery used in The Underdogs is often carried into more detail in Azuela's later works. In addition to his distinctive style, Azuela is also known for his consistent concern with Mexican social issues. This theme is constant in all his works, including his early novels, noted Bernard Dulsey in his survey of Azuela's depiction of the revolution in his works. Dulsey, like many other critics, also lauded Azuela for his honest and unflinching portrayal of both the positives and negatives of the revolution—ultimately, wrote Dulsey, Azuela viewed the revolution as only the beginning of a change that would eventually redeem Mexico. While acknowledging Azuela as one of the premier novelists of the Mexican revolution, Robert E. Luckey also pointed to the author's exploration or the general human condition in his works. Luckey wrote that this concern was especially apparent in Azuela's later works, many of which display a unique literary style that has served to maintain Azuela's place as one of the most influential Mexican novelists of the twentieth century.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

María Luisa (novel) 1907

Los fracasados (novel) 1908

Mala Yerba: Novela de costumbres nacionales [Marcela: A Mexican Love Story] (novel) 1909

Andrés Pérez, maderista (novel) 1911

Sin amor (novel) 1912

Los de Abajo: Novela de la revolucion mexicana [The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution] (novel) 1916

Los caciques [The Bosses] (novel) 1917

Las moscas [The Flies] (novel) 1918

Las tribulaciones de una familia decente [The Trials of a Respectable Family] (novel) 1918

La Malhora (novel) 1923

El desquite (novel) 1925

La luciérnaga (novel) 1932

El camarada Pantoja (novel) 1937

San Gabriel de Valdivias, comunidad indigena (novel) 1938

Regina Landa (novel) 1939

Avanzada (novel) 1940

Nueva Burguesia (novel) 1941

La marchanta (novel) 1944

La mujer domada (novel) 1944

Cien anos de novella mexicana (essays) 1947

Sendas perididas (novel) 1949

La maldicion (novel) 1955

Esa sangre (novel) 1956

Madero Biografia novelada (novel) 1958-60; published in Obras Completas]

John E. Englekirk (essay date February 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Englekirk, John E. “The ‘Discovery’ of Los de Abajo.Hispania 18, no. 1 (February 1935): 53-62.

[In the following essay, Englekirk recounts the literary developments leading up to the publication of Azuela's Los de Abajo, calling it a formidable contribution to Spanish-American literature.]

The novel plays a relatively unimportant rôle in the development of Spanish-American letters of the nineteenth century. Patriotic verse and combative prose were the inevitable products of the long struggle for independence, first from Spain and later from local tyranny. Oppression, revolt, and exile—such was the normal stream of life in those...

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Jefferson Rea Spell (essay date 1943)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Spell, Jefferson Rea. “Mexican Society of the Twentieth Century as Portrayed by Mariano Azuela.” In Inter-American Intellectual Exchange, pp. 49-61. Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies of the University of Texas, 1943.

[In the following essay, Spell describes Azuela's vision of Mexican society as it is expressed in his novels, noting that his greatest contribution lies in his portrayal of Mexican society as it relates to the revolution.]

Literature is one of the most effective means of intellectual interchange, and fiction is the form most widely read. Of it, there are two types which need to be mentioned here at the outset. There is a type which...

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Bernard Dulsey (essay date May 1951)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dulsey, Bernard. “The Mexican Revolution as Mirrored in the Novels of Mariano Azuela.” Modern Language Journal 35, no. 5 (May 1951): 382-86.

[In the following essay, Dulsey traces Azuela's use of historical events in his novels, contending that the drama in his works stems from real events, and that his novels chart the course of the Mexican revolution.]

In the novels of one man, Mariano Azuela, the Mexican revolution becomes a warmly pulsing segment of history. Azuela, who is primarily known as the author of Los de Abajo, has lived through the entire revolution—the social and economic upheaval as well as the military—and has recorded much of...

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Robert E. Luckey (essay date autumn 1953)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Luckey, Robert E. “Mariano Azuela: 1873-1952.” World Literature Today 27, no. 4 (autumn 1953): 368-70.

[In the following essay, Luckey provides a brief overview of Azuela's life and works.]

When Dr. Mariano Azuela died in Mexico City on March 1, 1952, Spanish America lost one of its most considerable novelists of this century. Dr. Azuela is the author of a universally recognized masterpiece, Los de abajo, which has probably been more widely read both in translation and in the original than any other Spanish American work of our time; he is responsible for the growth of an entirely new sub-genre in literature, the novel of the Mexican Revolution; and...

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E. J. Mullen (essay date spring 1970)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mullen, E. J. “Towards a Prototype of Mariano Azuela's La Luciérnaga.Romance Notes 11, no. 3 (spring 1970): 518-21.

[In the following essay, Mullen compares two versions of Azuela's La Luciérnaga, outlining discrepancies between the first complete edition of the novel and its original publication in serial form, and points out the influence of twentieth century avant-garde writing techniques on Azuela's writing style.]

In 1932, the first edition of Mariano Azuela's La luciérnaga appeared in Madrid.1 It has been acclaimed, almost unanimously, by Hispanists as second only to Los de abajo. John Brushwood considers it...

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Luis Leal (essay date 1971)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Leal, Luis. “The Early Writings.” In Mariano Azuela, pp. 38-52. New York: Twayne, 1971.

[In the following essay, Leal reviews the writings of many of Azuela's precursors, moving on to provide an overview of Azuela's writings before the revolution, including several short stories and his first four novels.]


During the colonial period the novel in Mexico, unlike poetry, did not flourish. It is true that there were some works that contain narrative elements, such as the Sirgueros de la Virgen (Songs in Praise of the Virgin, 1620) by Francisco Bramón, a pastoral romance with a slender narrative...

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Eluid Martinez (essay date spring-summer 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Martinez, Eluid. “Azuela's La Malhora [The Evil One]: From the Novel of the Mexican Revolution to the Modern Novel.” Latin American Literary Review IV, no. 8 (spring-summer 1976): 23-34.

[In the following essay, Martinez studies La Malhora as a modern novel, attempting to draw connections between this and his later works, including El desquite and La Luciérnaga.]

La malhora of 1923, Azuela's tenth novel, comes five years after his last novels of the Mexican Revolution: Las moscas [The Flies] and Las tribulaciones de una familia decente [The Trials of a Respectable Family], one year after the...

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D. Bradley (essay date January 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bradley, D. “The Thematic Import of Azuela's Los De Abajo: A Defence.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 15, no. 1 (January 1979): 14-25.

[In the following essay, Bradley defends Azuela's representation of the Mexican revolution in his Los de Abajo, arguing that although the revolution was an integral part of his novel, Azuela did not intend to present a history of the revolution in his work.]

Critical discussion of Mariano Azuela's novel, Los de abajo, as if taking its cue from the original subtitle of the work, Cuadros y escenas de la Revolución, invariably makes reference to Azuela's failure to present an adequate account of...

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Timothy Murad (essay date fall 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Murad, Timothy. “Animal Imagery and Structural Unity in Mariano Azuela's Los de Abajo.Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century 7, no. 2 (fall 1979): 207-22.

[In the following essay, Murad examines Azuela's use of animal imagery in Los de abajo, observing that the liberal use of animal references is both a way to convey the savagery of the Mexican revolution and as a means of providing structural unity in the narrative.]

Animal imagery abounds in Los de abajo (1916), Azuela's portrayal of the Mexican Revolution as seen through the rise and fall of Demetrio Macías and his band of guerrillas. Critics have noted its presence in the...

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D. Bradley (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bradley, D. “Patterns of Myth in ‘Los de Abajo.’” Modern Language Review 75, no. 1 (1980): 94-104.

[In the following essay, Bradley argues that despite critical debate over its lack of structural unity, Los de abajo abounds in religious motifs and mythological themes that provide it with thematic unity.]

Despite the numerous works of later writers dealing with the same troubled period, Mariano Azuela's novel, Los de abajo, first published in 1915, remains the outstanding novel of the Mexican Revolution; in its brief pages, through the realistic portrayal of the experiences of a band of rebel guerrilleros—minor characters in...

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Timothy Murad (essay date December 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Murad, Timothy. “Los de Abajo vs. The Underdogs: The Translation of Mariano Azuela's Masterpiece.” Hispania 65, no. 4 (December 1982): 554-61.

[In the following essay, Murad compares and contrasts the similarities and differences between the original Las de Abajo and its first English translation, The Underdogs.]

El traducir de una lengua en otra … es como quien mira los tapices flamencos por el revés.

Cervantes, Don Quixote, II, 62

Literary translations have played a key role in what can be described as the internationalization of prose fiction (and...

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J. Patrick Duffey (essay date winter 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Duffey, J. Patrick. “A War of Words: Orality and Literacy in Mariano Azuela's Los de Abajo.Romance Notes 38, no. 2 (winter 1998): 173-78.

[In the following essay, Duffey uses Azuela's Los de Abajo as a text that illustrates the conflict between oral and literate cultures, represented in the book via Demetrio Macías and his men on the one hand, and by Luis Cervantes and Alberto Solís on the other.]

According to Walter J. Ong's seminal 1982 work, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, there are at least nine characteristics that distinguish the mentality of an oral culture from that of a literate one. My aim is to show...

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Sherry Lutz Zivley (essay date spring 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lutz Zivley, Sherry. “The Conclusion of Azuela's The Underdogs and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.The Hemingway Review 17, no. 2 (spring 1998): 118-23.

[In the following essay, Zively discusses similarities in the final scenes of Los de Abajo and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.]

Internal evidence suggests that when Ernest Hemingway wrote the final chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), he was influenced by the final scene of Los de Abajo, a novel by Mexican writer Mariano Azuela first published in 1916 and translated into English in 1929 as The Underdogs. Although neither the standard...

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David Laraway (essay date September 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Laraway, David. “Doctoring the Revolution: Medical Discourse and Interpretation in Los de Abajo and El Aguila y la Serpiente.Hispanofila 127 (September 1999): 53-65.

[In the following essay, Laraway discusses how the human body and the Revolution are linked in Martín Luis Guzmán's El águila y la serpiente and Azuela's Los de abajo.]

Ever since a moribund Artemio Cruz became an emblem of the fragmented, postrevolutionary history of Mexico, the individual human body and the Mexican body politic have been regarded as dual aspects of a single text, demanding a unifying act of interpretation even while the possibility of a seamless...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 16 September 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Underdogs, by Mariano Azuela. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 37 (16 September 2002): 52.

[In the following positive review of The Underdogs, the critic notes how the novel is memorable due to its portrayal of the protagonist as an archetype of Mexico's national character.]

First published in 1915, Azuela's ground-breaking novel [The Underdogs] about a Mexican peasant who becomes a revolutionary leader is now being issued in a revised translation with a set of illuminating footnotes (notes and revisions by Beth E. Jörgensen). Demetrio Macías is the protagonist who joins the rebels in their efforts to overthrow Mexico's corrupt...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Blom, Frans. “Mexico in Arms.” Saturday Review of Literature 6, no. 10 (28 September 1929): 179.

Reviews The Underdogs as one of the most outstanding and compelling works of modern literature.

Brown, Donald F. “Review of Las tribulaciones de una familia decente.Modern Language Journal 52, no. 6 (1968): 378.

Lauds a 1966 edition of Azuela's novel about an upper-class Mexican family as one of the author's best works, and one that provides background on the complicated history of the Mexican revolution.

Daydí, Santiago. “Drinking: A Narrative Structural Pattern...

(The entire section is 377 words.)