Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5270
The fictional world of Mario Vargas Llosa is one of complex novels, of murals of characters, of actions whose significance the reader must determine, of vast edifices that aspire to become total realities. Vargas Llosa’s vision of reality is consistently binary, as can be seen from the titles of some of his works. The tension created by the opposition between the two realities is felt both by the characters within the novels and by the reader, and it is the prime factor in the dramatic nature of Vargas Llosa’s style. In his early short stories and in his first novel, he focused thenarrative on existential gestures, those acts or words that irrevocably set into action the course of a character’s fate. As his novels grew more complex, Vargas Llosa concentrated on long dialogues that gave the intricate structures their cohesion. When he turned to humor and satire, he reverted to the emphasis on gestures, tag words, and brief but revealing verbal interchanges between characters. The War of the End of the World resembles those massive descriptions of entire epochs that characterized fiction in the nineteenth century (which is precisely the period that gives life to the novel’s plot). Vargas Llosa, then, has never contented himself with one style; rather, he has continued to adjust his narrative procedure to the subject at hand.
The influences to which Vargas Llosa has submitted himself for apprenticeship are, with the exception of the Peruvian José María Arguedas, either European or North American. This aspect of his development, in combination with an original use of cinematic techniques, gives his fiction its distinctive flavor. Beneath the glittering surface of technique there are constants within Vargas Llosa’s novels. The murals of characters always present doubles, characters whose fates are connected and whose ends always provide moral points of reference for the society configured in the novels. Insofar as the real or psychic death of one of the doubles is significant for society as a whole, these characters function as scapegoats, those generally unfortunate beings who must atone for the sins of their society. The marginality of these figures sometimes obscures the tragic nature of their fates and of Vargas Llosa’s concept of fiction itself. In his exploration of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857; English translation, 1886), Vargas Llosa provides the most succinct explication of his aesthetics: “The greatest satisfaction that a novel can provide is to provoke my admiration for an act of nonconformity.” As one considers hiscanon, it becomes clear that, no matter how complex the fictional structure becomes, the vital spark for the novel’s action is the act of nonconformity.
The Time of the Hero
In his first novel, The Time of the Hero, Vargas Llosa was already the narrative perfectionist that his readers have come to expect. He had outgrown the personal trauma produced by his experiences in the Leoncio Prado, gaining the maturity to make of that terrifying institution a microcosm for the corruption of society as a whole. The military hierarchy and those secret hierarchies that the cadets (the “dogs”) form give him the structure that houses the plot, which, set in motion by a dice game, works itself out with the irrevocability of a classical tragedy. In this most Sartrean of his novels, Vargas Llosa uses multiple narrators. Each of the significant characters has his moment on the stage, a moment that Vargas Llosa explores dramatically as the character converses with himself and as he comes into conflict with other characters.
The crisis of adolescence is the natural subject for a bildungsroman, and it is a theme to which Vargas Llosa returned in The Green House, Conversation in the Cathedral, and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. The Time of the Hero concentrates on the moment in adolescence when one’s roles suddenly become limited, when the mask freezes to the face, when the violence of the games becomes mortal—the moment Jean-Paul Sartre termed the time of election, when one becomes the self one has chosen to be. Vargas Llosa explores the moment when desire becomes reality, not only for the adolescents but also for their officers and for the power structure of Peru. By stressing the limited options available to the cadets and by revealing the hideous strength of the social hierarchies into which they must blend, he creates a narrative web of tragic intensity. Character is fate, and the adolescents’ furious attempts to enter adult reality only bring about disaster.
The cadets at the Leoncio Prado are from varying social strata, thereby providing Vargas Llosa with the perfect mechanism for including the structure of the entire country within his range of vision. The cadets form a small cell (the “Circle”) to ensure their survival. The cell selects an emissary to carry out the members’ desires, and, through a series of mistakes, the cell is implicated in the complete subversion of the rules of the school and even in the death of a cadet. The guilt associated with the responsibility for the cadet’s death spreads through the school like a cancerous growth. The moral implications of the cadet’s murder can be realized most clearly in the reactions of three characters: Gamboa, the perfect officer; Alberto, the author of pornographic novels and the typical bourgeois; and the Jaguar, the invincible strongman who created the Circle. Each of them comes to terms with the harsh reality of the Leoncio Prado and with the even harsher reality of death itself. The defeat suffered as a result of the confrontation with the Leoncio Prado indelibly marks each of them: Gamboa’s career is ruined because he disputes his superior officers’ decisions, Alberto returns to the artificial paradise of the bourgeois suburb instead of becoming the writer he should have been, and the Jaguar escapes through his love for Terry, but his life is constantly threatened by the corruption surrounding it. The fragmented conversations, the disjointed interior monologues, the sudden connections between disparate events, the constant tension between adolescent and adult realities—all of these aspects create a dramatic field on which the battles for honor are lost.
The Green House
The Green House is a more complex novel than The Time of the Hero, but it is built on the same binary concept found in the earlier work. The Peruvian jungle and the desert city of Piura are the contrasting environments that reiterate the hellish milieu of the Leoncio Prado. The social hierarchies are as solidly in place in the jungle as they are in Lima, and the “heroic” characters who succeed in forming their private paradise eventually re-create the same infernal structures. Five plots are interwoven in The Green House: the tale of the Indian child Bonifacia; the life of the Indian chief, Jum; the career of Anselmo and his romance with the blind deaf-mute Antonia; the fortunes of the multinational bandit Fushía; and the tragedy of Sergeant Lituma. The Green House initiated the period of Vargas Llosa’s exploration of Faulknerian themes and techniques; it has the alternating plots, the sudden character metamorphoses, the insistence on fate in the manipulation of the plot, and the exploration of the perverse precincts of the human soul that are Faulkner’s hallmarks. The Green House was also the first novel in which Vargas Llosa revealed his fondness for the chivalric romance, as the careers of Fushía and Anselmo illustrate. Flaubert’s influence is also evident here, particularly in the character of Bonifacia, who might be termed the Madame Bovary of the Peruvian jungle.
The theme of exploitation connects the five plots and is the basis for the interaction of all the characters; Vargas Llosa builds a multilayered society based on exploitation on physical, material, and moral levels. Only two of the novel’s many characters escape appropriation by others for ends that they cannot control. Anselmo, who calculatedly installs a bordello (the Green House of the title) in the desert near Piura, is capable of the most courtly romance, and he spends his life after the destruction of the Green House wondering if Antonia did, indeed, reciprocate his love. After his infamous career as robber baron and absolute ruler of an island of pleasure, Fushía is reduced to utter dependence on his friend Aquilino, who ferries him by boat to the leper colony where he will end his ignoble life. The conversation between Aquilino and Fushía during the course of their river journey is pure metaphysics, and it provides the poetic thread that prevents the fragmentation that the novel’s multiple plots would otherwise create.
Anselmo’s Green House is destroyed by fire, only to rise again like the phoenix. Each of the plots ends in the utter defeat of the characters, but the characters themselves never give up. Although all are severely embattled by the structures in which they are trapped, the characters nevertheless persist in being themselves, in exploiting the possibilities of their roles to the limits of their potential ramifications. Although Vargas Llosa rarely allows his creatures to become heroic, in their stubborn election of selves in conflict with all other selves and with society itself, his characters do forge an active role in a narrative realm that would demand their complete domination. Considered as a whole, the novel’s entire cast is making the same trip as Fushía, down the slow river of death. Some of them—including Fushía himself, Anselmo, and Aquilino—are fortunate enough to enjoy the supreme gift in Vargas Llosa’s fiction: the pleasures of friendship.
Conversation in the Cathedral
Conversation in the Cathedral presents Vargas Llosa’s bleakest enactment of the strategies of nonconformity. Lima at all levels is the stage for an endless struggle that Vargas Llosa symbolizes in the conflict between fathers and sons. The nefarious career of the political strongman Cayo Bermádez infects and eventually destroys the life of every character in the novel. The most vital of the many interwoven plots is the one that concerns a young newspaperman, Santiago Zavala, and his discovery that his ostensibly bourgeois father is the infamous Bola de Oro. Vargas Llosa constructs this enormous novel’s edifice upon the running dialogue between Santiago and his father’s former chauffeur, a dialogue that takes place in a seedy dive called the Cathedral.
The atmosphere of the prose resembles that of Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931); there is even a character named Popeye. The vast nature of the reality configured in the narrative once again reminds the reader of Flaubert and his eye for re-creating the minutiae of mundane existence; at the same time, the novel is a kind of allegory of an oppressive political situation all too common in Latin America. Coming to realize just how pervasive Bermádez’s influence is throughout Lima, Santiago must acknowledge that his father’s capitalistic gambling provides significant sustenance for Bermádez’s power, that his father’s moral decay is the real field on which the family’s honor is lost. His anagnorisis does not lead to the triumph typical of Greek drama but instead to the deliberate election of mediocrity; Santiago will forever hide himself in the gray streets and mean bars of Lima’s underside.
Whereas Vargas Llosa captures the definitive gestures of adolescence in The Time of the Hero and those of maturity in The Green House, he captures in Conversation in the Cathedral the desperate grimace of a society in need of a complete revolution. Like Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936), the novel suggests that humanity’s design, no matter how grand or intricate, only attracts destruction from the gods. Santiago comes to know his father, and thereby to know himself, only to understand that his life was destroyed even before it began.
Captain Pantoja and the Special Service
In Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, military hierarchies supply the structure upon which Vargas Llosa weaves the tragicomic career of Pantaleón Pantoja, the archetypal military man whose perfectionism is his downfall. Although the thematic preoccupation is much like that of The Time of the Hero, the tone is radically different. Vargas Llosa treats injustice, corruption, and defeat, but he presents them with humor and satire rather than as the components of tragedy. Captain Pantoja is given the curious task of devising a system to provide “ladies of the night” to the Peruvian military forces stationed at hardship posts in the jungle. He attacks his task with gusto and rigor, and he succeeds beyond the greatest expectations of his officers. The fact that his family is destroyed and his life completely changed restrains Pantoja not at all.
Although Vargas Llosa abandons his usual practice of avoiding aprotagonist in this novel, he does provide Pantoja with the customary double that has characterized his plots. The jungle also harbors a religious fanatic, Brother Francisco, whose career holds up a dark mirror to Pantoja’s and whose death at the hands of his followers reflects the danger inherent in Pantoja’s success. In this novel, Vargas Llosa extends the use of dream sequences as vehicles for the expression of the subconscious, and Pantoja’s surreal nocturnal voyages eloquently reveal the distress caused by his new life.
Pantoja’s downfall is engineered by the radio announcer Sinchi, an egomaniac who cannot tolerate competition from Pantoja’s kingdom of pleasure. Vargas Llosa deftly uses the cliché-ridden texts of Sinchi’s radio broadcasts to exaggerate the boredom of daily life in the towns lost in the jungle. Sinchi’s delirious diatribes are, however, no match for the monomaniacal military reports in which Pantoja marshals ever-increasing statistics to convince his officers in Lima of the success of his system. These parodies were anticipated in the pornographic novels of Alberto in The Time of the Hero, and they are carried to a hyperbolic extreme in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.
Pantoja is eventually defeated by the very numbers he has assembled to validate his reports. His moral decay becomes evident to the whole region as he enjoys a brief but intense affair with an irresistible Brazilian, one of his fleet of “visiting ladies.” Rather than make of Pantoja the tragic figure that Gamboa is in The Time of the Hero, Vargas Llosa makes him the pawn of even more comic generals, thereby implying that the most powerful institution in Peru can be reduced to a hierarchy of absurd buffoons.
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
In counterpoint closely resembling the structure of Faulkner’s The Wild Palms (1939), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter alternates the story of a young writer, Mario Varguitas (whose name clearly echoes that of the author), with the fortunes of Pedro Camacho, a writer of radio serials. As he serves his apprenticeship as a writer, Varguitas gradually explores the mysteries of love with his “Aunt” Julia, the recently divorced sister-in-law of his Uncle Lucho. His success in both endeavors parallels the decline of Camacho.
An obvious difference of tone characterizes the two modes of narration. Varguitas recounts his experiences with humor, and as his romance progresses, that humor is extended to hyperbole. Both the texts of Camacho’s serials and the episodes concerning Camacho in Varguitas’s narration are marked by ferocious satire. Varguitas narrates the episodes of his romance in a linear fashion, but the history of Pedro Camacho is presented obliquely, through the texts of increasingly alienated soap operas. The characters in Camacho’s texts exhibit all the repressed elements of his seething unconscious. Inasmuch as his texts are connected thematically rather than by the characters, they provide the opportunity for Vargas Llosa to bring back former characters and favorite subjects—Sergeant Lituma reappears and undergoes an apotheosis, and a savage is once again confronted with the modern city, recapitulating one of the major themes of The Green House.
The desperate isolation of Pedro Camacho and the subsequent sublimation of that loneliness into the texts of his soap operas carry the same import as does the radical isolation of Quentin Compson in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929). Unlike Quentin, however, Camacho does not kill himself; instead, he becomes even more mediocre than before, becoming as invisible as Santiago Zavala in Conversation in the Cathedral. In his last appearance in the novel, he is a completely changed man, and his magnificent voice is all that remains of his former personality. Varguitas does not become invisible; rather, he perfects himself by perfecting his craft, constantly rewriting his short stories, and his escape from the grimy world of second-class journalism is assured. After all, he becomes the author of the novel the reader is reading.
The War of the End of the World
After the writing of The Green House, Brazil hovered on the horizon of Vargas Llosa’s fiction as a potential paradise for adventurers. After the relatively lighter novels Captain Pantoja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Vargas Llosa returned to the novel of massive complexity in The War of the End of the World, a work based on the same historical events that form the background for Euclides da Cunha’s influential novel Os sertões (1902; Rebellion in the Backlands, 1944)—indeed, Vargas Llosa dedicated his novel to Cunha. In a manner reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy, Vargas Llosa recounts the military campaign of the Brazilian government to obliterate the utopian community established at Canudos. The unrest in the north of Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century provides the stage for the war of wills and of concepts of reality, and the struggle between gigantic forces threatens the very fabric of society itself. Canudos is established by a religious zealot, Antonio the Counselor, as a refuge for those citizens whose reality is consistently denied by the modern state.
Vargas Llosa’s analysis of the problems of the state demands an excursion into the eighteenth century, and the character of the Barón de Cañabrava conveys the unresolved problems that century bequeathed to the nineteenth. The pilgrims following Antonio take over land owned by the Barón de Cañabrava as a site for their city, so that the struggle extends even beyond that between the modern government and the military to encompass the fundamental disagreement between owners of vast tracts of land and the humble masses who own nothing. Only gradually does the government come to understand the desperate nature of the military campaign to expel the religious community from Canudos; the two principal antagonists in the struggle, Antonio the Counselor and the military commander Moreira Cesar, suffer from no such illusions. Each of them understands that this is a battle to the death, a war of the end of the world. Although the struggle is protracted and both leaders are killed, there is never any doubt as to which side will emerge triumphant. The victory of the status quo gives an additional poignancy to the sacrifices of the individual characters, created with Vargas Llosa’s customary vividness.
Just as Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! uses several distinct literary styles to capture the distinct worldviews of various narrators, so Vargas Llosa employs a variety of styles to create the complex community of Canudos. The rational eighteenth century life of the Barón de Cañabrava, the picaresque world of the reformed thieves and murderers who form the army of the Counselor, the chivalric romances of the enigmatic beauty Jurema on the way to Canudos—all are narrated in styles appropriate to the interior worlds of the characters. Galileo Gall, the ludicrous phrenologist seduced by the idea of revolution, is one of the most bizarre characters. As Gall ineffectively attempts to transplant the European mystique of revolution à la Pierre Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin to an environment already leavened by the Counselor’s revolution of the interior world, Vargas Llosa produces the necessary vehicle for a thorough examination of the apocalypse, a subject latent in his fiction since The Green House.
The character of a myopic journalist whose constant sneezing interrupts even the most serious moments of the campaign against Canudos serves Vargas Llosa as a roving camera, one whose lens analyzes and freezes the vast scope of the action. The journalist functions as the conscience of the society embattled by the alternative reality of Canudos. He constantly meditates on the secret motivations of the deadly campaign to exterminate the community. His glasses are shattered during a skirmish, and he is reduced to helpless dependence on his friends. Without the use of his eyes, the journalist must gather information on the actions around him with his other senses, and he moves like an amoeba through the frightful violence of the last days of Canudos. Because the journalist sees events no one else can see, he serves as a bridge between characters and events. His role gives continuity and a sense of completion to a novel that might otherwise become too diffuse.
In The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa returns to the epic style that he forged in The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral. He lightens the somber atmosphere with the antics of Galileo Gall and the nearsighted journalist, but the novel’s tone is ultimately dark and despairing. The concept of individual honor is swallowed up by the larger struggles of the military hegemony and religious fanaticism. Even the war of the end of the world, the apocalypse itself, does not change the fundamental structure of society or the future of the hapless individuals trapped within it.
Seen as a whole, Vargas Llosa’s fictions center on a set thematic structure organized around bipolar opposites. Clearly established in his first novel, his style has nevertheless evolved to include humor, satire, and the exploration of the subconscious. Vargas Llosa’s world is one of male domination. The feminine characters serve primarily as bridges to other characters or as sporadic amusements for the more vital males. Although certain women—Bonifacia in The Green House, the Brazilian in Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, and the vivacious Aunt Julia—escape their roles and reveal aspects of themselves beyond their stereotypes, these are temporary phenomena.
The incorporation of symbolic space has increased in Vargas Llosa’s fiction; from the foggy precinct of the Leoncio Prado, he has proceeded to incorporate the jungle, the desert, and Lima itself, with all of its infernal layers. The War of the End of the World makes concrete the Brazil that previously in his fiction existed only as a region of dreams. No matter how complex the stage becomes, however, Vargas Llosa’s characters are condemned to being themselves and to carrying out individual acts of nonconformity against the rigid hierarchies that would otherwise annihilate them. Even as they are defeated, Vargas Llosa’s characters find a way to affirm themselves.
The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta
The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta is based on the Trotskyite revolutionary Alejandro Mayta, who led an uprising against the Peruvian government in 1958. The novel is a reconstruction and fictionalization of Mayta’s life. Vargas Llosa uses his story in the context of modern Peru and its social unraveling. He opens and closes the novel on the garbage dumps outside Lima, a clear reference to the detritus that threatens the culture’s ability to sustain its humanity.
Who Killed Palomino Molero?
In Who Killed Palomino Molero? Vargas Llosa returns to the themes of injustice, political corruption, and defeat of The Time of the Hero and Captain Pantoja and the Special Service. Although the novel is not a fictional re-creation of Vargas Llosa’s own experience as a member of the investigatory commission that attempted to enlighten the public about a horribly brutal massacre of eight journalists during the Sendero Luminoso uprising in the Peruvian Andes, the work reflects influences of the incident and the strong impression it made on Vargas Llosa as well as the criticism he received for the conclusions drawn by the commission.
The novel begins with the discovery of the terribly mutilated remains of Palomino Molero both hanging from and impaled on a tree. Vargas Llosa incorporates elements of mystery and detective fiction as Sergeant Lituma and Lieutenant Silva, members of the Guardia Civil, investigate the murder. They conduct interviews and piece evidence together. It appears at first that the murder was a crime of passion, then it appears to be a crime of revenge or perhaps a cover-up of a smuggling operation.
The novel presents an ironic depiction of the futility of efforts to solve a crime and the difficulties of finding a truth that will satisfy public opinion. The townspeople accuse Lituma and Silva of not really trying to solve the murder in order to protect powerful individuals. Rumors run rampant about why Palomino was murdered. Lituma and Silva are determined to solve the crime and continue to investigate even when their superiors and the military oppose the investigation. They are rewarded for their efforts with transfers to remote stations where they will stagnate, their careers ruined.
The social order portrayed in the novel is one of prejudice, oppressive power, and resentment. The airmen live on a base not far from Talara, within a private fenced enclosure with a guard stationed at the gate, inaccessible to the townspeople and even to the Guardia Civil. The base commander, Colonel Mindreau, repeatedly informs Silva that he does not want to waste time with him and that Silva has no authority over the airmen. The gringo employees of the International Petroleum Company live in a compound, in their big houses with their swimming pools. Mindreau speaks disparagingly of Molero as a cholo, a lower-class person. He reiterates that a common soldier was not an acceptable boyfriend for a colonel’s daughter and that Molero’s being a cholo made it even more unthinkable. The townspeople explain everything as being caused by the big guys. There is no truth, no honesty, no fairness—everything is manipulated for the advantage of the big guys.
Vargas Llosa also addresses the complexity of life in his treatment of sexuality in this novel. Palomino’s mutilation murder and the alleged incestuous rape of Alicia by her father, the colonel, are the result of sexual desire. The meaningless encounters in the whorehouse and Silva’s obsession are motivated by sexual desire. Palomino and Alicia’s love and the love songs he plays are motivated by sexual desire. Yet how different all of these are. It is as Lituma says of the howling cats—they may be fighting or mating.
The harsh reality portrayed in the novel, in the graphic description of the murdered Palomino and in the ever-present exercise of corrupt power and oppression, is lightened by Vargas Llosa’s portrayal of Lituma’s ironic naïveté and Silva’s sexual obsession with Doña Adriana, which is reminiscent of the comically satirical portrayal of sexual attraction dating to the Middle Ages. Lituma, who has only recently joined the Guardia Civil, is highly impressed by his superior’s expertise in interviewing techniques—he remarks that Silva knows how to get people to tell the truth. They never really solve the crime, however.
In Praise of the Stepmother
In Praise of the Stepmother offers a detached, cold view of sexuality and its perversities through the story of the aging insurance executive Don Rigoberto, his second wife, sexy Doña Lucretia, and his young son, Alfonso. Aware of the possibility that Alfonso may resent her replacement of his mother, Lucretia attempts to gain his favor; however, the two become sexually involved. “Fonsito” later writes an essay detailing his seduction of Lucretia and lets his father read it. Don Rigoberto appears to accept the liaison between his new wife and son until the maid discovers that Alfonso has set out from the beginning to seduce his stepmother as a way of ridding himself and the household of her presence. He claims that his goal was to restore the household’s original order: his father and the maid all to himself.
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, a sequel to In Praise of the Stepmother, is set in Lima, where Don Rigoberto fills ledgers with descriptions of his fantasies and sexual obsessions. Vargas Llosa purposely plays with the division between fiction and reality as Rigoberto’s entries are soon confused with details of Lucretia’s attempts to resist her stepson’s advances. Rigoberto describes high-flown scenes with his wife, such as having her portray the subjects of famous, sexually titillating paintings. The portrayal of Alfonso is one of a sexually astute wolf in sheep’s clothing. Barely on the cusp of adolescence, he visits his outcast stepmother to show her his drawings and discuss artist Egon Schiele, whose own art reflects a certain perversity and lustiness. She feigns outrage at his impudence after he “tricks” her into a sexual liaison. The scene ends with the boy leaving, Lucretia masturbating on the bidet, and then, unexpectedly, Don Rigoberto giving scrupulous instructions to the architect of his new house on how to accommodate his art and book collection. Vargas Llosa clearly takes pleasure in creating such juxtapositions of Lucretia’s carnal weaknesses and her husband’s near-obsessive attention to his art and literature, as he skillfully weaves together Lucretia’s erotic experiences, Schiele’s life and art, and Rigoberto’s sensual musings.
The Bad Girl
In The Bad Girl, Vargas Llosa creates a structure of dichotomy by employing a motif of opposites and contrasts. The Bad Girl is the story of a love affair between a bad girl (Lily) and a good boy (Ricardo). It alternates between ecstasy and despair, between abandonment and reconciliation. In the characterization of Lily and Ricardo, Vargas Llosa creates a polar opposition that permeates the entire intrigue of the novel. Lily comes from a poor Peruvian family, Ricardo from an upper-middle-class milieu. Lily is always disguising herself and assuming false names. Ricardo is simply Ricardo Somocurcio. Lily needs adventure, danger, and an extravagant lifestyle; Ricardo is satisfied with a quiet, peaceful, restrained life. The motif of contrasts is repeated in the unfolding of Lily’s life. As Lily ascends in social status and wealth, she descends in dignity and freedom. The political subplot of the love reveals the contradiction between the idealistic beliefs of the Peruvian revolutionaries in their power to change Peru and the reality of failure and death that is their fate. The lives of the minor characters also play out in a series of contrasts that are often ironic.
In his literary criticism, Vargas Llosa has stated that fiction creates its own reality and that good fiction convinces the reader to accept this fictional reality even though it may contrast sharply with everyday reality. The Bad Girl accomplishes this feat. By creating an ambience of destiny, Vargas Llosa is able to use chance and coincidence repeatedly to bring Lily and Ricardo back together and keep the reader convinced of the tale’s reality. Lily and Ricardo are fated to be together, so naturally they will be reunited in Paris, in England, in Japan, and in Spain. Wherever one is, the other will eventually appear.
Vargas Llosa concludes his tale of tragic nonconformist love with the death of the bad girl. She loves Ricardo but requires so much that he cannot give her that she will always leave him. Her death unites her with him forever. The death of the unfaithful heroine is a traditional ending, but Vargas Llosa adds an innovative aspect to it: Ricardo has always wanted to write a novel, and, before she dies, Lily tells him she has given him that novel.