Miguel Ángel Asturias Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Miguel Ángel Asturias is best known for his novels, which combine material evocative of Guatemala’s Mayan heritage with impassioned protests against social and political injustice. His theatrical works are considered an important contribution to the Latin American dramatic tradition but have not been widely translated and have made relatively little impact on the world stage. Asturias regarded his plays as a respite from writing fiction and stated that they required literary techniques with which he was not entirely at ease. It seems clear that his reputation will rest on novels such as El Señor Presidente (1946; The President, 1963) and Hombres de maíz (1949; Men of Maize, 1975).

Achievements

Miguel Ángel Asturias was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967. Although appreciative of this great honor, he publicly condemned the shoddy quality of English translations of his books and was also outraged that his work was largely unavailable in his native Guatemala. These two circumstances are indicative of the subsequent course of Asturias’s literary reputation, which remains high with specialists in Latin American literature but has failed to earn him the wide public recognition enjoyed by Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

Asturias’s distinguished diplomatic career was capped by the 1966 award of the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. Because he received it at a time when American-Soviet relations had been made particularly difficult by the Vietnam War, it is possible that this contributed to the relative neglect of his work in the United States. However, this should not obscure his remarkable achievement in simultaneously pursuing successful careers in literature and diplomacy.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Miguel Ángel Asturias’s first published works were translations of Mayan Indian lore whose influence is strongly present in his own writings. His first and most famous novel, El señor presidente (1946; The President, 1963) is a subjective account of the Estrada Cabrera dictatorship in Guatemala. His “Banana Trilogy” of novels deals with the imperialistic excesses of the United Fruit Company. Because of their use of intense visual images to appeal to the audience’s subconscious, his dramas have been regarded as highly experimental. Asturias also wrote poetry, essays, children’s stories, and newspaper articles.

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Miguel Ángel Asturias sought to give a universal consciousness to the problems of Latin America in his writings. He is best known for fusing native legends, folklore, and myths with harsh reality and even surrealism in his novels.

In 1923, the University of San Carlos in Guatemala awarded Asturias the Premio Galvez for his law degree dissertation on the sociocultural problems of the Indian; he won the Chavez Prize that same year. The Prix Sylla Monsegur was bestowed upon him in 1931 for his collection of Indian tales entitled Leyendas de Guatemala. The Prix du Meilleur Roman Étranger was awarded to him in 1952 for his first novel, El señor presidente. The International Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union was awarded to him in 1966 for the three works in the “Banana Trilogy.” Asturias’s most prestigious award was the Nobel Prize in Literature from the Swedish Academy in 1967.

Other literary forms

Although known primarily as a novelist, Miguel Ángel Asturias (ah-STEWR-yahs) produced work in a variety of literary forms, including several volumes of short stories, a few plays, and two substantial collections of verse. In addition, Asturias published a number of sociological and journalistic works.

Most of Asturias’s works, regardless of genre, are interrelated in one way or another. The short stories collected in Week-end en Guatemala (1956), for example, are integral parts of the political and artistic statements of the novels of the Banana trilogy (Strong Wind, The Green Pope, and The Eyes of the Interred). Similarly, the play Soluna (pb. 1955; sun-moon) provides a helpful introduction to the novels Men of Maize and Mulata and presents an overview of primitive magic lacking in the novels. The complementarity between individual works has led many critics to regard Asturias’s oeuvre as a unified whole and to analyze it on that basis.

Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The works of Miguel Ángel Asturias are the expression of a mind intensely engaged with the essence of America. A virtuoso in the use of language and a master of many genres, Asturias focused his craft on a great variety of issues and themes. Two of these concerns had special importance for him, and a majority of his published works can be identified as explorations of those topics. His achievements were identical with his interests: the combination of Mayan cosmology with an aesthetic technique often called Magical Realism for the purpose of making a unique interpretation of modern Indian and mestizo reality, and a blend of social protest and art that attacked dictatorship and imperialism through the forum of world literature.

Asturias’s concerns ran parallel with those of his generation. With the passing of Romanticism and Modernismo in the first decades of the twentieth century, Latin American writers began to seek inspiration in native rather than European themes. Realistic and naturalistic traditions in the novel developed into an original “literature of the land” that sought to portray a distinctively American experience. Peasants, supposedly in harmony with their surroundings but exploited by other elements of society, increasingly became the subjects of important works of fiction. The American landscape in art and literature changed from the idealized, idyllic paradise it had often been in nineteenth century fiction and poetry to an...

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Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barrueto, Jorge J. “A Latin American Indian Re-Reads the Canon: Postcolonial Mimicry in El Señor Presidente.” Hispanic Review 74, no. 3 (Summer, 2004). Barrueto reevaluates The President, considered a novel of political criticism that ascribes the problems of Guatemala to the nation’s indigenous peoples. Barrueto seeks to broaden analysis of the novel by examining the book from the perspective of the Guatemalan Indians.

Brotherston, Gordon. The Emergence of the Latin American Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. This scholarly work is intended as an introduction to the Latin American novel,...

(The entire section is 691 words.)