The action in The Old Gringo occurs within a short period of time. The Old Gringo (Bierce), searching for yet another frontier, rides into Mexico with a few belongings, notably a suitcase with a couple of his books and a copy of Don Quixote (1605, 1615), whose protagonist is also on a quest. Miguel de Cervantes’s “hero” is at once romantic and comic, and surely Fuentes is commenting ironically about the Old Gringo’s venture. As he puts it, “My work is finished and so am I.” As Inocencio Mansalvo describes the Old Gringo’s purpose, “That man came here to die.”
The Old Gringo searches for Pancho Villa’s army but instead finds a band of rebels led by “General” Tomás Arroyo, the illegitimate son of the Mirandas, whose estate he destroys. After demonstrating his prowess with a gun, the Old Gringo joins Arroyo’s band and in the fighting the next day displays “suicidal courage.” Harriet Wilson, the teacher the Mirandas hired for their children, is also at the Miranda estate and is intent on educating children and salvaging what she can of the Miranda property. Unfortunately, only a ballroom full of mirrors remains. After the battle, as Arroyo and Harriet dance, she imagines he is her father, who died in Cuba, and she has intercourse with him. When the Old Gringo burns the papers Arroyo has proving Mexican ownership of the land, Arroyo shoots him. When Villa arrives, he discovers what has happened, exhumes the Old Gringo’s body, and then has him shot by a...
(The entire section is 618 words.)