The novel is a cross-cultural meditation that demonstrates the differences between the Mexican and North American national temperaments. The freedom fighter Arroyo is an innocent undone by the inexperienced Harriet and the experienced gringo, both of whom make demands that he is unable to satisfy. In the novel’s preoccupation with Mexico and Mexican history, apart from the way it explores the relationship of Mexico and the United States, The Old Gringo resembles Fuentes’s earlier novel La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964).
The two novels also share a tendency to experiment with nonlinear storytelling, shifting points of view, consciousness, and structure. In earlier novels, Fuentes had experimented with multiple narrative voices. The point of view of The Old Gringo is predominantly third-person omniscient, but Fuentes rapidly shifts the focus from character to character without regard to linear chronology. Sequences and conversations started earlier in the novel are continued later, after the reader has developed a better and more complete sense of context. The narrative technique is sophisticated and challenging.
In the novel, the elegant Miranda hacienda becomes a symbol of the old order, which must be destroyed but which casts a hypnotic spell over Arroyo, who has links to the family, and threatens to seduce him from his revolutionary purpose. This could partly explain his sexual attraction for...
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