Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel is written to recount and extol the birth of a sense of self-worth among the Salvadoran peasantry. This central theme illuminates the narrative and asserts that human dignity can and does transcend misery, brutality, and oppression. Beyond the misery of One Day of Life, beyond the carnage and despair, the novel holds forth hope for social justice in the future. Neither the peasants nor the guards seem able to comprehend or discuss the complex problems which they face, or even their own attitudes toward these questions. No solutions are proposed, no real focus of effort to accomplish any concrete goals ever appears to emerge. For each small action—a demonstration, a rally, an act of defiance—harshly brutal reprisals follow immediately. The book suggests that such measures serve only to strengthen the resolve of the peasants to continue to seek ways to make their lives better, but the position of the peasants would appear to be precariously weak, and beset by enemies both at home and abroad.

This novel asserts that the dignity of the human spirit will not be destroyed by misery and oppression, that it will resist and ultimately triumph. It is a splendid hope, providing a luminescent thematic unity to this tale of how the human spirit flourishes in one of the most economically depressed and politically unsettled areas of the Americas.