Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

While living in Cuba, Arenas published only one novel, Celestino antes del alba (1967; Singing from the Well, 1987), and a few short stories. The author’s refusal to articulate revolutionary propaganda in his writings forced the cultural policymakers of the Cuban Revolution—individuals who defined the function of literature as political and of immediate practical utility—to censor his texts and designate them as counterrevolutionary. After Arenas’s fall from favor with the Cuban government, his work was no longer published on the island; moreover, his manuscripts were repeatedly confiscated and destroyed by the Cuban secret police. As a result, Arenas secretly began to send his manuscripts abroad. The Palace of the White Skunks thus first appeared in 1975 in French translation before appearing in its original Spanish version, El palacio de las blanquísimas mofetas, in 1980.

The Palace of the White Skunks is the second novel of a five-book sequence— Singing from the Well, The Palace of the White Skunks, Otra vez el mar (1982; Farewell to the Sea, 1986), El color del verano (1991; the color of summer), and El asalto (1991; the assault)—that constitutes a unique intradependent unit within the author’s total novelistic productions. This quintet, which the author insisted on calling a pentagonía (“pentagony”)—a playful but revealing neologism that underscores the despair and agonía (agony) suffered by the characters in each novel—reflects different historical periods of Cuban society as well as provides an imagined futuristic vision of the Cuban island and its people. In each novel of the series, the main character is destroyed—only to be resurrected under a new name in the subsequent text, where he suffers a whole new set of ordeals. With The Palace of the White Skunks, Arenas continued the family saga that he had initially begun with Singing from the Well. The Palace of the White Skunks explores the protean main character’s adolescent world, a chaotic world of torment and spiritual hardship played out against a backdrop of revolutionary upheaval.