The Pentagonía documents life in Cuba from the early 1950’s onward. Although the novels deal with a variety of themes and with diverse characters, one subject stands out as a common denominator: homosexuality. Many characters face sexual oppression by Cuban society and must fight for their incorporation into productive social roles.
Reinaldo Arenas’ novels document the lives of various male characters from their childhood to adulthood, including their handling of their homosexuality. Singing from the Well opens the set by presenting children oppressed by poverty; these children also face the sexual dynamics of a highly chauvinistic society. The nameless characters are representative of Cuban homosexual youth and return as more mature characters in subsequent novels, which can be read as sequels.
The Palace of the White Skunks takes Arenas’ coming-of-age themes one step further by removing an unhappy young man from his restrictive society. Inspired by claims of social equality, Fortunato joins Castro’s guerrilla forces in the fight against the Cuban dictator. His dreams are shattered, however, by the strong antihomosexual attitude of men in the military forces. As a result of his being homosexual, Fortunato is labeled weak and imperfect, certainly not the model of the revolutionary man.
Farewell to the Sea abandons young characters to explore the life of a married man, who appears to be living a full life. Héctor is married and a proud father. He expresses total commitment to revolutionary ideology, for which the state has awarded him a free trip to a beach resort. There he meets a young man, with whom he has romantic encounters. When his friend is found dead in a remote area of the beach, Héctor decides to abandon his vacation. The reader comes to understand that Héctor is a homosexual man who despises the revolution, who has experienced homosexual life, but who is forced to live as a prorevolutionary heterosexual in order to survive.
Arenas wrote the last two novels while fighting AIDS-related illnesses. With El color del verano he makes his most direct attacks against revolutionary persecution of homosexuals. Characters have to lead lives of pretense in order to avoid the economic disaster that follows revelation of homosexuality. The Assault focuses on revolutionary censorship, showing how homosexuals are forced to turn against their own relatives. Physical violence abounds in Arenas’ novels, reflecting on a violent revolutionary society.