Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is clearly a story of social protest. Dedicated to the children of Mexico City, this story of an unnamed boy’s short life is modeled after the life of many hundreds of children in the large cities of Latin America. The boy’s Indian descent is suggested by his thick, black hair and the poverty of his village home. There are other indications as well: his vision of the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl; his vision of the Mexico City of long ago, when there were Indians everywhere; the image of the eagle landing on a cactus.

According to their history, when the Aztecs found an eagle with a snake in its mouth sitting on a cactus, they were to build a new city there and they would have great prosperity. They found just such a divine sign near a lake and, obeying their gods, they constructed the famous city of Tenochtitlán. Twentieth century Mexico honors its Aztec heritage by displaying these symbols on its national flag and currency. The present-day Mexico City was built over Tenochtitlán; the Spanish conquerors built on the foundations and bodies of the conquered Indians. The boy’s vision of a former Mexico bustling with Indians seems quite apt, as does his view of the eagle-cactus story: Instead of having a snake in its mouth, the boy’s eagle lands on the cactus, looks from side to side, and defecates, representing the new Mexico of conquered peoples—a Mexico of poverty rather than prosperity.

Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important of the Aztec gods. Portrayed as a young man or an enormous feathered serpent (the name means “plumed serpent”), he was Lord...

(The entire section is 649 words.)