I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

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Candelaria is the ''ladinized'' Indian maid with whom Menchú works in the city. Cande is unimpressed by the mistress' fits and threats, and stands up to her without hesitation. She even plans a small rebellion in the house, to annoy the mistress, but is thrown out when her plot is discovered. Cande refuses to sleep with the sons of the house, inciting more mistreatment from the mistress, but still, she is able to demand that the mistress give Menchú's father some money when he appears one day, penniless.

Petrona Chona
Doña Petrona Chona is the ‘‘first dead body’’ Menchú had ever seen. She had been hacked to pieces by the landowner's bodyguard because she refused the landowner's son. She was married and had a small son, whose finger was chopped off during the attack.

Petrocinio Menchú Tum
Petrocinio Menchú Tum was Menchú's younger brother, who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the army for his organizing work. His family was called to witness his murder by the army; the army lined up all the prisoners, doused them with petrol, and lit them on fire as their families watched. He was Menchú's second brother to die.

Juana Menchú
A community leader alongside her husband, Juana Menchú was a woman of varied talents; in addition to running an ever-growing household in strict accordance with Indian customs, she was immensely knowledgeable about natural medicines, and her services as a healer and midwife called her away from home much of the time. Menchú admits that because of her patience and resourcefulness, her mother was the one "who coped with the big problems in our family." Also an activist in the peasant's struggle, she is ultimately captured by the military and tortured in unspeakable ways, and dies an agonizing death.

Rigoberta Menchú
Menchú describes herself as ‘‘shy, timid,’’ during her younger years. She was her father's favorite, and her father's staunchest supporter, sympathizing with his need to drink to drown his overwhelming sorrows. As for her mother, she regrets not having taken the time to learn as much from her mother as she did from her father, particularly when, after the death of her mother, she notes that women bear most of the suffering of families, and know the most secrets. Perhaps due to the influence of her parents, who were leaders of the community and wholly Indian to the core, Menchú also becomes a leader in both the Christian and peasant organizations without sacrificing her Indian beliefs. She does, however, consciously decide not to be married or become a mother, identities which are integral to womanhood in the Indian culture; she decides, with difficulty, that her mission to work for social justice is one which cannot accommodate the challenges of motherhood. She is a tenacious and intelligent figure, able to learn Spanish without formal schooling, without being able to read or write. Her narration of her story is replete with an understanding of political struggle: why barriers exist between people, what fuels injustice and exploitation, what will precipitate change. She is astute enough to look at Catholicism critically, although she is a devout Christian, and select those elements of Christianity that will help her struggle and which will not. Her courage and unceasing stamina allow her to organize other villages on her own, to venture into the city at the age of twelve to work as maid, and to risk her life organizing all peasants, ladino and Indian, as a leader in the CUC.

Vincente Menchú
Orphaned as a teenager, Vincente Menchú is the driving force behind the village's resistance. In the army,...

(This entire section contains 724 words.)

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he learned "a lot of bad things, but he also learned to be a man." He was often away from the house, petitioning government authorities, organizing workers, or imprisoned, but he was Menchú's favorite, and she his. He is killed while occupying the Spanish Embassy, when troops set fire to the building. He was very intent on teaching his children to fight, as he had been taught, and passes down the ideology of cultural pride and resistance.

The Mistress
The ladino who employs Menchú as a maid, the mistress is a symbolic representation of all ladinos who discriminate and oppress Indians. Her appallingly unfair treatment of Menchú is Menchú's wake-up call to the true nature of racist ladinos.




Critical Essays