Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
After graduating from law school in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was born in 1884, Rómulo Gallegos (gahl-YAY-gohs) became a teacher in 1912. He founded a magazine and wrote unsuccessful dramas and short stories until dictator Juan Gómez suspended the magazine. His first novel, Reinaldo Solar, attacked crooked politics. Not until the publication in Spain of Doña Bárbara in 1929 did Gallegos achieve an international reputation. Doña Bárbara is one of the masterpieces of what has been called the “novel of the land.” Mystique of the land, naturalistic confrontation of man and nature, melodramatic story line, more or less careful literary elaboration, social critique, and strong didactic purpose characterize this genre. Set against the vast Venezuelan plains, the story presents an allegorical conflict between civilization and barbarism. Progress and modernization are represented by the enlightened Santos Luzardo (he has “sainthood” and “light” in his name), who returns to his lands and has to overcome wilderness, backwardness, and violence, represented by Doña Bárbara. The conflict is solved through a family romance: Luzardo marries Doña Bárbara’s daughter Marisol. The novel has gone through many editions and has been made into a film.
While in voluntary political exile in Spain, Gallegos wrote Cantaclaro, the story of a wandering minstrel. Some critics consider it his greatest novel; others call it overly complicated and somewhat unformed. Canaima showcases the overwhelming power of nature vis-á-vis human beings. The protagonist, Marcos Vargas, leaves for the jungle to lead a more fulfilling primitive life, but he falls prey to the malignant god (Canaima) of that environment. At the end, Marcos Vargas sends his son to Caracas to bring back the light of the civilization. The novel revisits the conflict of Doña Bárbara, but without its clear-cut allegorical didacticism.
Following the dictator’s death in 1935, Gallegos returned to Venezuela and wrote Pobre negro (poor black). This novel, published in 1937, deals with a nineteenth century Venezuelan slave. An indigenous girl, educated in New York to work for the advancement of her race, is the heroine of Sobre la misma tierra (on the same land), published in 1943.
Gallegos did more than write about politics: He also campaigned twice for the presidency of Venezuela. In 1947 he was elected to serve until 1952, but he was overthrown by a military junta in 1948. An exile in Cuba, he wrote and published there in 1952 a work titled La brizna de paja en el viento (straws in the wind), a study of political unrest. In all his writing, this novelist, who ranks close to the top among authors of his continent, showed himself an ardent moralist with deep faith in nonviolence and in the ethics of Christianity.