Sacred Families

by José Donoso

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480

In “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” an evident mutual exploitation between men and women is shown. Neither respects the individuality of the other: One woman is all women, one man is all men. This is represented through the mutual disassembly and convenient use of one another without regard for sentiment. To these characters, making love becomes a formula, a mechanical engagement.

The emphasis on makeup shows that people masquerade their real being—everything is changed through cosmetics. The people’s behavior at parties illustrates the lack of sincerity in their relationships. Convenience and opportunism are the keys to success: People are used and then disposed of when they are no longer useful.

In “Green Atom Number Five,” the apparently happily married couple find their relationship deteriorating when their well-organized material world starts to collapse. There is a sharp contrast between the couple’s sweet behavior at the beginning of the story and their savage conduct at the end.

Roberto and Marta have built their happy and harmonious relationship in part on Marta’s pretended admiration for her husband’s painting. This has been a lie: She considers his talent mediocre. Roberto goes from unconditional devotion to Marta’s generosity and love to thinking of her as a selfish woman, doubting her intentions and even her honesty after her disclosure. The nightmarish way in which the objects disappear parallels the increasing deterioration in the couple’s relationship.

The theme in “Gaspard de la Nuit” is the obsession of the protagonist, Mauricio, with finding his identity. The obsession is displayed in his continuous whistling, which he uses as an instrument to penetrate other people’s intimacy as he tries to find the right person to help him fulfill his search. He whistles on his daily strolls through the streets, which last many hours. While he walks, he also looks at people, attempting to find the long-awaited double who will either implement him or replace him.

He shows his displeasure with the type of life he has been compelled to live with his father and grandmother, and he does not like his mother’s way of living either. Yet he refuses his mother’s offers of a stereo, a motorcycle, and a tour through Europe. He wants to be left alone to continue his search. His obsession stops when he finds his double and becomes a docile youngster ready to comply with his mother’s desires.

The role that nature plays in Mauricio’s transformation is important. The Vallvidrera Forest, where Mauricio meets the other boy, is a peaceful place that provides the right setting for Mauricio’s music; on the other hand, it can be equated with paradise, where life starts easy but also can turn into the beginning of a life of hardship. When Mauricio leaves the forest, he has already become another person with responsibilities that frame him in a completely different fashion.

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