Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Both as an early example of Magical Realism and as a literary achievement in its own right, The Seven Madmen is held in high esteem. It is the most widely discussed work by Roberto Arlt, generally deemed a great original figure in Latin American writing. Though Arlt produced three other novels, two volumes of short stories, many journalistic pieces, and several plays, none is quite as successful at fusing realism, existential preoccupations, and wild imagination as The Seven Madmen.

Arlt was a newspaper writer whose style was often rough, though he also was capable of lyric prose. The varieties of language and style in The Seven Madmen have irritated some readers and fascinated others. Yet even Arlt’s greatest admirers concede that his writing is of very uneven quality; some passages of The Seven Madmen are simply too histrionic, “purple,” or sentimental.

Any reader of the Latin American New Novel, especially those of the magical vein worked by such authors as Gabriel García Márquez (of Colombia) and Julio Cortázar (of Argentina—an avowed follower of Arlt), should turn to Arlt’s novel to understand the beginning stages in the development of this highly original form.

Indicative of Arlt’s role in the development of Latin American literature is the changing degree of recognition accorded his work. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Arlt won considerable attention as an unusual and flamboyant figure on the Buenos Aires literary scene, but his work was not always considered to be of lasting significance. For example, although The Seven...

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