Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Son of Man is not simply a historical or a mythical novel, yet it presents Paraguayan history from Francia’s regime to the Chaco War against Bolivia. The story and its structure reveal a concern for individual human beings, and at the same time, they show a clear vision of the history of the Paraguayan people.

The main theme in the novel is the desire for the social redemption of a country. These men are moved not by their reason but by their hearts. Their hearts lead some of them to take heroic actions that are symbolic for the others.

Like many writers, Roa Bastos sees the Christ figure as a powerful symbol of man’s redemption by man himself. Hence, the figure of the “son of man”—Cristóbal Jara, or Gaspar Mora—appears throughout the book as an outstanding individual who reveals himself in death. His death may not reduce the people’s oppression, but it supports them by reinforcing their belief in brotherhood.

The carved Christ of Itapé is one of the most important symbols of redemption, symbolizing man crucified by men, a man who must be avenged. At the same time, it is a symbol of the individual who sacrifices himself for his fellowmen.

Roa Bastos does not give answers in his book. He presents facts, and, unfortunately, these facts are repeated throughout time. The world spins like a whipping top: The more it spins, the more static it looks. Nothing changes in spite of the passing of time. “Everything is the same, it seems the time does not move over the enormous slow whipping top.”