I, the Supreme offers a fictionalized account of the key events and motives behind the nineteenth century dictatorship of Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (also known as Dr. Francia), who governed in Paraguay from 1814 until his death in 1840. In the novel, Augusto Roa Bastos presents a revision of the accepted interpretations of this period in history, analyzing not only the lingering effects on Paraguay but also the traditional notions of historical writing as the repository of objective truth.
Although I, the Supreme is considered a novel, it exhibits few of the traditional characteristics of the genre. There is, in fact, no sense of logical continuity that could constitute a plot, and no single voice that could be considered to narrate events. Indeed, the book is essentially a juxtaposition of different, and frequently contradictory, conversations, monologues, myths, journal entries, circulars, letters, historical documents, footnotes, and anonymous commentaries, all brought together by an unidentified, ostensibly impartial “compiler.” This compiler, who replaces both the traditional narrator and the concept of the author, selects, orders, and presents the diverse fragments that comprise I, the Supreme. While the novel is predominantly fictional, many of the incorporated texts are taken from authentic historical sources, the value and veracity of which the reader is forced to judge as the novel unfolds.
Besides rejecting the traditional notions of narrator and narrative plot, the novel also eliminates the concept of chronological time. Past, present, and future all merge into a sense of permanent timelessness. The fictional dictator discusses his death and burial as if it were already past, and he argues with historians not yet born and texts not yet written. At other times, two events occurring at vastly different times are telescoped into one moment and presented as simultaneous....
(The entire section is 791 words.)