(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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of different, and frequently contradictory, conversations, monologues, myths, journal entries, circulars, letters, historical documents, footnotes, and anonymous commentaries, all brought together by an unidentified, ostensibly impartial “compiler.”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....

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bach, Caleb. “Augusto Roa Bastos: Outwitting Reality.” Americas 48 (November-December, 1996): 44-49. Discusses Rao Bastos’s background and writing career. Offers an in-depth examination of I, the Supreme along with illuminating comments by Roa Bastos about the book.

Balderston, Daniel. “The Making of a Precursor: Carlyle in Yo, el Supremo.” Symposium 44 (Fall, 1990): 155-164. Examines the use of Thomas Carlyle’s 1843 essay on Doctor Francia as an intertext in Roa Bastos’s novel. Also discusses the theory that the modern writer creates his precursors, the relationship between literature and history, and the relationship between language and reality.

Da Rosa, Doris C. “Yo, el Supremo and Augusto Roa Bastos’s Search for the Future of Paraguay.” Discurso Literario 1 (Spring, 1984): 169-176. Examines the novel as a historical revision of Francia’s regime but not as an unqualified justification. Maintains that the historical perspective of the text reflects contemporary circumstances and problems of Paraguay. Offers the conclusion that the nationalist pursuits of the nineteenth century dictator portrayed in I, the Supreme provide a model for modern Paraguayan nationalists.

Martin, Gerald. “Yo, el Supremo: The Dictator and His Script.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 15 (April, 1979): 169-183. In this Marxist analysis of the novel, Martin argues that Roa Bastos both reexamines the historical reality of Francia and projects an implied critique of the Latin American “New Novel.” Asserts that Roa Bastos exposes writing as a hopelessly one-dimensional form of power that is inadequate to the communication of meaning. Concludes that the novel offers a unique interpenetration of literary and political ideologies, “fusing literary revolution’ with revolutionary literature.’ ”

Ugalde, Sharon K. “Binarisms in Yo, el Supremo.” Hispanic Journal 2 (Fall, 1980): 69-77. An excellent analysis of the polar oppositions and contradictions that form the structural and thematic basis of the novel. Examines in particular the mythological polarities and concludes that Roa Bastos deliberately rejects resolution of contradictions.

Weldt-Basson, Helene C. Augusto Roa Bastos’ “I the Supreme”: A Dialogic Perspective. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. One of the finest studies available in English on Roa Bastos’s novel. Explores in depth Roa Bastos’s thoughts on Francia and supplies two extensive chapters on the historical and nonhistorical intertexts.