Style and Technique

The style of “Tatuana’s Tale” shows the influence not only of a native surrealism, the tradition of arte fantastico stretching back to pre-Columbian times, but also of a superimposed European surrealism that Asturias picked up in Paris. The European surrealism is most apparent in several poetic descriptions, such as the following: “It was the hour of the white cats. They were walking back and forth. The rosebushes were amazed.” Sheep return home “conversing with their shepherds,” and “a thread of tobacco smoke separated reality from the dream, black cats from white cats.” These descriptive touches hold up the action, but they also contribute to the story’s strangeness and to its sense of continuity within nature.

Also strange are the legend’s many references to numbers: the four roads, “the twenty months in the four-hundred-day year,” the seven months in prison, and so forth. These references give the legend a ritualistic aspect, but their specific meanings are part of the mystery of the Maya, who were geniuses with numbers. The Maya’s calendars and astronomical calculations indicate that they were obsessed with time, whose circular quality in nature might be suggested by the Master’s reunion with his fragment of soul (Tatuana) precisely on the Owl-Fisherman full moon.