(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

This Day’s Death, John Rechy’s third novel, explores Chicano identity and gay sexuality. Unlike other novels by Rechy, however, This Day’s Death does not initially embody the two identities in one complex character. Instead, the novel shuttles—like its protagonist—between two identities (Chicano and gay) in two separate and yet interdependent situations (El Paso and Los Angeles). Known for acknowledging the autobiographical origins of his fiction, Rechy skillfully illustrates how identities develop, sometimes demanding a person’s attention despite that person’s effort of will to ignore or deny a given identity.

West Texas and Los Angeles are two poles of identity for Rechy; the one is bound up with his Chicano upbringing and his family, the other with sexual freedom and discovery. As the novel opens, Jim Girard is not gay. He has a fiancée and a promising career in law. His arrest on a lewd conduct charge is a mistake. He keeps his ongoing prosecution on that charge a secret from his mother, who is ill in El Paso. In the course of the novel, Jim recalls his Chicano upbringing. Jim also acknowledges and acts on previously unacknowledged desires for other men. Thus, he gradually becomes gay and Chicano, an embodiment of a complex intersection of identities and an opportunity for Rechy to explore the intertwined roots of self.

Bound up with guilt, pretense, and hypochondria, Girard’s “terrible love” for his...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Moore, Harry T., ed. Contemporary American Novelists. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.