Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In his book La nueva novela hispanoamericana (1969; the new Spanish-American novel), Carlos Fuentes first mentions Three Trapped Tigers in connection with its use of humor, which he considers “one of the notable features of the creation of the true Latin American language.” He goes on to say that Cabrera Infante’s novel “allows us to carry out the verbal transition from the past to the future,” in that “Cabrera’s savage intent to demolish goes to the roots of a Latin American problem: our language has been the product of uninterrupted conquest and colonization—a conquest and colonization whose language betrayed an oppressive hierarchical order.” Such a statement is perhaps typical of the thinking of authors and critics in evaluating this author’s contribution to Latin American prose fiction. During the years following its publication, it has gradually come to occupy an important place among the trendsetting novels of Latin America, especially where language and humor are concerned.

One of the major forces at work within the novel is the Cuban choteo tradition, which has been described as the tendency to mock everything that represents any form of authority. In this case, if Fuentes is correct, much of the text is concerned with an unrelenting attack on the Spanish language because that language is expressive of certain structures that Latin America must leave behind in her quest for a modern identity. Still, the author has repeatedly stated that the novel should not be taken too seriously, since it is nothing more than a joke that got out of hand. This is also in the choteo tradition, to attack even one’s own work if one fears that it may be considered in an overly serious manner.