Historical Context

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Colonial Literature and Independence
Although the conquistadors destroyed the libraries of the Inca, intellectuals of Indian and Spanish descent tried to recover as much as possible of pre-Conquest Peruvian literature. The most formidable of such efforts was undertaken by Garcilaso de la Vega—known as El Inca Garcilaso. By his mother's side he was of royal Inca heritage and Spanish by his father. He put together several volumes of Incan legends in Spanish.

When the Spanish finally left Latin America in 1830, writers dabbled with the techniques of Romanticism before adopting the form of the realist novel as the best vehicle for national literatures. These Spanish American novels, the ''novelas de la tierra'' or Regionalist novels, describe Latin American landscapes and rural life in exhaustive detail. Examples of such novels include Dona Barbara by Romul Gallegos or The Vortex by Jose Eustasio Rivera. Once this literature began to mix with indigenous myths and Latin American writers learned about the European avant-garde, a uniquely Latin American literature was born. The first generation of modernist Latin American writers created their techniques in Europe and then returned home. While Latin American modernism was forming, the nationalists were winning the culture wars. Nationalists promoted the regionalist style arguing that modernism was inappropriate.

In Europe, the first generation of modernists made contact with each other, the European modernists and the avant-garde. Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges, Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias, and Cuban Alejo Carpentier studied the Mayan collections at the Sorbonne in Paris and the British Museum in London. In the former, they met the leading surrealists, Andre Breton and Paul Eluard, and in the latter made contact with the Bloomsbury Group. Other Latin American writers would join this nexus until, finally, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and the young Mario Vargas Llosa arrived. As a group, they praised William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, John Dos Passos, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

The heritage of the modern Latin American novel, therefore, sees its origins in the realists and not in the varied forms of the Enlightenment or the Romantics. The primitive novel, whether written by Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo, concerned itself with capturing the events of life. Eventually, the modernists—James Joyce and Virginia Woolf—revealed a way out. However, it took Flaubert and Faulkner to make use of the pathway and they inspired the generation of writers known as ‘‘El Boom,’’ the greatest period of Spanish-language literature since Spain's seventeenth-century Golden Age.

The Boom
Throughout the 1940s Borges announced to Latin America that, contrary to the belief of the nationalists, literary invention is good. This enabled an awakening of creativity. García Márquez wrote under the influence of Borges and Faulkner. In the 1950s, Vargas Llosa had concluded that writing in the primitive, regionalist manner kept the Latin American novel Latin American. Following Borges and García Márquez, Vargas Llosa decided that the novel could be freed of this confinement when it ceased to be Latin American and began to be a literary world independent of the reader's possession of a Latin American experience. The key was to use the narrator and, through narrative techniques, to realize that authors do not record, but create.

Two forces assisted the new energy in Latin American fiction. First, the tough literary agent Carmen Balcells was on the lookout for Latin American fiction. Seix Barral, the most prestigious Spanish-language publishing firm, listened to Balcell. The American publishing house Harper and Row wanted to cash in on the buzz surrounding Latin American...

(The entire section contains 3974 words.)

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