Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664

The cultural schizophrenia brought about by the Spanish conquest of the New World is the theme underlying the events of “The Two Elenas.” The protagonist, Victor, is simultaneously attracted to two women who are completely different types. His wife is a composite of all that is foreign: She sees French and American motion pictures, drives a British car, glorifies the American black, studies French and reads French poetry, and listens to American jazz. In another sense, her ideas and behavior are foreign, that is, strange or uncharacteristic within the context of her upbringing. Victor admires her so-called naturalness, but the trait he describes has less to do with nature than with an adolescent sort of rebellion against all established norms of conduct. She denies rules, not to replace them with others, but to open a door, suggesting a fascination with the innovative. Her motives are dubious, however, because she merely challenges, regardless of the standard in question. For example, Elena continually strives to subvert the middle-class values of her parents by shocking their bourgeois morality, while at the same time, to her liberal-minded friends she dismisses the possibility of unfaithfulness because it has become as much a rule as communion every Friday used to be. Her refusal to conform may account for her modern, vivacious attitude, but it is also a sign of immaturity, or incomplete development.

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The consequent limitations on her ability to understand are like a blindness that she has in common with her father; both are asleep, but whereas her dreams belong to other places, his belong to other times. Through nostalgia he sustains the myth of a victorious postrevolutionary society of opportunity, indifferent to what lies beyond the nation’s borders and ignorant of the country’s reality for the majority. His static vision prevents him from engaging in conversation at any other level than that of clichés, for even the most minor variation or concession would threaten his entire ideological structure. Don Jose’s adverse physical reaction to any such disturbing notions demonstrates a fundamental inability to adapt to change. What Victor refers to in the text as “assimilation” is the resolution of the old and the new: His father-in-law’s intolerance of the new is one type of failure to assimilate, and Elena’s reactionism is another.

Dona Elena lives in the present, yet she remains mindful of her past. Her reality is rooted in Mexico City (especially the Lomas area, a wealthy suburb) of the 1960’s, amid her family. She willingly and conscientiously fulfills the duties and obligations that go with her social position. Nevertheless, her origins in Veracruz, a region synonymous with nature and life, determine her real character. Certain physical features such as her black, wakeful eyes, transparent skin that exposes her veins, taut breasts, caressing fingers, and full arms are the visible evidence of strong bonds with the authentic, intrinsically Mexican existence of the Gulf region. Dona Elena is a mature woman capable of understanding and reconciliation (be it of contrary points of view, present and past, or different lifestyles). She is indeed the center of her family, for she supplies the deficiencies, makes up for shortcomings, and resolves potentially volatile situations.

As it is surprising to learn that it is Victor rather than Elena who is involved in a ménage à trois, so also it is interesting to note that it is not Elena but Victor who is undergoing an identity crisis. To the extent that he can be defined by who he is not (his opposite or complement), Victor has two nearly antithetical identities. Because both women have a complementary function in his life (compared to the supplementary role played by the other men in Elena’s circle), they would seem to be of equal significance in that definition of being. However, in spite of his conscious desire to find completion in his wife, when Victor “liberates” himself and “ascends” to his other Elena, he seems to find his true complement.

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