The Underdogs Summary
The Underdogs is a novel by Mariano Azuela. It tells the story of Demetrio Macías, a normal man who is caught up in the Mexican Revolution.
When government soldiers arrive in Demetrio's village, he flees to the mountains, where he joins the rebels and fights against President Huerta.
Demetrio joins Pancho Villa's army and becomes a general. Eventually, the revolution becomes divided over its purpose and the rebels grow disillusioned.
- Demetrio returns to his wife and child, but he soon leaves them to return to battle. He dies during a clash with federal troops, without knowing why he has continued to fight.
Last Updated September 9, 2022.
The Underdogs begins at night in a small hut in the small town of Límon near the Sierras, northwest of Mexico City. On this night, soldiers from the Mexican army stumble drunkenly into town, and Demetrio Macías must leave his wife and child and flee into the dry, rocky canyon, where he soon meets up with his friends, who have sworn their allegiance to each other and their hatred of Huerta’s military. Demetrio and his men harass the government soldiers, hiding in cliffs and acting as snipers. After a major confrontation in which many government soldiers are killed, Demetrio takes a bullet in the leg; his men fashion a stretcher and carry him away. After the soldiers retreat, the rebels come across two of their men hanging from a tree. Several more are missing. As they search for shelter, the rebels come across others who laud their victories over the government men. This theme of applauding the rebel army will begin to erode as the rebels’ barbaric acts eventually overshadow their skills in killing government men. But for now, Demetrio and his band are heroes. When they finally come across a small settlement of Indians, they are again treated with generosity and respect from these local people who have also suffered at the hands of the government.
While Demetrio recuperates, he becomes infatuated with a young woman named Camila (or Camilla, depending upon the translation) who does not return his affection in the least. The older women of the town administer to Demetrio’s wounds using their ancient remedies (for example, blooded and mutilated pigeons spread over ailing body parts) until Luis Cervantes comes into town. Cervantes is a young medical student known for writing inflammatory pieces against the rebellion. He says that he was coerced into joining the government army. But Cervantes quickly soured on the task of killing. In fact, he discovered from intimate conversations with government soldiers that most of the men did not want to fight; they believed they had chosen the wrong side, but they continued nevertheless. Cervantes, however, could not. He deserted and sought out the rebels. But when he shows up in the small Indian village, he is immediately locked up. Demetrio’s men want to kill Cervantes straight off, but Demetrio comes up with a plan. He has his men steal a priest’s robe from a nearby town. He then orders Cervantes shot but allows the young man a confession. Since Cervantes does not confess any schemes against Demetrio and his men, Demetrio lets him go and soon discovers Cervantes’s wisdom and medical knowledge. Cervantes quickly talks his way into Demetrio’s closest confidence and rides the coattails of Demetrio’s rapid rise in the rebel fight against the government and against Huerta.
As Demetrio heals, he again pursues Camila, but Camila falls quickly for Cervantes, who pays no attention to her advances. Camila is driven mad with frustration. As the rebels ride out of town, she begins to weep hysterically. Her mother believes her daughter has been possessed by evil spirits and proceeds to beat Camila with a stick.
Demetrio and his men, who profess to understand none of the complexities of the revolution, simply want to go on fighting, but Cervantes convinces them that it is in their best interest to join up with the larger forces under General Natera. They go off in search of allied forces and come across an old man who tells them of a few enemy soldiers in the next town. However, the old man is a spy and setting a trap. Demetrio and his men fall into the...
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snare, but Demetrio’s aggressive nature foils the plot. When another agent tells him to wait, Demetrio ignores the warning and orders his men to attack. The rebels slaughter the Federales.
After the victory, the rebels meet up with General Natera in Fresnillo to plan the attack on the enemy stronghold of Zacatecas. At the meeting, Natera elevates Demetrio to the rank of colonel. Cervantes runs into Captain Solis, an old acquaintance who confronts Cervantes with his past federal associations. Not so long ago, Cervantes, as a journalist, wrote articles condemning the rebels. Cervantes tells Solis that he has converted, but this conversion only occurs because of Cervantes’s sense of self-preservation. Throughout each progressive stage of the war, he hangs on until he believes it wise to move on. Cervantes maintains loyalties only to the safe continuation of his life.
While the men wait for battle, they talk about the great rebel Pancho Villa and discuss the opulence and grandeur of Villa and his men from the north. The details of riches and privilege become the reasons for the war, until the men realize the accounts are nothing but stories; none of them has ever actually seen the man, and once again the war becomes hollow. Yet they continue to fight, and during the battle to take Zacatecas, Demetrio again proves himself to be the bravest of men, and the euphoric ride continues for a bit longer.
After the battle, the men celebrate and drink and continue their lives of debauchery. Demetrio’s friend introduces him to a brutal, calculating man named Towhead Margarito (also called Whitey or Blondie Margarito, depending upon the translation), and around the same time, a local woman called War Paint sidles up to Demetrio. War Paint is a brazen woman, unafraid to speak her mind. When Demetrio directs War Paint towards a hotel, she laughs at him. She asks him, what is the point of the revolution if they cannot sleep in any house they want, if they cannot break down doors and windows, pillage, and steal? Again, the reasons for war come to the surface, and again they are not related to any genuine social motives. The rebels grow more and more destructive as time goes by. They consume drink and food like animals and disregard the pleas of any local willing to protest.
But throughout the killing, the drinking, and the destroying of property and people, Demetrio continues to pine for Camila, finally prompting Cervantes to ride back to the small town to retrieve her. He lies to Camila, saying he, not Demetrio, wants her. Camila jumps at this chance and only discovers the trick when she wakes up in Demetrio’s bed the next morning. War Paint finds out what happened and tries to console Camila. She tells her to fake an illness so she will not have to move on with Demetrio and the others. But when the time comes to speak, Camila agrees to go with Demetrio. She later tells War Paint that, to her surprise, she finds herself warming to Demetrio. This angers War Paint, who, despite her new infatuation with Towhead, considers herself Demetrio’s girl. Soon she tells Camila that Demetrio wants to go back to his wife and child. Camila, distraught, confronts Demetrio with this news. He vows to get rid of War Paint once and for all, but in the next confrontation, War Paint draws a dagger and kills Camila. She dares Demetrio to kill her, but he does not.
Demetrio, Cervantes, and the other men continue to plow through towns and villages, leaving death and destruction in their path. Occasionally one of the men reflects on killing or war, but all that comes out of these reflections is a hazy certitude of why men do things. When Cervantes tells Demetrio they need to travel to Aguascalientes, Demetrio again does not understand. Cervantes tells Demetrio he has to vote for the Provisional President of the Republic, for a man named Carranza. Through the continued acts of debauchery, Demetrio begins to sing a song about not knowing why.
The third section of The Underdogs jumps ahead in time, beginning with a letter from Cervantes, who has long since departed to pursue his own ends in El Paso, Texas. In the letter, Cervantes laments the deaths of two of Demetrio’s comrades and celebrates the suicide of Towhead. Meanwhile, the war has broken into revolutionary factions. Huerta has been defeated, so they do not really know why they are still fighting. Yet they are, and along the way, Demetrio picks up =a young poet named Valderrama, who, like Cervantes, eventually disappears when he realizes his fate. The problem is that most of the men never realize their fate. They are trapped in this cycle. Near the end of the novel, Demetrio and his men capture a few deserters and condemn the men for deserting as the Federales condemned Cervantes. There is no longer a right or wrong, only a continuation of fighting.
After two years on the road, Demetrio finally returns to his wife and child, but he will not stay. His wife asks him why he keeps fighting, but Demetrio only replies with a vague answer and soon departs for battle. In the end, he and his men find themselves trapped in the same rocky terrain they had used before to pick off the Federales. Everyone around Demetrio falls until he is the last man alive, hiding in the rocks and firing his rifle for reasons he still does not understand.