The Underdogs illustrates Mexico's vast natural landscape. The mountains, ravines, and trees are presented with grand beauty and also a haunting sense of foreboding. When Demetrio climbs the craggy mountains and steep ravines, the reader senses his great effort; every step requires tremendous effort. The landscape is stark and dry; there is no sense of growth or life. When the Federales are charging up the mountain, they fall into crevices like “stones” into the water. When Camila goes to the river every day to get water, she feels a great sadness in her land. The rocks, sun-baked branches and moss are dry and sheathed in shadows. The wind blows softly but stirs “the pointed leaves of the tender ears of corn.” The branches are dry, the cliffs are eroded, and the rock is unwelcoming.
From the beginning of the novel, animals reappear to remind the reader of the swiftness with which death and violence are mixed with life. At first, Demetrio and his wife are trying to decipher the sounds: are they human? Or is it an animal that is stirring. When the Federales enter Límon, there is the sound of horses and a dog barking. Then a shot is heard and a dog whimpers, then dies. The swiftness with which this happens is startling and an indication of the culture. Animals are also a valuable source of food and represent wealth. Their value is at once significant and then immediately worthless with the shot of a gun. Life for all is capricious.
Azuela presents a wavering sense of worth: the characters either experience great poverty or great riches. There is no middle ground in The Underdogs. In the villages, the Federales take everything: the animals, the food, and the women. When the revolutionaries reach a village, there is an overwhelming sense of loss. The villagers are barely surviving with their hens and goats. Most are emaciated. When the revolutionaries experience a victory, they enter a bar or restaurant and behave as the Federales do. They demand food and drink by brandishing their weapons and by beating and killing people. La Pintada teaches Demetrio to loot the houses as this is their right to claim to spoils of their victory. La Pintada and the other revolutionaries take jewelry, clothes, horses, and anything else of value. La Pintada’s scene with the lace-trimmed silk gown represents the juxtaposition of their values. La Pintada finds this beautiful and valuable dress. She has no stockings so she asks Pancracio to get her blue stockings from “her advances.” The revolutionaries justify their looting as payment for their services. The laughter from these exploits is unsettling. This is the point where the revolution slips into the debasement of its values. The fighting seems meaningless when all is lawlessness and greed.
Passion and Disinterest
Azuela’s characters exhibit wide ranges of raw and immediate emotion when they interact. For example, when Camila meets Luis, she flirts with him freely and openly. When he leaves, her tears are bitter and open. The old woman who disapproves of her display of emotions beats Camila with a whip to keep her from crying. There is little tenderness in the novel. When Demetrio returns home to his wife, they embrace each other, but the peace does not last long before he is gone again. Other relationships suffer as well. There is no emotional connection between Demetrio and his son. When La Pintada meets Demetrio, she boldly affronts him. There is no nuance and no gentleness. In the bar, Guero is a gun-toting brute. Other men share their stories of abuse and killing of innocent people with pride. The revolution is overflowing with emotions that are often misplaced.
Azuela focuses on the physical characteristics and skin color of his characters, which suggests a preoccupation with race in the Mexican Revolution. He describes a range of Indian and fair-skinned features that sum up the range of people who are fighting in the revolution. Azuela paints a picture of Mexico that represents its varied ancestry and influences. Pancracio is light-complected and freckled. His smooth skin suggest he is very young but “his whole aspect (is) bestial.” Manteca is animal-like with rougher features, “sunken eyes” and his hair falls around his neck. La Pintada has olive skin and copper-colored spots on her face and arms. The other revolutionary women are have olive skin, bright eyes, and ivory teeth—as they brandish their revolvers and ammunition cartridges across their waists. Camila, the peasant girl, is also bronzed of complexion with ivory teeth. They are strong and their features are also strong. When Camila looks at Luis, she sees his clean and radiant face with pink cheeks. When Luis introduces his girl to the group (his future wife), the groups sees a beautiful girl with rosy skin and fair hair. The characters represent a range and the light-skinned or fair characters are the ones with a higher station in life. The blonde and fair-skinned are often the rich. When Pancracio captures a handsome blonde men with a fancy mustache, he kills him instantly with the edge of the parapet. They try on their spoils, joke and laugh. As they leave they say “lets go get those rich bastards.”
Azuela also distinguishes the rich from the poor by their level of education. Venancio is thought to have expertise because he has read two to three books. Luis is a medical student and journalist. His communication skills frequently dazzle Demetrio. Luis can plot out an...
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