The brutal novel The Villagers flows swiftly. Technically, it is one of the better Spanish American novels. Its virtues are legion, as are its defects, and among the former are interesting dialogue, bitter irony, sardonic humor, interesting plot, effective use of detail, exposure of social injustice, and crispness of style with short sentences that get to the point. The Villagers presents the Ecuadoran Andes so clearly that readers see them in stark detail, hear the sounds of the sierra, and experience the odors, temperature changes, and direction of the night wind. The Villagers’ crowning virtue is its defense of Ecuador’s oppressed Indians. For this reason the novel has been considered Jorge Icaza’s most significant novel. It helped launch the cycle of indianista novels, which are devoted to telling the story of the Indians. The novel’s protagonist is not only an Indian but also the Indian, who is characterized collectively but clearly, even to the peculiar flavor of his Spanish.
Decay is a prominent and depressing note in The Villagers, with its frequent images of garbage, filth, mold, slime, and rotten meat. Trash, dirt, and profanity are always present; everything is sloppy and unkempt, reflecting life’s hopelessness. Depression is thus a constant note, accentuated by dismal mountain fogs, clammy cold, foul speech, and superstition. Soroche (altitude sickness) occasionally strikes, as do other afflictions. Alcoholism is the Indian’s bane, for the huasipunguero abandons everything—chickens, corn, potatoes, children—for alcohol.
The characters in the novel generally fail to change or develop. At the novel’s end, they are almost the same personalities and characters that they were at its start. The principal exception is the Indian community itself, for “from all corners of the soul, from every pore, grow the secret rebellions of a slave.” Icaza also implies that the mestizo or mulatto in Ecuador suffers from a psychological inferiority complex.
(The entire section is 851 words.)