Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The principal theme of the novel is a theme implicit in most serious historical fictions, the attempt to explain, to make sense of a series of historical events and, in so doing, to assess their meanings for the present. In this sense, the novel works as a metafiction as the author writes of an author who writes of the actions and written reports of actions of the revolt in the backlands. Two other equally forceful themes borrowed from the epic tradition are concerned with the metaphors of life as journey and life as warfare. Vargas Llosa also manipulates the traditional themes of fiction, love, honor, revenge, adventure, idealism, the education of naive characters, lost innocence, trial by experience, and the effects that a rapidly changing social context has upon individuals caught up in those changes. In the treatment of all these themes, Vargas Llosa relentlessly seeks the meaning of events and actions, the individual meaning for each of his characters, the larger meaning for the Brazilian Republic in the aftermath of Canudos, and the meanings that the lessons of history hold for the present.

Frequently, Vargas Llosa introduces themes and, through the magical interaction of characters, allows them to play themselves out without authorial comment. Thus, for example, the love theme not only is particularized in the romantic love of the Journalist for Jurema but also extends to such varied aspects of love as that between Rufino and Jurema (a relationship...

(The entire section is 540 words.)