*Mexico City. Mexico’s capital city is the central location of the novel, providing a modern urban setting that contrasts with the country’s primarily rural history. Carlos Fuentes uses the city as a protagonist to which the characters must react as much as they interact with one another. Against this emerging modern backdrop, the characters struggle to understand their individual destinies, and in a collective sense, they embody the new, rising, modern Mexico coming to terms with the fallout of its early twentieth century revolution. The urban setting poignantly displays Fuentes’s cynical irony. The modern, postrevolutionary era does not provide equality nor justice. Remnants of classicism and political corruption abound.
The novel is framed with the question: “Here we abide. And what are we going to do about it? Where the air is clear.” Only in an ironic sense is Mexico City a place where the air is, in fact, clear. The phrase suggests a fatalistic alliance with a place that is changing but whose inhabitants have not yet figured out their role in the changes. There is no optimistic assertion that a movement toward capitalism and a middle class will satisfy the needs of the populace. Instead, the phrase suggests the betrayal of the ideals of the revolution that now finds itself played out in the dramas of citizens caught up in the cultural shift taking place.
Historically, Mexico City was the center of the indigenous Aztec culture and thus signified mythical and spiritual values of the land. The novel plays off this mythical association to suggest a spiritual decline of the citizenry. It calls into question...
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