Academic journal article
By Carballal, Ana Isabel
Notes on Contemporary Literature , Vol. 38, No. 3
Vilas, Xose Neira--Criticism and interpretation
Memorias dun neno labrego (Novel)--Criticism and interpretation
Memorias Dun Neno Labrego (Novel)--Criticism and Interpretation
Spanish Writers--Criticism and Interpretation
Xose Neira Vilas (Gres, Pontevedra 1928) is one of the most recognized and widely read Galician authors of the twentieth century (Galicia is the northwest region of Spain associated with the Celtic culture and regional nationalism). An emigrant during the first part of his life, his trips brought him into contact with important Galician writers and politicians of this period, some of whom established Galician identity and political progress, among them Ramon Suarez Picallo, Rafael Dieste and Luis Seoane. Along with his wife Anisia Miranda, Vilas was an active part of the Cuban revolution, and in 1961 he published one of the most well known Galician novels of the century: Memorias dun neno labrego (A Coruna: Eds. do Castro, 2003). Written during his life in the emigration but set in Galicia, the novel is the first person account of a child living in the Galician countryside during the '50s. Balbino, the protagonist, uses this journal to empty his heart and to criticize the living conditions and struggles of the Galician peasants who live under the control of tyrannical masters and whose only means of survival is to accept a master- slave relationship or to leave and seek fortune elsewhere.
Balbino's innocence and sense of justice make this work, according to many critics, a kind of "Galician Manifesto," and the first clear leftist approach to Galician problems and reality. Despite being a child, Balbino sees the unjust social differences between those who have money and power and the rest who have to live under their provisions. Although he never heard the name of Marx, is aware of a society full of prejudices and limited to fulfill the parameters that are convenient for the powerful. Although he never went to a university and is still trying to go to school, Balbino recognizes in society what Althusser saw as the social and economic forces that influence the formation of the classes of production and the institutions, public and private, that enforce those structures.
For Althusser one of the conditions for the reproduction of labor power and the continuance of the State as a repressive machine is the existence of the ideological structures settled by the ruling classes. The State is the enabler for the ruling class to exploit the working class using not only the repressive forces of government, administration, police and courts but also more subtly, what Althusser calls the Ideological State Apparatuses (Lenin and Philosophy and other essays [NY: Monthly Review Press, 1971]: 127187). He characterizes these institutions as religious, cultural, educational, family, legal, political, trade unions and communications and describes them as functioning not through violence but by ideology. For Balbino, three of these state apparatuses are the ones that influence Galician political and social life preventing this region from moving forward and breaking the chain of dependence with the ruling class: the religious establishment, the educational system and finally the family, Balbino's and others.
For Balbino, the church, its customs and prohibitions are instruments used to keep the conditions of poverty and ignorance in which the Galician peasants live. In the third chapter, for example, Balbino has to go to the Easter processions, where his godmother compels him to be quiet, to look at the saints, to pray, and to listen to the religious stories she is relating to him. Nevertheless, Balbino is too young to stay quiet, and when the fireworks start he gets loose from his godmother's hand and runs away ending in the land of the "Jew." This character, who is described as not compliant with the religious power of the village, tells Balbino how the church uses its rhetoric to keep everybody ignorant and economically controlled by a few: "Cadaquen deulle a sua alma a gardar o cura, e o cura non fai mais que estragarlla. Niguen pensa pola sua conta. Pensar e pecado. Pedir xustiza, verdadeira xustiza e pecado. E tamen e pecado ter ideas ou andar pola propia conta a procura da verdade. …