American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

for meanings of which, we may be so rash as to surmise, the authors were not fully conscious, but by which they were troubled and goaded. They looked in vain to history for an explanation of themselves; more and more it appeared that the meaning was not to be found in theology, even with the help of the covenantal dialectic. Thereupon, these citizens found that they had no other place to search but within themselves--even though, at first sight, that repository appeared to be nothing but a sink of iniquity. Their errand having failed in the first sense of the term, they were left with the second, and required to fill it with meaning by themselves and out of themselves. Having failed to rivet the eyes of the world upon their city on the hill, they were left alone with America.

Americo Paredes


The Hero's Progress
From With His Pistol in His Hand

THEME AND VARIATIONS

For more than half a century the Rio Grande people have remembered Gregorio Cortez, and in that time the figure of a folk hero has been shaped out of historical fact. It has been the vivid, dramatic narrative of the corrido--a well-established form--that has kept the image of Cortez fresh in the minds of Border people, but something needs to be said about the amorphous body of narrative that makes up the prose legend.

The stories that make up the Cortez legend are anecdotal for the most part, arising from the singing of the corrido, it would seem. Yet, though by-products of it, they have in their turn influenced the corrido. And because of their many variations they have been responsible for the growth of Gregorio Cortez as a folk hero. It is the legend that has developed the heroic figure, which the ballad keeps alive. . . .

In this chapter I mention other values of the legend, compare fact with fancy, and attempt to show how the latter grew out of the former. Because they are so closely intertwined, one cannot discuss the legend without making some references to the corrido. Such general remarks will be treated more fully in Part Two of this book, which attempts a critical study of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez and considers its position in the balladry of the Lower Border.

Both ballad and legend apparently began in 1901, almost immediately after the capture of Cortez at Abrán de la Garza's sheep camp. In the half-century since then, nothing seems to have been added to the ballad, which on the contrary has lost much of its original detail. The legend, on the other hand, has grown considerably. This is due, no doubt, to its lack of precise form and to the way that it is usually passed from one person to another.

____________________
From With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero by Americo Paredes. Copyright 1958, renewed 1986. By permission of the author and the University of Texas Press.

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