Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Race and Social Class in Azuela's Characterization of the Bandido

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Race and Social Class in Azuela's Characterization of the Bandido

Article excerpt

In his article "La novela mexicana frente al porfirismo" John Brushwood observes that Mariano Azuela's The Underdogs was seen by most Mexicansas a novel that, having captured the essence of the revolutionary commotion that followed the fall of Porfirio Diaz, had the function to define the Mexican nation. ["Cuando los mexicanos se dieron cuenta de que Mariano Azuela habia captado en Los de abajo la esencia de las conmociones revolucionarias que siguieron a la caida de Porfirio Diaz, la novela comenzo a desempenar con plena seguridad su funcion de interprete de la nacion mexicana" (Brushwood 7).] A document that virtually antecedes the journalistic and graphic reports of contemporary wars, The Underdogs was conceived and presented as "Pictures and Scenes of the Present Revolution" ["Cuadros y escenas de la revolucion actual" (Robe 123)], that is, as a realist depiction of what was happening in Mexico at the time. The novel narrated the same events that were being reported and commented on in the pages of El Paso del Norte, the Spanish-language newspaper in El Paso, Texas, that published the novel in folletin form in 1915. As such, The Underdogs gave a fairly true account of the social forces that were the cause, in part, of what for the author had turned out to be a failed revolution.

Disenchantment with politics and revolution is the essential thematic element of The Underdogs, and that can be seen in its three-part narrative structure that represents in its development Azuela's own intellectual experience with the revolution: his initial idealized optimism, followed by the sobering experience of his direct involvement in the military action and, finally, the sense of disillusionment and doom that took hold of him when he faced the political reality and the human egotistical interests behind the revolution. In order to express his loss of faith in what he had thought was a revolutionary movement for the betterment of the Mexican underdogs, Azuela had to weave the story of an ideal betrayed by the practical ways of the world: a literary representation of his own intellectual and moral story of a mistaken revolutionary, someone who fought not for himself but for the others, his people, the ones he knew had lost all hope of a change for the better. Azuela "observed at first hand the wild excitement, the bewilderment, the brutality, the hopes, the frustrations of the people of the sierras, of the underdogs" (Hendricks xvii) and depicted them as realistically and directly as he knew how to do, being the experienced realist writer he was: a keen observer of his society.

Basically, in The Underdogs Azuela constructed a narrative that tells the classical story of the hero, the ideal embodiment of justice and social virtue, who naively confronts the evils of the world, those injustices created by the society of men, only to be disappointed and defeated by the ones who, being in power, are disdainful of justice and of the commonwealth. In his view, the pragmatics of politics practiced by the ones above, "los matricidas" (OC III, 1266), as he calls them, always prevail over the ideals of the reformer who fights for social justice. Faced with the reality of the day, and obviously responding to the cultural constructs responsible for it, Azuela could not avoid dealing with the issues of class and race that had been so prevalent in the nineteenth century, when independent Mexico, a country that recognized three distinctly different racial groups, was fighting violently for establishing a national identity.

Almost half of the 15 million Mexicans at the time of the revolution belonged to the illiterate population, the underdogs, as attested by the census of 1910. A majority of them must have been among the 40 percent of Indian, with a lower proportion among the 40 percent mestizo sector of the population. Azuela himself belonged to the 20 percent of white Mexicans of European origin, most of them educated Creoles, but he had an affinity for the lower classes he knew well as a medical doctor. …

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