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One of the most brilliant novels of the today's Mexican literature is El Testigo by Juan Villoro, winner of the Herralde Prize, written in 2004. The author provides a philosophical approach to the Mexican culture and thus tries to understand it in general through the particular perceptions of the protagonist. This is a Mexican intellectual Julio Valdiviesco who left Mexico because of the difficulties connected with its political regime and returned to the motherland after the ruling party lost in the elections in 2000. The main emphasis is placed by the author on the protagonists personal reflection of the Mexican culture, which is, on the one hand, the culture of his motherland with which he is obsessed in the form of nostalgic feelings intrinsic for every exile. On the other hand, Mexican culture appears for Julio as having its specific social mythology, problems and special worldview, from which he became alienated. This main conflict presupposes the characters role as a sole witness who cannot become an integral part of the Mexican people, as it was before his exile to Europe. The central idea of the novel is represented by Julios inability to overcome a passive role of a watcher based on his individual tempo of self-development and worldview, and a culture with another tempo of transformations.
The analysis of the novel should begin from its cultural message expressed by the specifics of the text. Even from the description of the protagonist provided previously it is clear that in his novel Villoro achieves at least two goals. On the one hand, he describes the Mexican social and cultural reality from the position of a Mexican person, but on the other hand, this person is partly European, or, in other words, to some degree alienated from Mexico because of the previous exile. In this way, Julio appears as a witness who is able to understand the Mexican cultural reality in an adequate way (because he is not a foreigner) and express this understanding in terms comfortable for the representatives of other cultures (for those readers who read the novel in translation). He also provides a European judgement of the Mexican reality for those readers who are Mexicans. The universal European culture, to which Julio belongs more than to the Mexican one, serves in the novel as a source of universal cultural language applied by the protagonist to his own country to which he returns. In broader context, it means that in this way Villoro tries to increase the openness of the Mexican culture to the cross-cultural dialogue.
Another important detail is the split between past and present times represented by Julios reflections concerning both Mexico and his personal life. It is possible to draw some metaphoric parallels between his first love Nieves (who died and remained only in Julios memories) and Mexico (which also became different). Nieves refuses to leave Mexico with Julio and stays there to die (Villoro 9-10): this detail emphasizes the metaphoric connection between the protagonists personal life and the cultural background of the text. The metaphor can be developed through the connection between porn cinema in Leuven (frequently visited by Julio) and his nostalgic feelings toward both Nieves and Mexico (Villoro 129-130). The specifics of pornographic films are that they make people associating themselves with the main characters of those movies and thus substitute real sexual pleasure with this fiction realized by other people in a movie. Another detail is that Julio watches these films in cinema where there are many other people each of whom has the same thoughts concerning a movie. It is possible to draw the parallel between these porn cinema visits and Julios visit to Mexico, where he is separated from an action and always remains a watcher, a witness, el Testigo, whose obsession by his dead love and once left motherland replaces all other feelings and emotions.
One of the central positions in the novels text possesses the symbolism of musical band called The Supertramp. The narrator explains this symbol directly through the text, claiming that music of The Supertramp is nothing more than unauthenticity and musical plagiarism (Villoro 40). The protagonist even wonders how might this band survive despite of its weaknesses, when he hears its song on the radio (Villoro 36). Besides, while The Supertramp means for Julio musical plagiarism, it also symbolizes his own academic plagiarism, which occurred when he wrote his thesis and thus stole the work of another student who was killed (Villoro 40). The Supertramp, the band, which symbolizes for the main character the very idea of unauthenticity, becomes associated with his deed in his own consciousness. In this way, the self-reflection of Julio becomes fragmentary, because some details of his personality are connected with guilt, and thus rejected by him. This symbolism of The Supertramp, with regard to its connection with fragmentary self-reflection and unauthenticity, can be also shared on the whole text of the novel. In fact, Julio perceives the whole Mexico as fragmentary, as he perceives himself because of his rejection of some details of Mexico which he considered as unwanted and shameful (some social myths, the power of cartels and many other). Thus, through the analysis of the symbolism of The Supertramp it becomes clear that the fragmentary perception of the Mexican culture is based on the fragmentary self-perception of the witness himself who even cannot accept his personality as something whole. Here follows that even while the Mexican culture has some problems (such as the criminal authorities influence, the tension between the state and the Church and others), it is not the reason to judge this culture negatively, because the main presupposition to its understanding is the ability to see the picture as a whole.
At last, the text includes an interesting metaphor of Los Cominos, the place directly connected with the events of the Cristero War in which the Church tried to establish its dominance (or at least equality) over the state. In Los Cominos, the battle when the Cristeros (the Catholic rebels) sacrificed themselves in order to make the battalion of General Amaro unable to exit the place took place. With the help of their prayers and appellation to local superstitions, the fanatic Cristeros achieved the dominance over the General; thus, this historical flashback demonstrated to Julio the religious, fanatical and superstitious specifics of the Mexican culture and society (Villoro 66). The protagonist alienated from Mexico with his personality as well as with his rational European worldview that cannot accept this element of Mexican culture, which constitutes its very base. Consequently, he sees the situation from the position of General Amaro, the defender of the secular world. It seems that the rational position of Julio is close to that of the author, because further he describes the todays Mexican culture as the descendant of that of Cristeros with their specific worldview. Thus, the Mexican filmmakers create a series For the Love of God where this theme of religious fanatic self-sacrifice is the dominant motive (Villoro 16). The great deed of the martyrs, glorified by the Church and by the folklore, is interpreted in terms of mass-culture, and thus the base of their fanaticism becomes the source of kitsch. Furthermore, the series is made for money provided by the criminals (the cartels) whose religious feelings are paradoxically interrelated with their way of life and negative social influence. It seems that the author uses Los Cominos as a metaphor of Mexico in general, while all of those forces that participate there (the Cristeros, the soldiers of General Amaro, the cartels, the Catholic priests, the local people and others) metaphorically mean those greater forces that determine the todays Mexico existence. For Julio (and for the author as well), the exploitation of the religious mythology based on fanaticism inevitably leads to negative results. It also seems that for the protagonist, much more preferred would be the sharing of rational worldview and the European culture in Mexico, because they are closer to him than the Mexican specifics. Besides, the general mistakes and losses of Julio, his inability to see the picture (including himself) as a whole and other weaknesses of the protagonist make possible the assumption that he is not right and that he just does not understand the Mexican culture because his perception of it is limited by particular elements without any productive generalization. Thus, through the metaphor of Los Cominos and the protagonists orientation on General Amaro, it is possible to provide a culturological interpretation of the novel.
In this way, Villoros El Testigo appears as a deep philosophical novel that concerns both existential and culturological problems actual for the todays readers. Along with the discussing of the philosophic themes of alienation, loneliness, guilt and the unauthenticity expressed through the reflections of Julio, the author provides a ground for productive dialogue between the world culture and the Mexican one, attempting to make the specifics of Mexican culture understandable for other people. The wide use of symbols and metaphors makes the text very exciting because of the possibility of different interpretations. In this way, El Testigo serves as a perfect example of the todays Mexican prose.
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