Mariano Azuela’s novel “Los de Abajo” Essay
Mariano Azuela’s novel “Los de Abajo”
Mariano Azuela’s novel “Los de Abajo”, titled “The Underdogs” by Enrique Munguía Jr., in his English translation, has been hailed as the novel of the Mexican revolution. In this novel Azuela creates characters representative of the two factions that are at variance, the revolutionaries and the federalists. The novel is divided into three parts and each part subdivided into chapters, the first part being the longest and the third being the shortest. Enrique Munguía’s translation is about 140 pages in length and many have noted that this novel is one of Azuela’s shortest.
The novel is, however, quite entertaining and it maintains the readers’ attention throughout. For anyone interested in a serious study of Mexican history, this is an essential novel to read as it gives a perspective into the social aspects of the revolution that few textbooks can capture. The book has historical significance because it gives a description of the Mexican revolution from the perspective of people who were directly affected by and involved in the revolutionary process.
Literally the title of the novel in Spanish “Los de Abajo” translates to mean those from or at the bottom. This I believe is a very appropriate title and in itself captures Azuela’s primary argument that he maintains throughout the novel. The revolutionaries and the federalists are constantly juxtaposed against each other in the novel but Azuela, through the eyes of Luis Cervantes, allows the reader to see that the two groups are not that dissimilar.
Both factions display distrust, treachery, moral decadence and kill so mercilessly that it is no wonder that the words of the title “Los de Abajo” is used in the novel to refer to both the rebels and the federalists. Early in Part I chapter three when Demetrio led his men into the first ambush of the government troops he instructs his men to “Get those coming up from under! Los de Abajo! Get the underdogs!” be screamed. Later on in chapter 6 the narrator reflects of Luis Cervantes, on the first night of his joining the revolutionaries, that “Did not the sufferings of the underdogs, of the disinherited masses, move him to the core?… the subjugated, the beaten and baffled.”
The events in the novel mirror the Mexican revolution of 1910. The main plot of the story is that of a peasant farmer, Demetrio Macias who, after having suffered at the hands of the federalists, decides to join Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army.
A defector of the government army, Luis Cervantes – elite and educated, joins Demetrio’s troop because of his support of the ideals he believed the revolutionaries espoused. Azuela, however, uses this character as his mouthpiece and, in his disillusionment that the revolutionaries were not fighting based on ideologies; the reader gets an understanding of Azuela’s perspective. He, like Cervantes, abandoned the struggle and migrated to the United States after having worked along with Pancho Villa as a military doctor believing his ideals to have been betrayed.
One of the main lessons that Azuela delivers here is relevant in so many areas of life. His major argument in presenting his novel is that without purpose, focus, planning and proper management, even the most worthwhile efforts will prove to be futile.
The most positive aspect of Azuela’s novel is that it was written while the struggles in the revolution were still going on. Beginning in 1914 the novel began to be published as a series in a Texas newspaper in installments though it was not until 1925 that it began to gain worldwide attention.
This novel details the battles in the Mexican revolution from the perspective of the author who himself was a witness of these very events. Prior to moving to Texas, Azuela supported the revolutionary movement by offering his medical services to Pancho Villa’s army. In such a position he was exposed to the ills of the revolutionary battle, more so from the perspective of the revolutionaries. Azuela was therefore in a fitting position to discuss the Mexican revolution because he too had been very intimately involved in the process.
However, while this novel bears relevance to the themes that were facing the Mexicans at the time when they were most involved in the revolution, it fails to give a complete picture of the revolutionary process. The problem with the novel is precisely because it was written so close to the actual events. This prevents the reader from having a total picture of the ‘before’, the ‘during’ and the ‘after’ of the revolution.
In the same way that Demetrio’s eyes remain ‘leveled in an eternal glance’ at the end of the novel, so does the battle between the revolutionaries and the federalists give the impression that it will last eternally without resolution or victory for either side. The tone of Azuela’s novel therefore comes off as being very pessimistic. Failure and doom is the only outcome of the revolutionary struggle and no one seems to be winning. Azuela’s conclusion here seems to be rather generalized.
Authors who have written about the revolution subsequent to Azuela have had the benefit of seeing the long-term results of the struggle which revealed much more positive effects than what were immediately obvious while the struggles were still going on.
Azuela, Mariano (1963). The Underdogs (Enrique Munguía Jr. Trans.). The U.S.A.: Penguin Group. (Original work published 1916).
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 March 2017
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