Tendencies in Latin American literature in 20th century

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2 Tendencies in Latin American literature in 20th century

The terms Hispanic/Latino Americans refer to Americans with the origin in the Hispanic countries of Latin America or in Spain, and in general they label all persons in the United States who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino. For purposes of this thesis both terms Latino and Hispanic Americans will be used interchangeably. However, Hispanic as an umbrella term neglects the different national background of its sub-cultures as well as their varied racial, class, linguistic and gender experiences. On the base of that, I argue that if Hispanic ethnic consists of more than 23 million citizens, economic emigrants and political refugees, it can hardly be homogenous group. As Martha Giménez explains, the term Hispanic strips people of their historical identity and reduces them to imputed common traits.” 1 (qtd. in Oboler, 4). Literature marked as Hispanic or Latin American encompasses the national literatures of South and Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of the West Indies, and is written either in English or Spanish or even the fusion of both languages.

The most significant development of Latin American literature in 20th century is generally considered the growth of New Narrative (also New Novel) in 1940s -1950s’ which later culminated into the Boom in 1960s. (Swanson, 37) The New Narration is understood as the response to social realism, which had been traditionally domineering to Latin American fiction and which provided rather simplified and narrow interpretation of reality. New Narrative seems to appeal to traditional conception of realism and contradict its straightforward and comprehensible reality. New literary styles appears to replace traditional form of Hispanic novels.

The main tendencies in literature within New Narrative according to Swanson are modernismo, avant-garde and magical realism. Modernismo was seen as a specific phenomenon of Latin American literature, focused on poetry, aesthetic qualities of style and mood, and sense of escapism as a crisis of faith. It questions conventional belief system where material is valued over the spiritual, breakdown of social values via technological development, urbanization and immigration. Modernismo reflects one of the basic principles of the New Narrative – the language alone cannot effectively describe reality, which is too complicated and ambiguous. It was often about esoteric questions, fascinated by alternative worlds and expressed the crisis of modernity.

Avant-garde style was based on peculiar mixture of hilarious and anxious attitudes towards the modernity. According to Swan, it was typical particularly in region of Argentina and is further divided into the urban and the existential groups, which not only replaced traditional way of writing but they focused on natural development and the continual process of changes leading from social realism to New Narrative stream. Avant-garde writers emphasized the importance of regional issues of Latin America and the search for its identity.

Magical realism bridges the gap between social realist regional fiction and fantasy, the style focused on the difference between the perception and the reality. The authors believe that Latin America is unusual because of its historical, religious and ethnics extremes and thus its reality is close to fantasy. The narrative style of magical realism allowed to describe even bizarre events quite naturally. Magical realism is associated with Gabriel García Márguez as one of the most famous author of the region. Also Cristina García, whose work is analyzed later in this thesis, is considered as the author of magical realism and we will be able to recognize supernatural events in her novel. An integral part of magical realism, based on myths and legends is known as neo-indigenism. It often concerns mysterious world as well as unfavorable situation of native inhabitants. ( Swanson, 38-58)

With New Narration, reality is not to be captured precisely in writing anymore, but new narrative techniques provide more complex and ambiguous environment. Thus, the new style requires higher involvement and more active approach from the reader. As it was mentioned above, New Narration wave reached its peak in 1960s in the period of Boom. The Boom means in many aspects the landmark when Latin American fiction became acknowledged in the rest of the world. Amongst major Latin American writers who first became prominent in the United States in the 1960s we can find the names such as — Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez, Chile’s Pablo Neruda, and Brazil’s Jorge Amado.

Since that first wave of popularity, writers of color have found their audience. Latin Americanism has been recognized as academic discipline and several scholars such as Lawrence Levine (The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture and History, 1996) and Ronald Takaki (A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, 1993) provide invaluable context for understanding multiethnic literature and its meanings. (Kathryn Van Spanckeren, 116)

One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.

̶ Simone de Beauvoir


As identity is the central theme of this thesis I am going to define the term itself and to briefly introduce individual aspects of identity . The simple question “Who are you?” arises endless list of answers depending on many factors, including the context the question is asked. The list might cover the gender, religions, position in a family, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Therefore we might claim that identity incorporates the set of personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable and those that define one’s affiliation with a group, especially in the terms of gender, race, age or religion. (Cyrus, 8) In other words, the sense of selfhood is shaped by observing people around us and identifying ourselves with others. This process of affiliation with the group starts as early as the child is born and is formed since the early age. These primary attributes we obtained in the early stage of our lives have direct influence on our perception of selves and acting when we are adults. The humanist theory2 of self focuses on the notion that one’s identity is the blend of some unchangeable aspects which are considered to be essences and which makes an in individual what he is under all circumstances, no matter what happens in the outside world. However , I believe, most people continue in their later lives to develop new identity. Virginia Cyrus pointed out four aspects of identity as race and ethnicity, gender , economic status and stereotypes and how these points influence the formation of one’s identity. In her study “Experiencing with Race, Class and Gender in the United States” she explores the ethnicity in historical and contemporary context, examines the way how we learn to accept gender roles in the society, the effect of socioeconomic background on the concept of self and how we create stereotypes towards other social groups. The focus of this thesis is however on ethnic and gender identity , therefore, I am going to deal with these two parts of identity predominantly, although I admit that all four aspects are overlapping to certain extent and are working in an interaction, so the others cannot be omitted completely. Judith Butler states the crucial issue in the term of gender identity as the distinction between sex and gender:
Sex/gender distinction suggests a radical discontinuity between sexed bodies and culturally constructed genders. Assuming for the moment the stability of binary sex, it does not follow that the construction of “men will accrue exclusively to the bodies of males or that “women” will interpret only female bodies. (356)
Sex is generally defined as a system of biological signs dividing the beings in binary pairs male or female. As such, it is considered to be the biological attribute, everyone is born with and something (relatively) stable and unchangeable. Gender, on the other hand, is different. It is socially determined, i.e. one is not born with it but s/he has to learn to fulfill behavioral expectation of what is considered to be feminine or masculine in particular culture. These patterns are generally called gender roles, and do not have to necessarily correspond to one’s sex. Simone de Beauvoir claims that „one “becomes” a woman, but always under a cultural compulsion to become one. And clearly, the compulsion does not come from “sex.” (qtd. in Butler, 12) This piece of knowledge is going to be essential in my later analysis of gender identity of Cuban and Mexican American women. The question is to which extent the society and traditional gender stereotypes shape the individuality of the characters. The next issue, I am going to deal with, is whether in order to conform generally accepted standards women necessarily need to suppress their selves, and how the process of upbringing can influence their performance in life.

Ethnic identity represents another aspect of identity which is socially determined. Similarly to sex it is rather unchangeable, however unlike gender, one can not choose nor influence the national entity s/he is born to. To be born as the member of ethnics usually means to be socialized into two cultural backgrounds, which brings specific aspects to the development of one’s identity, since “the most important component of ethnicity is defined as: membership in a subgroup within an environment dominated by another culture.” (Cyrus, 7) It covers mainly the question of assimilation vs. keeping former cultural heritage and the problems to achieve an equal status within the major society. Within the frame of this thesis, I am going to discuss the question to which extent the female characters are influenced by the character of the community they live in, to which extent their assimilation process is considered as betray to original community, and how this aspect differs in different generations of immigrants. And last but not least, my concern is how they formulate their ethnic identity within the multicultural society of the United States, in other words to question what does it mean to be a woman and a member of ethnics in the same time.

In the following chapter we are going through general social issues and historical events in Mexico and Cuba and their influence on literary works in the regions. Although the main aim of this thesis is to analyze the identity of ethnic minorities living in the U.S. territory, I still find highly important to go through general social issues and historical events in both countries, i.e. Mexico and Cuba, to understand the consequences shaping the feelings of identity in the target groups.

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