Latin-American literature has been overlooked in the schools by English-speaking readers much too often, even though it has much to offer. In fact, there is an amazing lack of interest in anything that is Latin-American. It is ironic, but most Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. When they visit Puerto Rico, they believe that they are visiting a foreign country. The influx of Puerto Ricans and other Latin-Americans into the United States mainland has made us more aware of their language. For this reason, one finds that there are many more students enrolled in Spanish courses. Many students want to learn Spanish because they want to understand and communicate with their friends.
The high school Spanish curriculum has been geared towards Spain and its literature. It is now time to include in our curriculum Latin-America and its literature. Not only should we include them because of the obvious reason that there are more Latin-Americans than there are Spaniards, but also because there is more innovation and style coming out of Latin-America presently.
Latin-American literature encompasses all the literary works from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Antilles. This unit will attempt to serve as a guide for teachers introducing students to Latin-American literary works. It should be taught to third or fourth year students who are highly motivated or to native Spanish speakers. The teacher needs at least six to eight weeks to teach this unit.
As a point of departure,
, a novel by Rómulo Gallegos, a Venezuelan, has been selected. I want to stress that any novel can be utilized. In fact, in my bibliography, you will find other works that would be of interest to the learner, such as
Mar’a Don Segundo Sombra Amalia
etc. Any of these works can be taught by the techniques and covering areas that are listed in the outline below:
Development and Summary of Plot
is a novel that today’s youth can identify with. The novel takes place in the 1920’s, but the problems are modern ones: growing pains, rape, illegitimate children, crime, love, passion, revenge, class struggles, witchcraft, murder, etc. It is a novel with an enticing plot which will be most appealing to the adolescent. It has all the ingredients of an excellent soap opera.
Before assigning the novel, the instructor should either review or introduce the geography of Venezuela and its relationship to other countries geographically. The student should become familiar with the map of Venezuela and the rest of the continent. They should learn such information as the capital city, rivers, mountains, bordering neighbors, national resources and products, and other terrestrial characteristics and details.
Venezuela: Geography, Climate, and Resources
I have included below some of the information that can be useful to the instructor. Please remember that the information has been included to facilitate the task for the teacher. The teacher should incorporate all this and expand on it. Research projects should be assigned and they should include map making, art, mobiles, posters, etc. to make the learning process richer and more interesting.
Venezuela, the capital of which is Caracas, is larger than California, Oregon, and the state of Washington combined. Colombia is located to its west, with Guyana as its southeastern neighbor. Brazil is to Venezuela’s south, and to the north, we find the Caribbean Sea. The northeastern tip of the country touches the Atlantic Ocean. This ideal location makes Venezuela one of the most progressive countries in South America. Its oil production makes it one of the wealthier countries in the continent. The climate is tropical, another advantage.
The mountain chain known as the Andes begins in Venezuela. Some of the indigenous animals found here include: the alpaca, the guanaco, the llama, and the vicüna. The longest river of Spanish America goes through Venezuela; it is called the Orinoco River. Other minor rivers are: the Capanaporo, the Cunaviche, the Arauca, and the Cinaruco.
Venezuela produces the cocoa bean which is used in making chocolate. Other products that South America has introduced the world to consist of vanilla beans, pineapples, peanuts, pecans, cashew nuts, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes.
Students should be encouraged to do research projects of the history of the period and perhaps even contrast and compare the times in the United States during the same period.
It is important to mention in class that Venezuela was one of the first countries of South America to achieve independence from colonial Spain. It is the birthplace of Simon Bolivar,
, otherwise known as the “George Washington” of South America.
Historical information and background about the author is also very valuable. Rómulo Gallegos was born in 1884. He was a teacher, a minister of education, a journalist, and the elected President of Venezuela. He lived during the cruel dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez. He left the country in self-exile, but, upon returning, was elected President. Gallegos was unable to maintain order because he had a platform full of rigorous social reforms. Within ten months, there was a military coup and Gallegos was deposed. He again went into exile, living in Mexico and the United States until the end of the Perez-Jiménez regime in 1958.
was written in 1929. With this novel, we begin to see a breaking away from European ties which included literary and political influences.
Vocabulary is the foundation of language learning. This book is especially difficult because it is very regional and rustic. One has to keep in mind that vocabulary differs immensely from area to area. Not only is Venezuelan Spanish different from that of other Spanish-speaking countries, it also varies from coast land to hinterland to mountains because of the space between them. This is a phenomenon which occurs in all of South America, as well as in the rest of the world.
It is also important to note that the first settlers of Venezuela were sailors from the southern coast of Spain. The people on the coast still tend to maintain the same speech patterns of their forefathers, while the people of the plains tend to use more provincial terms combining Spanish, Indian and African words. For example, many words begin with
in Venezuela. The interjection
is used quite frequently. Another example showing the difference from country to country is
is a plain. Thus, a cowboy is a llanero. In Argentina, a cowboy is a
. And in most of the countries, he is known as a
Impress upon the students that language is a tool that belongs to the people. Thus, it is shaped and molded by us. One good example to demonstrate this point is one that I always use in class myself: the root of all the Romance languages is Latin. Show how the word bread evolves from the Latin
in four different languages. In Italian the word is
; in French they say
; the Portuguese say p‹o; and the Spaniards say
Also suggest that they should respect all the different ways of speaking because it adds character, color, and excitement to our world.
is difficult reading, I suggest that the teacher make a vocabulary list like I have done for chapter VI,
El recuerdo de Asdrúbal
. See Appendix I.
Another suggestion would be to ask the students to read the chapter and to assign each paragraph to different students for making another vocabulary list on their own. At the termination of this assignment, the students should re-read the passage in order to have it make sense. The teacher should also test vocabulary as frequently as possible either orally or written.
Students should be encouraged to find recipes for typical Venezuelan dishes such as
(foods prepared with corn) and to attempt to make these and others for their classmates.
In order to set the mood for the novel, a recording of
would be most appropriate. Students should also be familiarized with the typical musical instruments of South America such as the
Other facets of Venezuelen life should be looked into and researched by the students. This can include learning and performing the dances and obtaining information about the different races, the arts, entertainment and recreation, greetings, gestures,
, the family, and much more. Facts about Venezuelan writers, musicians, actors, and painters can also be very useful. One outstanding painter of Venezuela is Tito Salas, a twentieth century painter whose major preoccupation is the fight for independence. An excellent book that deals with this movement which is sometimes called
The Modern Culture of Latin America
(this book is listed in the bibliography).
Plot Development and Summary
The passionate description of the events and characters are related to the description of the landscape which includes the extraordinary plains,
, and the jungles of the brave new world. At times the characters and the land are one and the same. Do–a Bárbara is the savanna or the plain. She is beautiful and terrible at the same time. In her exist life and death. “La llanura es bella y terrible a la vez; en ella caben holgadamente, hermosa vida y muerte atroz.”
Revolutions are constantly brewing in South America due to the crime and corruption that exist and to the cruel dictatorships that have ruled. In Gallegos’ first novel,
El último solar
, we see all the corrupt politicians, the disillusioned dissident artists, and the neurotic revolutionaries to make Venezuela ripe for the latter group. “Se vislumbre ya en Venezuela fusca, enjambre pululante de politicos, de artistas desconforme, deilusilusionados, y de revolucionarios incurablemente neuroticos.
Rómulo Gallegos knows the psychology behind these
inside and out. Thus, he writes with powerful authority. (A
is similar to a ranch. It has much land and the peons live on it in separate dwellings. It is also known for raising cattle.)
belongs to the regionalistic category of novels due to the fact that “the landscape molds and frequently overshadows, character.”
Such was the famous Do–a Bárbara: lusty, superstitious, greedy, and cruel; and there at the bottom of her soul, there shined a pure and painful little thing—the memory of Asdrúbal, the frustrated love which could have changed her whole life. She is also like the Orinoco and Guain’a Rivers, whose waters are different colors. These rivers meet in the heart of the jungle, yet they do not mix. Each maintains its own color. “El Orinoco es un rio de ondas leonadas, el Guain’a, las arrastra negras. En el corozón de la selva, aguas de aquel se reunen con las de éste; más por largo trecho corren sin mezclarse conservando cada cual su peculiar coloracion.”
Along the same vein, the novel depicts struggles of opposing forces such as city versus hinterland, civilization versus barbarism (Bárbara), Europe versus South America. Gallegos also presents the class structure along with its social problems. These are portrayed in the decadent caretakers, the adventurous Indians, the mulatto servants and the rural bandits and parasites.
Modern students will enjoy this story because they will see themselves in Venezuela. They will realize that the people of the world have much in common. For the benefit of Spanish teachers who do not know the work, a summary of the novel follows.
is a novel of a modern day woman. The character represents
. Her personality has been molded by her experiences and her environment. She is extremely strong emotionally and she lets nothing stand in her way. She seems to be a woman walking in a stupor, thus scruples are lacking. All she knows and does is evil.
The events that shape Do–a Bárbara take place when she is very young. She grows up among contrabandists and bandits who intend to sell her to a sadistic leper. Asdrúbal, a young man who tries to liberate her from this tragic destiny, is killed, and Bárbara is brutally violated by crew members of a pirogue.
Many years later, we see Do–a Bárbara as a powerful
of a large ranch with much land which she has obtained through illicit means from Lorenzo Barquero, one of her first victims, who now lives with his daughter Marisela in a broken down hut as the
. Marisela, a wild young thing, is the unacknowledged and illegitimate daughter of Do–a Bárbara.
Do–a Bárbara avenges the death of Asdrúbal by destroying every man that happens to cross her path. She has some of the men killed off: one of these, a colonel who wrote the papers for the land deal, she has buried alive with his horse by a man named M’ster Danger. Others she uses as instruments to fulfill her evil means and purposes, such as Balbino Paiba. But the worst off is Lorenzo Barquero, who had fallen in love with her. He is now consumed by alcohol and is reduced to a state of nothingness.
Finally, on the scene comes Santos Luzardo, a young lawyer who tries to tame the
by putting an end to the plundering and to the corruption through legal means. But, alas, he becomes disillusioned and convinced that violence is the law of the
Santos at the end is successful because Do–a Bárbara falls in love with him. She sees Asdrúbal in this young
. Bárbara tries to allure and attract Santos at first just with her womanly charms, but she fails because he has already fallen in love with her daughter Marisela. In fact, no matter what she does, she is always shunned by Santos.
The arrival of this young maverick touched off a progressive change in this beautiful, yet dangerous woman. She wants desperately to change by restoring her wealth to their proper owners. She realizes that she has changed when she tries to kill her daughter, but she can not pull the trigger. She wants to find a pure love, thus she can not return to her previous hideous state. Her only solution is to leave. Upon her departure, which is very mysterious, Do–a Bárbara leaves everything to her daughter.
Even the changing of the name of the ranch is symbolic. From
hato de Do–a Bárbara
(Fear, the ranch of Do–a Bárbara) to
tierra de Luzardo
(Look up High, land of Luzardo).
Do–a Bárbara is a witch, so they say. The students will find the witchcraft and superstitions fascinating. A great deal can be done with the theme of the supernatural. The teacher can plan a field trip or have the students visit a health food store and make a list of all the herbs and roots which have special powers.
An excellent example of witchcraft in the novel is do–a Bárbara’s nightly meetings with
. Another time, Bárbara tires of failing to allure Santos through feminine means. She then sends Juan Primito (
—the stupid one) to get his measurement in order to make a doll in his likeness. Santos sees it as a big joke, but Marisela takes it very seriously. She goes to her mother’s ranch to take back the strings of measurements, thus Do–a Bárbara’s plan to bewitch him fails, and mother and daughter become physical. Santos puts an end to the fighting.
Then too, there is the theme of the
. The man has to prove that he has hair on his chest and that he is a
. Antonio Sandoval, one of Santos’ loyal peons, says: “Once a
up to the fifth generation.” And at the rodeo, Santos amazes everyone and leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about the extent of his manhood. This is a very prevalent theme in the story. It does not stop occurring until the end, when Do–a Bárbara makes the supreme sacrifice.
(see Appendix II)
Many projects can be developed for this novel. A skit will be put on during this unit in order to have more direct participation on the part of the students. Before learning can occur, it must be first perceived through the senses. People learn more quickly and they retain more through direct involvement. Learning is an active process rather than a passive one.
This skit has been prepared basically to have the student learn vocabulary while at the same time practicing the spoken language. Most of it has been extracted from the dialogue that can be found in the novel, especially in pages one through fifty. This is not a complete skit. Many of the details surrounding the background must be obtained from reading the novel.
My intention here is to demonstrate how a novel can be converted into a play. Any teacher can very easily add on the rest of the plot by following the one already set up for you. Again, I want to reiterate that the complete novel must be read in order to recreate the scenes.
This acting will provide a knowledgeable relationship between the student and the novel. It will provide the students the opportunity of using and practicing and even mastering what is learned. The novel will become a reality due to this direct participation. I can not overly express the importance of this section. At the same time, I want to repeat that any novel can be used if the outline is followed, just as long as the main purpose of exposing the students to Latin-America literature is accomplished.
Sample Lesson Plans
I. Author: Rómulo Gallegos
a. born in 1884
b. teacher, minister of education, journalist, elected President of Venezuela
c. period; 1920’s
d. problems in the novel: growing pains, rape, passion, witchcraft, etc.
B. Introduce the geography of Venezuela
1. Location on the map
2. Capital: Caracas
3. Rivers: Orinoco, Capanaporo, Cunaviche, Arauca, Cinaruco
4. Other cities and locations: San Francisco, Ciudad Bolivar, Manaos, Camajay-Minare
5. The Andes
C. Assign research papers on the material covered
D. Motion picture:
Geography of South America
(The Continent—14 minutes )
1. Review all the information from the previous day.
2. Have students add other information from their research papers.
B. Introduce Natural Resources and Products
1. Cocao bean, vanilla beans, pineapples, etc.
3. Animals: alpaca, guaneco, llama, vicuna.
C. Homework: have students make maps with legends
Geography of South America
1. Review of all information
1. Simón Bol’var: independence
2. History of the period 1929
1. History of the language
2. Regional vocabulary
3. Vocabulary list
arepa and hayacas
2. Musical instruments:
3. Play the record Malagüena
E. Homework: students research Venezuelan dishes and music