Only three Caribbean countries were selected for this curriculum unit (also at least two authors per country were selected). The countries involved are: Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). We will study each author’s life, success and work, and the country each represents individually. Also, the time setting of this unit extends from the 18th through the 20th Centuries. Our first country is Puerto Rico.
One must be aware of the great amount of talented writers of Spanish American literature that emerged in this beautiful Caribbean island since its colonization. For the purpose of this curriculum unit, we will learn about the life, work, and success of those who have gained world recognition and fame. These three famous Hispanics are Luis Palés Matos, René Marqués and Eugenio Mar’a Hostos.
Let us take each of these authors individually. First we will talk about Luis Palés Matos and then we will continue our discussion with Mr. Marqués and Mr. Hostos.
Mr. Palés Matos’ life was a very exciting and busy one. He was born in 1898 and died in 1959. Many writers such as Pedro Juan Labarthe, Ricardo Gullón, Ventura Doreste, José Emilio Gonzalez, G.R. Coulthand, and Miguel Enguidanos, and most of all, David William Foster, who studied his life and work extensively, have indicated that Palés Matos was a born poet.
For critics such as Ricardo Gullón (
, Nos. 2930, Jan.June, 1960, pp. 39, 41), Luis Palés Matos’ place in the history of Puerto Rican poetry is clear: he is the most important poet of Puerto Rico, the one who has best expressed the real qualities of his land, through his own Puerto Rican self.
His poetry reflects a great sense of loyalty to what is his own. Palés Matos found great success in the huge arena of contemporary poetry in the Spanish language.
Luis Palés Matos’ work basically tends to portray the problems and feelings not only of the Blacks, but also for all the people and these things that they loved.
His work has an implicit unit. He modified Modernist language with his own expressions. As indicated by Jose Emilio Gonzalez (La Torre Nos. 2930, JanJune, 1960, p. 328), Palés Matos was among those writers who repudiated the conformist society of bourgeois comfort and boredom. In contrast, he created a naturalist Utopia, in which the Black embodies the primeval forces that can save an exhausted civilization. In other words, his “Negroid” poems tend to express idealistically his social consciousness and also, his great sense of artistic imagination. His books
Shoeblacking of Kinky Hair
have many poems with an African setting. There is not doubt about it, this famous Hispanic’s life’s achievements came about through his successful career as a writer of Afro-American poetry. And along this line, let us study our second and also most successful Puerto Rican poet, Rene Marques.
Unlike Palés Matos, Rene Marques’ work is contemporary. Mr. Marques’ career as a Modernist writer has been a very rewarding one. He was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in the year 1919. He was the grandson of farmers, who instilled in him their religious and ethical values. His literary aspirations were extremely encouraged by Donna Padrina, his mother, who as a writer herself, was an ardent defender of Puerto Rican independence and women’s rights. She wrote many articles on political and feministic issues.
Marques was to become a farmer before he even thought of becoming a writer. Being the grandson of agronomists, Marques too followed in the family tradition, by earning an Agronomy degree from the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Mayaguez in 1942. Shortly after graduation he began to work for the Department of Agriculture. He decided to stop pursuing this career after the second year, in order to follow his literary vocation. Soon thereafter, he traveled to Spain (1946) where he took literature courses at the University of Madrid.
During his stay in Spain and while conducting advanced studies in literature, he started to write for Puerto Rico’s most illustrious newspaper,
With his column “Chronicles from Spain,” Marques’ literary career was launched. His first books which he entitled:
Man and His Dreams
, 1946, and
The Sun and the MacDonalds,
1947, mark the beginning of his successful career.
In 1949, Marques was awarded a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation, an opportunity that led him to leave his job with the journal
and go to New York, where he studied drama at Columbia University and at the Piscartor’s Dramatic Workshop. It was then that he wrote
a wellknown play, for a course on playwriting, given by Dr. Theodore Apstein at Columbia University.
Upon completion of his drama studies, Marques left the University and returned to Puerto Rico. In 1950, he started to work for the Division of Community Education of the Department of Education. In less than three years he was promoted to the position of head manager of its Editorial Department. Such a position allowed Marques to sharpen his filmmaker skills. One year later (1951), he founded the Experimental Theater of the Ateneo, which he directed until 1954. In 1959, he founded with Eliezer Curet Cuevas the Book Club of Puerto Rico. During this time Marques wrote a great number of dramas, short stories, and novels. Among these writings were:
Juan Bobo and the Lady of the Occident
Another Day of Ours
The Truncated Suns
A Blue Child For That Shadow
Modern Puerto Rican Short Stories,
The Eve of Manhood,
1959, which became the first contemporary Puerto Rican play to be performed in Europe.
Marques’ work continued to receive recognition. He earned the admiration of his colleagues when in 1958 he was awarded the Ateneo Prize for Achievements in the genre of short stories:
The Living Room
A Blue Child For That Shadow
and the novel and essay
Literary Permission and Political Optimism in PresentDay Puerto
Marques’ multiple achievements have secured his future, a great career as a writer, and must of all, a great place in the history of Latin American literature.
Eugenio Maria Hostos was able to build, but also was unable to see the fulfillment of the ideal he most loved as a child. He constantly dreamed of the independence of his beautiful island, Puerto Rico. Hostos saw Puerto Rico not as a tiny nation by itself, but as a member of a Confederacy of the Antilles, together with Cuba and Santo Domingo.
Because of the Spanish were ruling in both Cuba and Puerto Rico he dedicated most of his life to the cause of their liberation. When, at last, Cuba obtained her freedom (1898), there was only a change of rulers for his native island, Puerto Rico. He never recovered from the blow of such disaster.
While working heavily for Cuba and Puerto Rico liberation, Hostos had built, through education, for future times. In Santo Domingo (18791888), where he had settled with the hope of winning supporters for his project of a confederacy, he founded the first normal school of the country, giving it a curriculum of which science was the nucleus and established pedagogical methods that were in advance of his time. Since poor economic conditions prevented the immediate expansion of elementary schools, Hostos decided to establish a teaching program for teachers, hoping that the few would teach the many.
Soon thereafter, this hope was fulfilled, and the influence of his school was huge; it changed the intellectual atmosphere.
In Chile, likewise (18891899), he contributed many ideas to the advancement of public education. Then, in his last years (19001903), in Santo Domingo again, he reorganized the whole educational system there. Both his political and his pedagogical campaigns were carried out with the help of a large amount of writing.
His first book,
The Pilgrimage of Bayoan
(1863), is a political novel. His best,
(1888), was planned as a school text. His most brilliant pages are probably contained in the addresses he read when the first groups of normal teachers received their degrees in Santo Domingo, the first group of men (1884) and the first group of women (1887). Antonio Caso, the Mexican philosopher, calls the 1884 address, “the master work of ethical thought in Hispanic America.”
As a thinker, Hostos is essentially ethical; at the same time, he is a rationalist, with a deep faith in the power of reason to ascertain truth. “Give me truth,” he says, “and I shall give you truth, with truth alone, shall rebuild the world as many times as you may have shattered it. And I should give you not only the world of matter, but also the world that the human mind perpetually builds above the natural world.”
He compels himself to believe that harmony (i.e., ethical conduct, and truth) (mainly as knowledge) are the ultimate goals of human endeavor; he even thinks that the contemplation of the heavens impresses the law of order on our minds; but he ponders on “the eternity of efforts spent in the simple aim of making rational the only
of the earth who is endowed with reason,” and the
of conflict in individual and social life is for him a perpetual distress.
However, only by a constant heroic effort does he maintain his
faith in reason and in “the
power of virtue.
In 1882, Hostos discovered a moral lesson in Shakespeare’s work, and wrote a superb essay on Hamlet, a psychological and moral analysis of all of the characters in the play. Critics who follow Hostos’ writing tend to indicate that he was born a writer, with a powerful imagination, shown, for example, in the description of the peasant woman who mistakes his school for a church, kneels before it, prays, crosses herself, and, “thus consecrated the temple.”
Like Puerto Rico, Cuba too produced a great number of talented writers of Latin American literature. Again, because of the limitation of space, we must deal only with two of the many authors: José Marti and Nicolas Guillén.
Let us begin our studies of these Cuban writers first with José Marti. He was born in 1853 and died at the age of 42 years, in 1895. Marti gained national and international recognition as a Cuban hero. He was a fighter for freedom throughout his lifetime, and died in battle against the Spanish rulers.
As a writer, Marti’s poetry is said to be simple and moving. In 1882, he finished his first book,
which was well received because of its new, and in a way refreshing, and emotional tauntness. Eight years later (1891) he completed his second book
, which was published almost immediately in that same year.
Few years later, in 1918, this book (
) was to be regarded as an early antecedent of Sencillista poetry. It is obvious that José Marti’s work is the representation of the 19th century when a great deal of fighting for independence was taking place all over Latin America. But, although he died probably before his time, one cannot deny the success of this famous Hispanic life time, for his great achievements obtained during not only a difficult era, but in a very short period of time.
Another famous Cuban writer is Nicolas Guillén. This famous man was born in Cuba in 1902. Those who study his literary works tend to agree that as a writer of poetry, he is one of the best. Most of Guillen’s work can be found in his writing of “Afro American Poetry.” His poetry shows rhythms not commonly found in Spanish.
Guillén’s first book was published in 1930. He entitled it:
Motivos de Son
. In this book he uses a demonic language which is “sonorous” and “exotic.”
In 1931, a year later, he completed and soon thereafter published his very first book relating to Black themes to a social context. He entitled this
which is an indictment of a social system that allows exploitation.
Several years later, in 1947, a new book was completed and published. He choose as a title: “El Son Entero,” which is a combination of the best elements of his previous work.
The popularity of Mr. Guillén in his country is ultimately unique. His poetry work is well known even to illiterate people. This author’s life has been and continues to be a very successful one.
Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic)
One cannot embark in literary studies about Latin America without taking a close look at the life, work and success of José Mar’a de Heredia. Born in 1803, his life was a very short one because he passed away in 1839 at 36 years of age.
As described by Pedro Henriquez Urena in his book—
Literary Currents in Hispanic America
, p. 105—Heredia was the poet of a frustrated independence. He was the son of a great literary figure of his generation in Cuba, he was the son of a distinguished migrant family from Santo Domingo. During those years his country underwent many distressing crisis with the invasions of the insurgent slaves from Haiti. Because of his country’s difficult times, many of its men of wealth and culture were lost.
Heredia’s short life was full of multiple misfortunes. His father, José Francisco Heredia (17761820), was a very honest and humane judge who in an attempt to escape his country’s violence and political conflicts, migrated with his family to Venezuela in 1811.
After a year of fruitless exertion in Venezuela during the revolutionary period, his father once again decided to move with his family into Mexico, where soon afterwards he died in 1818. At this point, his son (Heredia) went to Cuba (1820-1823), to become part of a conspiracy to make that country free. Failing in his attempts to free Cuba in 1823, Heredia was sent to exile. He spent two years in the United States (1823-1825), and thereafter he left the United States to go to Mexico. In Mexico, Heredia became a resident. But, he endured many hardships because of the political unrest. He was able to see his country (Santo Domingo) again only once in 1836 when he visited it for a few weeks.
Heredia’s work is the representation of his love for his native land, the Dominican Republic. “Return to the South,” is one of his most original poems. It was written in 1825. Soon thereafter, he finished his “Ode on the Teocalli of Cholula.” Heredia’s work is the most lyrical among our poetry and it is also the representation of those conflicting times. So Heredia’s life, although his poetry became a success, was a very troubled one. His work can be easily compared with that of José Marti because of the time factor. Both writers were born and died in the 19th Century. It is not my intention to make comparisons of any kind here, that will be done by both the teacher and the individual students during the learning process of the lesson plan exercise activities.
Although José Mar’a Heredia’s roots are from the Dominican Republic, one can honesty say that he was more Cuban and Mexican than anything else. He spent most of his life in exile. However, Manual De Jesús Galván, although he too spent sometime in exile, returned to his mother country to defend Santo Domingo’s double heritage.
Mr. Galván was born in 1834, at the time when the Dominican Republic was under the control of Haiti country. He always saw the Spaniards as allies against the rule of their Black neighbors.
He was a very strong believer of the Spanish ruling system. So in 1861, he supported, if not inspired, the decision to return to Spanish Rule.
In 1865, and after losing in his political attempt to change the ruling, he was put in exile by the members of the Independence Party, who became winners of the governmental administration. A years later (1876), Galván returned to his mother country to collaborate with the new administration. It was then that he made up in his mind that Santo Domingo’s double heritage was to be defended. He knew that something needed to be done about the political crisis which his precious island was going through. He wanted to exalt its Indian roots but without renouncing Spain’s cultural and religious legacy. To this end he conceived the idea of an historical novel based on one of the earliest and most successful Indian uprisings.
Resulting from his political crisis interventions, Galván completed his first novel
which takes place from 1502 to 1533.
The book was published in two parts; one in 1878 and the second in 1882. Today this book is known as a national classic in the Dominican Republic, and it was translated by Robert Graves. Although Galván didn’t succeed in writing a great historical novel, as some claimed, he proved to be a master at recreating some decisive incidents in his country’s long remembered origins.