The Old Gringo, By Carlos Fuentes Essay, Research Paper
The Old Gringo, Carlos Fuentes
The Old Gringo is a fiction novel written by one of Latin America s most renowned and eloquent authors, Carlos Fuentes. Filled with war, adventure, love and more, this novel takes you back to the Mexican revolution fought in 1912. This contemporary fiction is based on many themes found and experienced by the main characters in this novel. The relationship between Mexico and the United States, the drive to find one s true self and the different ways two men need a woman are only a few themes contained in this story. The question: Is he Ambrose Bierce or just an old gringo, is one that I had to answer while reading this book. We all have different opinions, but it is a question that all ask themselves while reading The Old Gringo.
This novel is told in third-person narrator and at times, different characters in the story. Death is the most popular choice taken in the novel, especially for two of the main characters. It all begins when Harriet Winslow, an American schoolteacher, decides to come to Mexico in 1912 to teach English to the children of a wealthy landowner. What she finds is a general in Pancho Villa s Revolutionary Army and an old American journalist, on a quest for adventure and death. The climax is reached at the death of the old gringo and the Mexican general. The story then ends with the return to the United States made by Harriet Winslow.
This story reminds me very much with the story of Pocahontas. The old gringo and the general, Tomas Arroyo, both desired Harriet Winslow s love. In the story of Pocahontas, John Smith and Kokoum also had such feelings towards Pocahontas. In The Old Gringo, Harriet has a passionate love affair with Tomas Arroyo, the man with the different culture as her. In Pocahontas, she falls in love with John Smith, the man with the different culture as her as well. In both of these situations, we see the different desires for one woman made by two men.
The Old Gringo takes place in the early 1910 s in Mexico. The setting of this novel had major influences on the characters, the plot, and the themes of this story. Each character had different ideas on what Mexico meant to them. For Tomas Arroyo, Mexico was his home, a place he could never leave. The old gringo thought of Mexico as a destination for death, a place to die, while Harriet thought it was a place of escape from home and a new life across the frontier. The setting was essential for the plot because it is based on an actual event, the Mexican revolution, thus needed to fulfill the storyline. The setting also influenced one of the major themes of the story, the historical relationship between the United States and Mexico. As you can see, the setting of this novel was very important to everything included in this story.
The main characters in this story are Harriet Winslow, the old gringo, and Tomas Arroyo. Of the Three, Harriet learns the most as she starts her new life as governess across the frontier. She is a dynamic character that changes in the story because of the things that happen around her. Other characters include Manslavo, La Garduna, Frutos Garcia, La Luna and more. Carlos Fuentes did a very good job of describing these characters and paints a picture, like all great authors, of the characters portrayed in their novels.
Most of the story revolves, however, not around the old gringo but the young gringa, Harriet Winslow. Harriet Winslow is a Yankee spinster, who decides one day in 1912 to break loose from her humdrum life by taking a job as governess in Mexico. Once she arrives, she is immediately caught in the middle of the Mexican revolution. Here, she meets the general, Tomas Arroyo, and the American author, the old gringo. Harriet is described as a, quick, elegant, and a beautiful woman of thirty. In a discussion with Miss Harriet and the old gringo, we learn that her father disappeared in the Spanish-American War somewhere in Cuba. Her and her mother were the only ones at home, which made her want to come to Mexico even more. In this novel, Miss Harriet has an affair with Tomas Arroyo to save the old gringo s life. Supposedly, Arroyo claimed that he would kill the gringo unless she slept with him. At the end of the story, Harriet despises Tomas Arroyo for everything he does and learns to love the old gringo as a father.
The old gringo is a very mysterious, adventure and death-seeking character. He comes to Mexico in search of death, hoping that he could just die in the battlefield. We learn that he had his own family, but all were dead or wanted nothing to do with him. He was a bitter American journalist who had made an abrupt break with his past and is riding into Mexico to join Pancho Villa s revolutionary army. Clues suggest that if this man were ever named he would prove to be Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist, who vanished from the United States into Mexico during 1913. In the end of this story, he is killed by Tomas Arroyo and is taken back into the U.S. to be buried in Miss Harriet s father s empty grave in Arlington. This character was very well respected for his bravery shown in the field and his special qualities that made Miss Harriet love him so much.
Tomas Arroyo is the man who is laying waste the estate where he was fathered by the landowner on a peasant woman and was raised in utter humiliation. I really did not enjoy this character because of his evil ways and the hatred he had towards the gringo. Jealousy is also felt by Arroyo when he sees that this gringo is so brave and that he is also loved more by Harriet Winslow than he is. The general was drawn to the gringo because the old man proved to be brave beyond belief. Arroyo cannot believe it when the gringo kept marching during a battle when everyone else was turning to run away. The most obvious point to show the general s jealousy towards the gringo is when he shoots him in the back to make others think that he died a coward. Arroyo made me very mad because of the actions he took and although he was supposedly good looking, I would never want to have anything to do with him.
Just seeing these three characters shows the diverse personalities there are in this novel. With these personalities, Fuentes had each character represents a different meaning in the story. Harriet Winslow stood for the innocence and desire for a new life. We see this through the actions she takes and the thoughts she thinks. The old gringo stood for the bravery that every young man or woman would want in their lives. Unlike the gringo, Arroyo seemed to just represent evilness and jealousy, something we have plenty of in this world. More personalities and representations were distributed through out the novel as well. With these characters, Carlos Fuentes had a whole story full of diverse persons and a story full of meaning.
My favorite part in this novel took place at the beginning. The old gringo had just arrived into Mexico and met the people who he would fight with. When the gringo tells them that he wanted to fight with them, all of the Mexicans laugh to show their thoughts on how useless they thought an old white man could be to them. The gringo then pulls out a coin, throws it up in the air, and shoots it with his gun smack-dab in the middle of the coin. No one had anything to say after that except how wonderful of a shot he made. I loved this part because it just shows that anyone can do anything they want whether they are of a different culture, age, sex or more. This incident in the story also showed the American s bravery, which was a huge problem for Arroyo. Could there be anyone braver than Arroyo? Arroyo sure didn t think so, but I did.
Carlos Fuentes was born in Panama City, Panama in 1928. The son of a Mexican diplomat, Fuentes spent his early years in the United States, Chile, Argentina, and Europe. He attended college in Mexico City and studied law at both the School of Law at the National University of Mexico and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, going on to serve in the United Nations, the Mexican government and as the Mexican Ambassador to France from 1974-1977. He has written stories, short novels, and essays. Fuentes is still living to this day and at this point in time, his books have been influenced by different items he has studied and is continuing to study. Studies of Ambrose Bierce and Pancho Villa are what led Fuentes to write The Old Gringo. Other studies led Fuentes to write novels like: La Region Mas Transparente (1958), La Cabeza de la Hidra (1978), El Espejo Enterrado (1992), and more. As you might notice, most of his novels are written in Spanish and later translated to English by himself or others. With his huge amounts of travel, education, and experience, Carlos Fuentes became a very famous and influential writer.
Fuentes has a very unique writing style. This author can put things very blunt but can also put them to where you have to read over a passage a couple of times to understand what he s trying to tell you. The vocabulary utilized in this novel is very understandable except for the few Spanish words he throws in there (like hacienda, gringuita and more.) A phrase often used through out this novel was, She sits alone and remembers, referring to Miss Harriet and her memories of Tomas Arroyo and the gringo. Profanity was also seen through out most of the book when Fuentes would describe the Mexicans. I often found that the length of sentences were very long and full of commas, colons, semi-colons, and parenthesis. In one particular sentence I counted 430 words, 76 commas, and many semi-colons showing that Fuentes sentences can become pretty lengthy.
The tone in this story varies with the diverse characters in the novel. When talking about Arroyo, a sense of toughness is heard and felt. When talking about the gringo, a sense of mystery, confidence, bravery, and smoothness is seen when describing or telling what the American is doing. The simple statement of: That man came here to die, show what the gringo stood for and what others shared about him. As it turned out, the old gringo was braver than anyone in the battles of Chihuahua, also showed that this man ended up being one of the bravest men that they have encountered. The tone in the story concerning Harriet always seems to be sweet and gentle. Harriet never seemed to be upset (except for when it came to Arroyo) and was constantly demonstrating her kindness like when she saved a young girl from choking. These tones ranged from tough to sweet and gentle to harsh but added to the characters and the novel as well.
If talking to Carlos Fuentes he would remind me most of my grandpa. My grandpa is full Mexican and talks just like Carlos Fuentes. My grandfather tends to ramble and throws Spanish words every now and then and also the profanity words, similar to how Carlos Fuentes wrote in The Old Gringo. This similarity was one reason why I enjoyed this book, I felt that my grandpa was the one telling it to me.
I believe that this book was written because of Fuentes s studies on Ambrose Bierce to show what might have happened to cause his disappearance and also to show the real voyage taken by the Mexican people in this war they fought. Intertwined with these two concepts, is a story of love, war, and adventure. Carlos Fuentes once said that, I have lived with this story for a long time. It was conceived about forty years ago in Mexico, when I first read the stories of Ambrose Bierce. It lay dormant until 1964, when I wrote the first ten pages during a train trip through Chihuahua, San Lois Potosi, and Zacatecas. It was resuscitated in 1970 during a month I spent in Durango, when I was able to speak with men and women who had fought alongside Pancho Villa This quotation made by Fuentes demonstrates his curiosity with Bierce and the Mexican revolution. Carlos Fuentes combines experimental narrative techniques with a deep awareness of history to develop his themes.
The major points in the novel were easily recognized. The historical relationship between the United States and Mexico, the beauty of courage, and the different ways in which two men need one woman, and the rivalry which results seemed to be the major points that Fuentes tried to express the most in this book. The nature of revolution and the drive to find one s true self were also themes but were not as recognizable as the other themes.
Fuentes expressed and made these points very well. For example, we see the beauty of bravery when we read about the old gringo s battle stories. The different ways in which two men need one women was also very recognizable and made clear to the reader by showing both of Arroyo s and the gringo s love for Harriet. I feel that the author made his points very easily, although some more than others. While reading this book, I could see what the themes were because Fuentes was constantly talking about these points and letting the reader decide how to take care of them. Many of these themes relate back to my life or things around me.
The beauty of bravery is great in my life. Whether choosing to go repelling Ozzy style or even getting my hair cut, I need to use the bravery that is in me to accomplish these things. People have to be brave these days to do the things that they do, easy or hard. This theme is something we should use and make sure we re using in our lives to allow us not to be so afraid sometimes.
Another theme seen all over today is the fighting between two men or woman for the love of a woman or man. So many television episodes have been designated for this theme because of its popularity with the media. Jerry Springer is just one example. So many people enjoy this show because of the violence that is shown when two people are fighting, especially two girls for one man. I think it s rather stupid though because there are plenty other men or women in this world that one could desire.
I highly enjoyed this book mainly because I had never read one like it before. It didn t have too much of a significance on me, but I learned about Ambrose Bierce and Pancho Villa because of it. I never really remember history or try to, but reading this novel has made me learn about the Mexican revolution and Bierce. I really was fascinated with this story because it really felt as if the old gringo were Ambrose Bierce. I keep on wanting to think that this is what truly happened to the American journalist. Was the old gringo really Ambrose Bierce? you re asking. That s a question one will have to find out for themselves by reading the novel, The Old Gringo.