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English Term Paper

English Term Paper

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Published by Mitch Langley

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Published by: Mitch Langley on Jan 12, 2010
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Mitch LangleyMr. Kolman AP English Literature12 January 2009Reactions to Violence in Contemporary Spanish Literature
In most departments of literature in the Spanish-speaking world,a distinction is made between those works written in Spain, and those written in the Western hemisphere. Just as we differentiate betweenBritish and American literature, the Spanish literary canon isdivided into two main subgroups:
literatura Peninsular 
, and
literatura hispanoamericana
. The hemispheric changes that haveoccurred in the past four-hundred years have made their mark on workson both sides of the Atlantic; however, many components of the storyfrom Spain and one from Latin America stay similar. In particular,the
raisons d’être 
, motivating causes for writing, are often the sameno matter the country of origin. In both the Iberian Peninsula andLatin America, authors were often driven to write by the consistentand pervasive violence that racked the stability of nearly everHispanic country in the twentieth century. In Latin America, thetextbook example of violence and literary response comes in
in Colombia; in Spain, the major period of unrest was theSpanish Civil War. In both of these conflicts, authors across bordersshared common themes in their works as a way to rationalize or reactto the violence in the world around them. Colombian author GabrielLangley 1
García Márquez wrote prolifically on
la Violencia
, including hisshort story “La viuda de Montiel.” In Spain, Ana María Matute saw theSpanish Civil War as a driving force in her own upbringing and oftenkept it as a background piece in her own work, including “El árbol deoro.” In these short stories, the authors use the common motifs ofloss of innocence and differences in perspective to make subtlecommentary on the nature of violence in their homelands.
Spanish literary critic Jean Franco said that there were certainplot elements of the Colombian story that identified it as havingbeen influenced by la Violencia, including isolated and solitarytowns where “men and women are still prey to senseless violence,” which the setting a distinctive medieval aura (Franco 252). GarcíaMárquez’s “La viuda de Montiel” (“Montiel’s Widow,” in English) playsFranco’s distinctions to a tee. “La viuda de Montiel” is set in anunnamed town referred to as the “pueblo” at the height of laViolencia. The period was one of lawlessness and terror stemming from the assassination of the mayor of Bogotá in 1948. Wrote J. LeónHelguera in his essay on the role of the military in Colombia:Within a week, order was restored in most urbanareas, but the half-hearted coalition between theLiberals and the dominant Conservatives was ended,and political violence against the Liberals becamethe rule, rather than the exception, especially inrural Colombia. (Helguera 787)Langley 2
The characteristic violence that uprooted Colombia for the decadebetween 1948 and 1958 led to a cavalcade of horrific and treacherousacts committed by seemingly normal people, which García Márquezfocuses on in his story. “La viuda de Montiel” opens with the deathof the man responsible for the story, don José Montiel. The motif ofdifference in perspective becomes immediately clear from the veryfirst scene-setting sentence: “When don José Montiel died, the whole world felt avenged,
save for his wife 
; but it took several hoursbefore everyone actually believed that he had died
” (Márquez 258, myemphasis). While “everyone thought that [Montiel’s] back would beriddled with bullets during an ambush” instead of dying peacefully athome, Montiel’s widow is apparently blissfully unaware of herhusband’s wrongdoings, as she “thought that the entire town wouldattend the funeral service, and that the house would overflow withflowers” (259). In reality, only the priests attend the funeral, andMontiel’s children do not even return from their ho mes in Europe -the implication is that they are too afraid to go back to Colombia. After his death, Montiel’s widow undergoes a complex series ofemotional transformations as she realizes who her husband really was. At first, she feels angry at the town around her, declaring that she will “shut myself [at home] forever... I do not want to know more ofthis world” (259). Montiel’s widow is afraid to open Pandora’s box byLangley 3
Note: all translations throughout the paper are my own; in all cited quotes Ihave tried to maintain the spirit and brevity of the original Spanish as much aspossible.

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