Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Spanish and Latino Studies
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
Pamela M. Smorkaloff
Works of microcultural relevance are characterized by being read and valued primarily within the confines of a given culture. They sometimes do not transcend their own linguistic, geographical, and cultural borders, but rather, bestow upon a country, a territory, or in this case, an island, a sense of identity. Without these works, the cultural profile of a people would be blurred and even non-existent. Consequently, the fact that a work fails to speak to other cultural and linguistic contexts may actually attest to its literary importance. This is the case with the writings of Manuel Zeno Gandía, which lay the foundation for the identity of a people and a territory.
Perhaps for reason of this apparent geographical restriction, the bibliography related to the work of Puerto Rican Zeno Gandía is not very extensive. Therefore, the justification for a thesis dedicated to Zeno Gandía’s novels attests to the fact that we deem necessary a re- reading of his work and a recognition of his influence on Puerto Rican and Spanish-language literature. Moreover, we have dedicated special attention to the author’s very concept of literature, and the manner in which this is shaped through his novels. In this sense, we attempt to reflect the aesthetic and the political aspect of his work inasmuch as we understand that it is not possible to separate the two without sacrificing essential meaning. We believe that each work is the result of an organic interaction that consolidates the aesthetic and the political into a single authorial agenda.
For this reason, we have emphasized the historical context in which the author has produced his texts. Inasmuch as each book thus functions as a response to a given historical or social context, it is only possible to understand the scope of the author’s project within the context of its production. We thus strive to present a reading which considers the context of production together with other aesthetic elements.
While we consider the author’s critical reflection on the Puerto Rican political context, we have opted not to undertake an autobiographical analysis regarding the possible reasons that Zeno Gandía had for writing, given that any discussion would be pure speculation. In contrast, we attempt to limit ourselves to what he had to say to readers, since it is in through this discourse that the author has become an integral part of the literary history of Puerto Rico.
The political agenda which can be read in his works, most notably in La charca (1894) but also in Garduña (1896) and in the remaining works that comprise the Crónicas de un mundo enfermo, is clear and offers a strong critique of the colonial system and the consequences on a local level of the dependency on foreign countries. In this manner, Zeno Gardia expresses his concern for Puerto Rico’s own initiatives against repeated foreign aggressions, given that—as he himself asserts—, only strong unification of the inhabitants could give birth to a real resistance against these forces.
Each of Zeno Gandía’s novels reveals different aspects of and treats differently the problem of national identity, of misery, of avarice in such a way that together they comprise a varied, heterogeneous, and colorful picture of the particularities of the historical period in which he writes. One can thus traverse from the everyday and intimate to political agendas of massive scope. These include small rural towns as well as the national capital, San Juan.
The period that fascinates and inspires Zeno Gandía is that of the transition between the Spanish colonial and the American governments, the Spanish-American War being glossed over. For this reason, the author’s works reflect the final years of the Spanish period and the first decades of American domination. The period of the war has not been discussed by Zeno Gandía in this series of novels, although he alludes to it as a past memory in the novel Redentores (1925J. In actuality, it is the only narrative of the series that takes place during the American period; it foregrounds the situation of this government once in place.
In these years, the works of Zeno Gandía coincide with those of other authors who have also textualized the situation of the renewed cultural dependency, such as Luis Lloréns Torres, of whose poetry we also include a brief discussion. Both are writers who live through this period in both a critical and reflexive manner and strive in different ways to forge a national identity intended to serve as a basis for the struggle against debasing foreign influences. We thus especially consider La charca a classical text of Puerto Rican literature. Italo Calvino (1994), in Por qué leer a los clásicos, lucidly describes what we attempt to reveal in this thesis: “Your classic is the one which is not indifferent to you, and which helps you define yourself in relation to and perhaps in contrast to it.”
Membreno, Robert Osmar, "La situacion socio-politica y cultural de Puerto Rico manifestada en el ciclo novelistico de Manuel Zeno Gandía" (2008). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 1207.