Catholicism and the Bible in Al filo del agua and Las tierras flacas by Agustín Yáñez.


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Catholicism and the Bible in Al filo del agua and Las tierras flacas by Agustín Yáñez.
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Davey, Donald William, 1944-
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Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 203-211.
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By Donald William Davey.
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Full Text

Catholicism and the Bible in Al filo del agua
and Las tierras flacas by Agustin Yciez






Copyright by
Donald William Davey


I would like to sincerely thank the members of my committee,

Dr. I. R. Wershow, Dr. J. J. Allen, and Dr. Alfred Hower, for the

many hours they have devoted to reading this dissertation, and for

their valuable suggestions. I am also very grateful to Father

Michael Gannon for his time and for setting me straight regarding

a few minor points of Catholic doctrine.

Special thanks must go to my major professor, Dr. Wershow,

who has always amazed me with his sensitivity to students' problems,

and whose patience must surely be limitless. For the doubting

Thomases, I concede that Dr. Wershow's patience must be observed

over a long period of time to be truly believed.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.... .................... .................

ABSTRACT.... .................................. ............


I. INTRODUCTION.....................................

NOTES TO CHAPTER I...............................

SPANISH AMERICA ................................

NOTES TO CHAPTER II..............................


NOTES TO CHAPTER III .............................

LAS TIERRAS FLACAS ...............................

NOTES TO CHAPTER IV..............................

V. CONCLUSION.................. .............................

BIBLIOGRAPHY.. ..................... .....................

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................














Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate Council of the University of Florida in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Donald William Davey

June, 1974

Chairman: Professor Irving R. Wershow
Major Department: Romance Languages and Literatures (Spanish)

The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the role of

Catholicism and the Bible in two novels of Agustin Yanez: Al

filo del agua and Las tierras flacas.

The first chapter outlines the basic divisions of the text,

discusses criticism done on religion and the Bible in literature,

lists the dissertations written on Agustin Ya9ez and discusses

the content of one of these, and briefly outlines two articles

on Al filo del agua which deal with religion.

The second chapter begins by tracing the evolution of the

Spanish American novel. It is seen that until roughly 1940, this

genre dealt almost exclusively with Spanish American themes,

resulting in several national or regional literatures. However,

in recent years it has acquired more universal appeal through

emphasis on psychological processes and the mental and spiritual

crises of twentiety-century man, as well as through use of new

literary techniques. It is shown that Agustin Yanez, through Al

filo del agua, played a primary role in this change. The last part

of the chapter includes biographical data on Yanez, discussion of

his literary career and theories, and a brief summary of the high

points of the two novels to be studied.

Chapter III deals with the elements of Catholicism as reflected

in the two novels, specifically discussing the creation of a religious

atmosphere, and the functions of various elements of Church liturgy:

the Mass, special rituals, the Blessed Mother, the Devil, Christ-

like figures, angels and saints, prayers, Church traditions and

ideas, and misconceptions and distortions of Catholic dogma. The

atmosphere of Al filo del agua, established totally in its first

chapter, is primarily liturgical and is dominated by scrupulosity,

with emphasis on the sixth commandment. Consistently emphasized are

the sorrowful and fearsome aspects of Church liturgy, and there is

repression in the village. It becomes evident from the religious

extremism of the villagers that the Catholicism of Al filo del agua

is not orthodox, but bizarrely distorted. Yanez' criticism of the

village atmosphere is not outwardly hostile; rather, he subtly

utilizes Church liturgy and dogma to undermine some of the villagers'

traditional religious concepts. The nuances of the liturgy afford

the reader various insights into the novel's characters and situations,

with the result that the final arrival of the troops seems inevitable.

The liturgical element of the atmosphere of Las tierras flacas

is established gradually, and is dominated by superstition. However,

in this case the reader can more readily pardon the characters'

religious misconceptions, because they are due to an irremediable

ignorance, not a calculated distortion, of Catholicism. In this

atmosphere, progress is established as the enemy of religion, and

particularly of prayer. Also evident to a degree is a secularization

of certain elements of the Catholic faith.

Chapter IV discusses the Bible in the novels with regard to

Biblical atmosphere, name symbolism, themes, and other Biblical

references. The atmosphere of Las tierras flacas is primarily

Biblical and is essential to the novel's purpose. In Al filo del

agua name symbolism is mainly a means of characterization, but in

Las tierras flacas it is also prophetic and occasionally achieves

ironic effects. The Biblical themes most emphasized in Al filo

del agua are punishment from God, the Prodigal Son, prophecies,

and the number seven; those most dominant in Las tierras flacas

are idol worship, punishment from God, patriarchal and prophetic

figures, Cain and Abel, and the prodigal Son. Other Biblical

references in the two novels serve multiple purposes.

Chapter V briefly reexamines each novel separately in a final

attempt to place in perspective the main points developed in the

preceding chapters.



The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the role and

the influence, direct and indirect, of Catholicism and the Bible

in two novels of Agustin Y6aez. In dealing with these elements

as reflected in Al filo del agua and Las tierras flacas, an attempt

will be made first to analyze the author's creation of a religious

atmosphere as a basic, underlying factor in the novels, and its

significance in their development. Then the elements of the Church

liturgy as seen therein will be examined point by point! the Mass,

processions, Holy Week, the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin, the

Devil, Christ-like figures, the angels, the saints, prayers, Church

traditions, and articles of faith. As for the Bible, space will

be devoted to Biblical atmosphere, name symbolism, Biblical themes,

and explicit and implicit references in the text to Biblical stories

and books. Subtle, indirect references to the Bible will be dis-

cussed as they appear, both in the narration of Yfiez, and in the

dialogue or interior monologue of the characters. These discus-

sions will not be merely numerical compilations of liturgical and

Biblical references, but an analysis of their significance and effect.

The selection of YAfez as a subject for study is the result

of a combination of interests. First, there is the interest in the

Catholic faith and the many and diverse elements that comprise it,

including the liturgy, articles of faith, dogma, Sacred Scripture

and Tradition. An attempt will always be made here to present the

elements and views of the Church as fairly and accurately as

possible. Second, there is the interest in a modern author who

is dealing with twentieth century Latin American themes, in this

case pertaining basically to Mexico. The Spanish American novel

in recent years has grown considerably in stature, and much literary

criticism has been directed toward its social aspects and implications.

On the other hand, very little has been written about it from the

religious point of view, considering the prominence of religion in

the structure of Latin American society.

Much criticism has been done in general on religion and the

Bible in literature, including works written in Spanish. More

works of a religious nature have been written in previous centuries

than in this present one, and therefore the bulk of the commentary

involving considerations of religion pertains to these works.

A typical example of a religion-oriented writer in English literature

is John Milton (1608-74). His famous epics Paradise Lost and

Paradise Regained have prompted such critical works in our time as

The Bible in Milton's Epics, by James H. Sims. Commentary

pertaining to religion also has its place in literary criticism of

a wide range of English language authors, among them Hawthorne,

Joyce, Blake, Poe, Edwin Arlington Robinson and Sinclair Lewis.

In Spanish literature there are a host of religion-oriented

writers dating from the first Spanish poet known by name, Gonzalo

de Berceo (1197?-1264?), a monk whose production deals with the

miracles of Our Lady and the lives of the saints. The drama, which

no doubt originated as a genre from the Church, and later from the

Church courtyard, reached its peak in Spain during the Golden Age

(roughly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). In this period

many prominent dramatists participated in the production of the

autos sacramentales: short Eucharistic plays, usually of one act,

which treat of the miracle of Transubstantiation in one way or

another. The leading exponent of the autos sacramentales was

Pedro Calder6n de la Barca (1600-1681), himself a priest. According

to Alfonso Rangel Guerra, Yafez as a young adult "agot6 la obra de
,, 2
Calder6n, especialmente los Autos Sacramentales .

In the novel, mention should first be made of Spain's greatest

fictional work, Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605-1615) by Miguel de

Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616). This work, of course, contains

a great variety of elements, and even though religion and the

Bible are not the most prominent among them, a number of critical

works have been written on these subjects. Two contemporary

examples are 0. C. Goodwin's "The Church, the Clergy and the Bible
in Don Quijote de la Mancha," and Juan Antonio Monroy's La

Biblia en el "Quijote." In the latter work the author speaks

about the life and background of Cervantes, and points out how

his knowledge of the Bible is reflected indirectly in his work.

The same might be said of Agustin Ya6ez: that in his works,

whether it be consciously or unconsciously, his religious

background and study are reflected. His direct references to

things religious and Biblical have a definite purpose in the devel-

opment of the two works, and give them a special quality they

otherwise would not have. His indirect references lend a subtle

quality to the works which give them a religious atmosphere, and

contribute toward making them truly "Jaliscan" without compromising

their value to the reader who is not a native of the state of

Jalisco. The Jaliscan, perhaps more than other Mexicans, is a

religious individual. Yagez loves Jalisco, and it is when his

novels take place there (Al filo del agua, La tierra pr6diga, Las

tierras flacas) that the essence of his message is best transmitted

to the reader.

Nowadays, there are very few books of criticism of general

religious scope such as The Prophetic Voice in Modern Fiction, by

William Randolph Mueller.5 More specifically, in 1951 Mary E.

Stephenson wrote on The Treatment of Religion in Contemporary

Spanish American Fiction, but two things are to be noted here:

first, the fact that the entire realm of Spanish American fiction

was embraced by this dissertation indicates the lack of emphasis

on religion by the authors in general. Second, two decades have

passed since its writing, in which many more works of fiction have

been created. Among the novels of Agustin Ya6ez which are highly

esteemed and unanimously regarded as novels, only Al filo del agua

(1947) was written before this time. Therefore much remains to be

said on this particular author in this particular area.

As of this writing the interest of American scholars in

Latin American literature is obviously on the increase. This is

evident from the large number of dissertations completed in the last

five or six years on Latin American subjects. As a parallel to

this increased general interest, Agustin Yaiez has been the subject

of much critical interest during the sixties, including a number

of finished and unfinished dissertations. Before the sixties he

was not the subject of dissertations because there is a twelve year

gap between the writing of Al filo del agua (1947) and Yahez' next

novel La creaci6n (1959), during which time Yaiez turned to other

matters such as politics (he was governor of the state of Jalisco

from 1953 to 1959). However, from 1963 to the present he has

been the subject of the following dissertations:

Clark, Stella T. El estilo y sus efectos en la
prosa de Agustin YAfez. Kansas; J. Brushwood, 1971.

Evans, Gilbert. El mundo novelistico de Agustfn
Ya6ez. Yale; J. Arrom, 1966.

Flasher, John. Contemporary Mexico in the Works
of Agustin Ya6ez: An Interpretative Analysis. Rutgers:
J. V~zquez Amaral, 1968.

Graham, Barbara. Social and stylistic realities
in the fiction of Agustin Yafez. Miami: K. Schwartz,

Haddad, Elaine. Agustin Yaez: From Intuition
to Intellectualism. Wisconsin: E. Neale Silva, 1963.

Luna, Norman. In the Land of Xipe Totec. A
Comparative Study of the Experimental Novels of Agus-
tin Yanez, Carlos Fuentes, and Juan Rulfo. Colorado:
W. J. Grupp, 1969.

Walker, John L. El tiempo en las novelas de
Agustin YAfez. California, Los Angeles: J. A. Crow,

In addition to these completed dissertations, other uncom-

pleted ones are currently in progress:

Romero, Zoila. "La narrative de Agustin Yacez."
Nebraska: R. Esquenazi-Mayo.

Walker, William. "A Study of the Women in the
Novels of Agustin Yacez." St. Louis: R. R. Mazza.

Any lengthy study of Yafez dealing with Al filo del agua and

Las tierras flacas must necessarily touch on religion, since religion

plays such an important role in both novels. However, no disserta-

tion has as yet concentrated exclusively on the subject; those

dissertations of a general nature deal with many other aspects of

the novels. An example of this is John Flasher's work Contemporary

Mexico in the Novels of Agustin Ya~ez: An Interpretative Analysis.

The title indicates the broad nature of this undertaking, in which

the author deals with reflections of contemporary Mexican society,

daily life, politics, government, etc. The introduction treats in

great detail Y~aez' relationship with Bandera de Provincias, a

short-lived literary periodical of 1929-30 which featured articles,

translations and commentary by and about authors and intellectuals

from Mexico and other countries. Although the periodical was a

financial failure, it did provide a young Agustin Y6Aez with

journalistic and editorial experience which was to benefit him in

later years.

After the introduction Flasher, in his second chapter, examines

each of the five novels individually: Al filo del agua, La creaci6n,

Ojerosa y pintada (1960), La tierra pr6diga (1960), and Las tierras

flacas (1962). It is in the discussion especially of this first

novel that commentary on religion becomes unavoidable. In addition

to a handful of passing comments touching on Catholic beliefs,

Flasher feels compelled to plunge into more detailed discussions

of the nature of the sacrament of Penance, and an excellent analysis

and research on the nature and origin of the spiritual exercises

which form a full chapter of the novel. However, there is room

in another study for a more in-depth discussion of Church rituals,

traditions and dogma, in addition to certain Biblical parallels

evident in the work.

After his individual analyses of the novels, Flasher discusses

a wide range of topics pertinent to Yafez' literary art. These

include technique, creative process, imagery, the contrapuntal

theme, characters, the proverb, especially as evidenced in Las

tierras flacas, and point of view. In this dissertation these

proverbs will be considered in relation to the Biblical atmosphere

of Las tierras flacas.

Among the numerous articles of criticism that deal with Yaiez

are, again, many that make mention of a Biblical allusion or of a

point dealing with religion, but rarely are these more than inci-

dental comments. An exception is an article by Martha Diaz de Le6n.

It discusses the style of the Acto Preparatorio as having a Lenten

quality; the affinity of Marta and Maria with their Biblical

counterparts of the same name, the priest don Dionisio's affinity

with Christ, and Gabriel's resemblance to the archangel of the

same name; and it classifies the style employed by Y~Aez as having

the quality of a religious litany.

One article which treats entirely of a matter solely religious

is written by Ramona Lagos.8 It discusses temptation and penitence,

and the role of the confessional in the lives of the pastor and the

people of the town, in addition to discussing topics treated in the

Diaz de Le6n article. The points mentioned in these and other

articles will be examined later in greater detail.

In summary, this dissertation will attempt to elaborate in

greater detail on certain observations mentioned in passing by

various critics, and hopefully will offer a number of new insights

as well. Its objective is to present a thorough study of Catholicism

and the Bible in Al filo del agua and Las tierras flacas, thereby

supplying valid commentary which has not been offered up to this point.


1James H. Sims, The Bible in Milton's Epics (Gainesville:
University of Florida Press, 1962).

2Alfonso Rangel Guerra, Agustin Yaiez! un mexicano y su obra
(Mexico: Empresas Editoriales, 1969), p. 130.

30. C. Goodwin, "The Church, the Clergy and the Bible in Don
Quijote de la Mancha", unpubl. thesis (Gainesville: University of
Florida, 1955).

4juan Antonio Monroy, La Biblia en el "Quijote" (Madrid:
Editorial V. Suarez, 1963).

5William Randolph Mueller, The Prophetic Voice in Modern
Fiction (New York: Association Press, 1959).

6Mary E. Stephenson, The Treatment of Religion in Contemporary
Spanish-American Fiction, Diss. University of Chicago, 1951.

Martha Dfaz de Le6n, "Los personajes en la estructura de
Al filo del agua," La Palabra y el Hombre, 43 (July-September, 1967),
pp. 457-473.

Ramona Lagos B., "Tentaci6n y penitencia en Al filo del agua
de Agustin Ya6ez," Atenea, 45, No. 166, 105-121.



The Spanish American novel has evolved, through the efforts

of a number of exceptionally talented writers, from a literary

genre relegated to secondary importance to the most important

literary force in Latin America and perhaps in all of the Spanish-

speaking world. Orlando G6mez-Gil has stated that:

Durante el siglo XX la narrative hispanoamericana
llega a su culminaci6n sobrepasando a otros g6neros
literarios, como el ensayo y la poesia en valores ar-
tfsticos e importancia social. La novela alcanza en
la 6poca contemporanea una altura insospechable y a
partir de 1932 se coloca por encima de la espafola.

In its conception, dating from Jos6 Joaquin Fernandez de

Lizardi's El Periquillo Sarniento (1816), until roughly the 1940's,

the Spanish American novel dealt to a great extent with strictly

Spanish American themes, as opposed to themes which might have

universal applicability. The setting was more than just incidental

to the novel; it was essential to its purpose. A number of examples

can be mentioned to illustrate this. In Argentina gaucho literature

rose to the stature of a cult, represented by Benito Lynch and

Ricardo GUiraldes, among other novelists, in the twentieth century.

Perhaps this literary tradition served in Argentina as a substitute

for the Indianist literature in countries with a considerable

percentage of Indian population. Indianist literature, which decries

the lamentable conditions of the Latin American Indian in a super-

imposed Spanish-based society, is seen in many countries. In Bolivia

there is Alcides Arguedas and his most celebrated novel Raza de

bronce (1919); in Peru, C4sar Vallejo and Tungsteno (1930); in

Ecuador, Jorge Icaza and Huasipungo (1934); and in Mexico, Gregorio

L6pez y Fuentes and El indio (1935). These and other Indianist

novels form the heart of what has become known as the Latin American

novel of social protest. Much study has been made about the social

aspects of the Spanish American novel. The fact that a novel takes

place in say, Venezuela, and not somewhere else, has a significance

beyond the mere fact that it has to take place somewhere. What is

pointed out and studied is peculiar in its own way to that particular

country only, and thus takes its place as part of a national

literature rather than a universal one.

Mexico might best be taken as an example of a Latin American

country with a literary history and tradition all its own, because

of the Mexican Revolution. In the novel an exhaustive study has

been made of the Revolution, and a point was reached where it was

thought that nothing more could be constructively written about it.

Who, after all, in the last twenty-five years, could continue the

tradition of novelists such as Martin Luis Guzman, Gregorio L6pez

y Fuentes, Rafael Munoz, Jos6 Ruben Romero, and above all the man

who started the tradition, Mariano Azuela? The prolific Azuela

wrote novel after novel on the Mexican Revolution, of which Los

de abajo (1916) is the most famous and probably the best. He wrote

many of his novels right during the action itself, while the history

was being made. Others he wrote years afterward, with the advantage

of hindsight and a valuable perspective of a number of years. As if

Azuela by himself had not covered the Revolution thoroughly, how

could any young author compete with the dozens of other authors

and books written on the subject and be able to contribute something

new, fresh and vital to the fiction?

Agustfn Yafez emerged as a major writer with the publication

of Al filo del agua in 1947. Although the initial reaction to it,

as the author himself points out,2 was one of indifference, it was

a remarkable book in a number of ways. First of all, it was another

novel of the Mexican Revolution, but a work that presented it in

a new light. It was a novel that was not destined to be confined

to a significance totally within a Mexican framework. Its uni-

versality consists in its emphasis on the psychological processes

of its characters, on the fact that much of the action takes place

in the mind. As Joseph Sommers states:

Y~aez is the first Mexican author who consciously
transcends narrow literary nationalism, finding it no
longer adequate to the demands of the modern novel.
While his work is an examination of the national past,
the themes and techniques are universal. Revolution
by his treatment is not merely a Mexican phenomenon,
but is bound up with such universal categories as the
psychological structure of personality and the funda-
mental antithesis between repression and expression
as the basis for ethical and moral norms.

Other elements, too, gave Al filo del agua a more widespread

significance, among them the religious commentary it offered.

Indeed, the very cornerstone of the work is religion, an overly-

strict, exaggerated version of Catholicism peculiar to a particularly

remote Mexican region. One must hesitate before stating that the

religious element in Al filo del agua contributes to its universal

applicability, since Catholicism is not universally practiced.

However, it certainly contributes to increasing the novel's scope

to apply to all of Latin America for religion has unquestionably

played a major role in Latin American history. In the sixteenth

century the Spaniards colonized motivated by a desire to win converts

to the banner of Catholicism, and the imprint of Spanish culture

accounts for the overwhelming percentage of Catholics by population

in Latin America today. In the words of Hubert Herring:

The Church of Spanish America faithfully mirrored
the shifting spiritual forces of the Church at home.
The priests who came with the conquerors were afire
with the crusading zeal of a Spain which had rid it-
self of unbelieving Moslems and Jews and had gone far
in cleansing itself of timeserving priests, a Spain
which, under the ardor of Isabella and Jim6nez de Cis-
neros, had recaptured much of the religious fervor
lost since the thirteenth century ...During the
sixteenth century the Church gained spiritual refreshment
from St. Theresa, Luis de Le6n, and St. John of the
Cross; and militancy from the newly launched Society
of Jesus. This spiritual climate gave zest to the
friars who were pouring out their energy and devotion
upon the hard frontier of America.4

Latin American history goes hand in hand with the equally com-

plicated history of the Church in Latin America, which weaves

its way constantly in and out of the history books. The Church-

State relationship has been a formidable factor in the shaping

of Latin America as it is today. The example of Mexico more

or less parallels, in general concepts, the situation in other

countries. A constant and overriding issue in Mexican politics

has been, and still is, the extent to which the power of the Church

is to be allowed in secular affairs. Mexico has numbered priests

among its national heroes, perhaps the most famous being Father

Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla (1753-1811), whose famous shout of

independence (the grito de Dolores, 1811) is celebrated annually

in Mexico on September 16th. Agustfn Ya~ez himself has seen fit

to write a biography on the Protector of the Indians, Bartolom4

de Las Casas.5 And Samuel Ramos has gone so far as to say that

"the history of Mexico, above all on the spiritual plane, is an

alternating affirmation and denial of religion."6

The political influence and stature of the Church is, however,

a secondary matter. Completely aside from all political connections,

it is the Catholic faith itself which must be considered a moving

force in the lives of many Latin Americans. It is perhaps difficult

to determine what percentage of Catholics in Latin America are

practicing Catholics; but it appears reasonable to assume that at

the very least, the rural population, the Latin American peasant,

is greatly influenced by religion, and his Catholic faith is a

dominating force of his existence. At times it is not a true

reflection of Catholic dogma, either because it is mixed with

superstition, or due to lack of education; but an important factor

in his life consists in the living and practicing of his religion.

Perhaps this is more true among the women than the men. These

impressions are in evidence in the writings of YAfez, above all in

Flor de juegos antiguos, Al filo del agua, and Las tierras flacas.

In reflecting them the author makes a substantial move toward

creating a novel truly "Latin American" in scope.

In summary, the importance of Al filo del agua (and therefore

of its author) is that while making a strong and new contribution

to the literary tradition of Mexico, at the same time it contains

characteristics which embrace all of Latin America, as well as

universal characteristics. It is another novel of the Mexican

Revolution, but from a different point of view. Its emphasis on

religion reflects a very important and basic element, not only of

Mexican but of all of Latin American society. This was done in an

era when contemporary fiction writers had relegated the subject of

religion to a place of secondary importance. Finally, Al filo del

agua helped to initiate the current trend toward universality in

the Spanish American novel, toward an "intellectualization" of it,

and toward a heavy emphasis on style. As John Brushwood, noted

critic of the Mexican novel, has stated: "It would be unfair to

say that Al filo del agua changed the direction of the novel. But

it does mark a turning point, embodies the characteristics of a

new direction."

As part of an attempt to define this new trend, Fernando

Alegrfa has said: "Si hubiese necesidad de definir esta novelistica,

cuya mejor 4poca empieza alrededor de 1930 y se extiende pasado el

medio siglo, podria decirse que en ella el hombre de Hispanoam6rica

no ya el paisaje ocupa el centro de su atenci6n This has

continued up to the present day. Thus, the Spanish American novel

has generally become far less regional and more psychological in

its themes. In addition, it has become more intellectual in scope

and content, thereby appealing more to a select minority. Orlando

G6mez-Gil explains these phenomena in detail:

Los acontecimientos politicos, econ6micos y so-
ciales que animan el siglo XX han producido cam-
bios radicales en el mundo .el hombre se siente en
medio de una tremenda crisis mental, moral y cultural
que sacude los fundamentos mis profundos de su existen-
cia, produciendo un clima de violencia, angustia, de-
sesperaci6n, zozobra, temor, desesperanza, de alcance
universal, porque afecta direct o indirectamente a
todos los pauses de la tierra. La honda crisis pro-
ducida no ha sido tanto en el mundo exterior del
hombre .. como en lo spiritual, moral y especial-
mente en la conciencia del individuo Ha surgido
un sentido universalista de la vida: el hombre se
detiene ahora mas en el studio de su propio ser y en
el de otros individuos, quizis en busca de una res-
puesta a sus dudas y enigmas. Aunque todavia hay in-
ter6s por los problems exteriores del hombre (poli-
ticos, econ6micos, sociales), el mayor enfasis se pone
en los process de la conciencia, porque se consideran
los mas importantes dentro de la realidad total del

As a result of all this, according to G6mez-Gil, "la prosa

novelistica trata de presentar los movimientos de la con-

ciencia, el mundo oscuro de la subconciencia y sus reacciones ante

toda clase de estimulos e incitaciones. Es una novela mas intellectual,

menos asequible al pdblico general y muchas veces para 'elites' cultas."10

It is in this time period that Agustin Yanez has emerged as a

prominent literary figure. It has been said of YVaez that it is

unfortunate that he has such a preoccupation with style, because

this creates too great a gulf between author and reader. But this

approach to writing is not untypical of the contemporary Spanish

American novelist and prose fiction writer. The emphasis on style,

including such elements as flashback, interior monologue, allegory,

etc., can be seen in contemporary writers throughout Spanish America,

from Julio Cortazar and Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina to Alejo

Carpentier in Cuba.

Yagez, along with other Mexicans such as Luis Spota, Juan

Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes, has elevated the contemporary novel in

Mexico to its present high status in this category. However, in

some ways YAfez is a difficult author to categorize. In some of

his works, such as the two to be studied in detail here, he is

obviously preoccupied with style, while other works such as Flor

de juegos antiguos present a simplicity and straightforwardness

which is in sharp contrast. And whereas the widespread applicability

of a work like Al filo del agua is evident in addition to its regional

significance, Yafez also deals specifically with problems uniquely

Mexican, such as the problem of the development of the Jaliscan

coast, the government, the caciques and the land in La tierra pr6diga.

Agustin Ya6ezl has been, by any standards, one of the most

outstanding Mexicans of his day, and has made contributions in many

ways to his country: artistically, politically and otherwise. He

was born to a middle class, Spanish-Indian family in Guadalajara

in the state of Jalisco on May 4, 1904. His parents, don Elpidio

Y~aez and doia Maria Santos Delgadillo de Yafez, were from the

small village of Yahualica. Yaiez surely knew of a true counterpart

to the village of Al filo del agua somewhere in the state of Jalisco,

and critics have suggested Yahualica, which the author knew well,

as the most probable setting. It is also in this region that the

action of Las tierras flacas takes place. Yafez has written a

book, Yahualica, which discusses every aspect of the town: the

people, occupations, diversions, historical aspects, etc., in over

one hundred pages of pleasant description.12 Each year the Yaiez

family took a vacation in Yahualica during the months of August and

September, and it was there as a boy that Yaiez witnessed the coming

of Francisco I. Madero's troops in 1910, providing the basis for

his description of the arrival of the troops in Al filo del agua.

He learned to read at the age of three, and as a child the

young Yafez was greatly impressed by the splendor of the religious

liturgy and the importance given to Christmas and Holy Week. He

looks back on his childhood in a nostalgic vein, and no doubt

considered it a pleasant part of his life. In Flor de juegos

antiguos (1941) he wrote a series of childhood episodes which

together form what some have preferred to call a novel. However,

there is a strong autobiographical sense running through Flor de

juegos antiguos, and there are abundant descriptions of the Church

pageantry and ritual which so caught YAhez' attention as a boy.

In many of the author's other earlier works there also exists an

abundance of religious details pertinent to the discussion of his

later works. Speaking of this, Linda Van Conant states the following:

En todas sus primeras obras, YAiez pone un 6nfasis muy
especial en la religion; esto se debe, hasta cierto punto,
a su deseo de lograr una correct descripci6n de la vida
mexicana en donde la religion desempefa un papel impor-
tante y en donde la iglesia no s6lo ejerce un enorme con-
trol sino que, ademis, la filosoffa y la psicologia de
cada individuo estan matizadas por creencias religiosas
absorbidas desde la infancia.13

Other childhood pastimes of YAtez remind one of the young

Federico Garcia Lorca. Yafez used to pass many contented hours

organizing circus productions and puppet shows, editing imaginary

newspapers, and creating and directing imaginary cities. Summing

it up, he says: "en general tuve una ninez sana y tranquila,

s6lo en rasgos aislados son autobiograficos mis libros."14 In any

case, the dedication to the state of Jalisco which he shows repeatedly

in his later life stems from his contention that, figuratively, the

rose of his existence blossomed there.15

His education was a strict one along Catholic lines. He went

to an elementary school in Guadalajara which was a seminary annex

up to 1914. The Catholic education he received influenced him to

the point where in 1916 he entered the Colegio de don Edmundo

Figueroa, where he stayed until 1922. This school was also a

seminary, and Yafez was in this branch, that is, the boarding school

branch. Harry Sylvester has pointed out that "Yanez, himself a

former seminarian, displays an immense knowledge of the liturgy."16

Although he did not stay there permanently, it was at this school

where he received his great knowledge of Catholicism.

This education is concurrent with his reading of the more or

less contemporary writers of his day, among them the Spaniards

Jos4 Maria de Pereda, Pedro Antonio de Alarc6n, and Azorin. Before

this, among his first readings as a youth were Uncle Tom's Cabin

as well as stories and books which dealt with ancient Rome. Included

in this category were Lucio Flavo, Quo Vadis, Fabiola, Los 6ltimos

dfas de Pompeya, and others. Also influential were El final de Norma,

El amo del mundo, and Staurofila.

Yaiez's favorite foreign author is the American John Dos Passos,

whose Manhattan Transfer greatly influenced the style of Al filo

del agua.17 Also, according to Mauricio de la Selva, Yahez "es

uno de los novelistas mexicanos que mejor conoce a Joyce."18 This

is not surprising, since Yafez was one of the first to translate

Joyce into Spanish in Mexico. Also both Yafez and Joyce make

extensive use of interior monologue, both employ religious elements

in their fiction, and both have what some have termed a "Baroque

style." Jos4 Luis Martinez discusses this, first saying that "con

frecuencia se ha calificado el estilo de Yaiez, y en especial el

de su novela mis important, como barroco."19 Martinez then quotes

Fernando Benitez: "YaYez queda fundamentalmente como uno de los

grandes escritores barrocos de nuestra 4poca, su estilo es muy

estimulante; yo lo veo como un gran altar del siglo XVIII, como

un altar lleno de santos, de mascaras, de frutas, de sensualidad."20

However, Yafez rejects this name tag:

El pretendido barroquismo de mi estilo es discu-
tible e inaceptable como calificaci6n general. Entien-
do el barroquismo como derroche ornamental de tipo suntuario,
superfluo. Si ciertamente existe en abundantes paginas
profusi6n de elements, ello responded a exigencias
ineludibles de estilo. Mi aspiraci6n es la de
escribir con el menor ndmero possible de elements .
En el barroco muchos de los elements son superficiales
e innecesarios Al hablar del barroco pienso en su
sentido peyorativo, descontando la importancia que ha
tenido para el arte hispanoamericano en sus distintas
manifestaciones, aun cuando asf considerado no soy
partidario de esa forma exuberante de expresi6n.1

In 1923 he began to study law at the Escuela Profesional

de Jurisprudencia at the University of Guadalajara, and became

Licenciado de Derecho in 1929. According to Van Conant, Luis

Gonzaga P6rez and Gabriel, two characters from Al filo del agua,

are based on students YAfez knew there.22 During these years he

held tertulias in his house with many young intellectuals, among

them Alfonso Guti6rrez Hermosillo, Emmanuel Palacios, Esteban Cueva

Brambila, and Antonio G6mez Robledo. From these meetings sprang

the idea for Bandera de Provincias, which has already been mentioned

and which Y~aez was to direct. This is the first of three periodicals

with which he is to be directly associated. The others are Occidente,

1944-45, and Filosofia y letras, 1946-47. Bandera de Provincias,

conceived as a communications link at the service of the young

writers of Mexico,23 was published twenty-four times between 1929

and 1930, and although this cultural periodical was doomed because

of financial difficulties, it has proven to be a publication of

first magnitude. There appeared a wide range of articles, and for

the first time in Mexico, translations of James Joyce and Franz

Kafka. From this venture Yaiez gained valuable journalistic as

well as artistic experience.

In the realm of fiction, he experimented a great deal in the

twenties, but apparently was unsatisfied with what he had written,

since the first work he preferred to include in his bibliography

of works was Baralipton (1930). Yet examples are available of

these writings of the twenties in his volume of stories and short

novels, Los sentidos al aire, published in 1964. One of these

stories, dated 1924, Vigilia de la Natividad, is the first thing

that Ynfez wrote in fiction. It is a preliminary personality

sketch of the character who was ultimately to become Luis Gonzaga

P4rez in Al filo del agua. Also, these early works contain much

of the pageantry of the Church liturgy which fascinated Yadez

so much. It has always been his opinion that a literary work must

achieve other values besides that of art for art's sake, and it is

no less true in his earlier works. He makes this clear when he

speaks of the objectives he and his colleagues had in mind upon

publishing Bandera de Provincias: "Nosotros pensibamos que los

llamados valores est4ticos no son en si el fin de la obra.

Crefamos que a trav6s de ellos debian realizarse valores politicos,

religiosos, morales. Estos valores que acabo de nombrar no otorgan,

por si mismos, calidad a la obra, pero sin ellos el arte puede ser

todo menos arte."24

The thirties were "afos diffciles, segdn el testimonio del

propio Yanez..; con excepci6n de algunos ensayos, nada de su obra

aparece en letras de molde."25 However, he did manage to keep busy

teaching; in 1923 at the age of only nineteen, he had begun an

incredibly long and illustrious teaching career, teaching history

and literature at the Escuela Normal para Seforitas and the Escuela

Preparatoria para Varones. Since then his teaching and academic

activities have been almost too numerous to mention. Between 1932

and 1935 he studied philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de

Mexico; but he did not receive his degree of Maestro until 1951,

having written on the life, ideas and works of Justo Sierra.26

His teaching credentials include Professor at the Escuela

Preparatoria Nacional, 1932 to the present; Professor of the

Colegio de la Paz, Vizcainas, 1932-34; Professor of preparatory

and secondary education in the Ministerio de Educaci6n P6blica,

1936-52; Professor of the Gabino Barreda University, 1934-35; founding

Professor of the Chair of Literary Theory in the Departamento de

Filosoffa y Letras de la Universidad Nacional, 1942 to the present;

Professor of La Universidad Femenina, 1946-50; director of the

Seminar of Literary Creation of the Facultad de Filosoffa y Letras

de la Universidad Nacional, 1959 to the present; and fulltime

Professor of the Universidad Nacional, starting in May, 1959 and

with leave of absence since September, 1962.

His administrative activities include: Director of Primary

Education in the State of Nayarit, and founder and rector of the

Institute de Ciencias y Artes de Nayarit, 1930-31, where he intro-

duced many new innovations; Academician of the Escuela Preparatoria

Nacional, 1933-34, 1938, 1943, and head of classes of Spanish and

Literature there, 1936-52; representative of the Universidad

Nacional to the Congreso de Escuelas Preparatorias, 1940; president

of the Editorial Committee of the University, 1944-47; Coordinator

of Humanities and president of the Technical Council on Humanistic

Investigations of the University, 1945-52; member of the Teaching

Committee of the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, 1943-52; elected

vice-president of the International Institute of Spanish-American

Literature at the meeting held in Albuquerque in September, 1951;

and member of the Counseling Committee of the Centro de Estudios

Filos6ficos de la Universidad Nacional, 1962 to the present.

In addition to having lectured throughout his own country,

Y~aez has delivered lectures in the United States and throughout

South America, and several times has represented Mexico abroad.

He was the director of the Oficina de Radio, 1932-34; head of the

Departamento de Bibliotecas y Archivos de la Secretaria de Hacienda,

1934-53; representative of the Universidad Nacional de M6xico, of

Guadalajara, and of the government of the state of Jalisco during

his period of governorship, 1953-59; government legate in charge

of delivering the bibliography title for the reconstruction of the

Biblioteca Nacional de Lima, 1946; representative of the Universidad

Nacional on a rapprochement mission involving the universities and

centers of advanced culture of Central and South America, 1946-47;

counselor of the Mexican delegation to the Second General Conference

of UNESCO, Paris, 1947; examiner of candidates for the foreign

service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1947; president of the

Mexican delegation to the first Congress of Latin American Univer-

sities, Guatemala, September, 1949; and secretary-general of the

Committee for the Organization of the Fourth Centennial of the

Universidad de M6xico, 1951.

Included in his bibliography are not only works of fiction but

essays on politics and education, as well as works of literary

criticism. Ygaez has written numerous articles on education, and

has had his speeches while running for public office published

under the title Discursos por Jalisco (1958). It has already been

mentioned in the introduction that there was a twelve year period

between the writing of Al filo del agua (1947) and La creaci6n (1959)

in which he ceased to be a prose fiction writer. In 1952 he joined

the select group of sixteen men that comprise El Colegio Nacional;

and in 1953 he ran for governor of the state of Jalisco and won,

serving at that post until 1959. He accomplished a great deal

during his term of office, not the least of which was the opening

up of the coast of Jalisco and connecting it with the interior, thus

taking a preliminary step toward tapping a potential source of

revenue. This experience is reflected by the problems and confron-

tations of the land, the government, and the caciques in La tierra

pr6diga (1960). Among the other achievements of his administration

were an increase in the construction of schools, especially in

rural areas, and a general budgetal increase in financial aid to

the state's educational and cultural programs. Also, considerable

attention was devoted to improvement in communications and electri-

fication; this last element plays an important role in Las tierras

flacas. All in all, Y$aez proved that a man of letters could capably

hold down a political administrative post.

Following his governorship, he served as Undersecretary to the

Presidency of the Republic from 1962 to 1964, and in this latter

year he became Mexico's Secretary of Public Education, a position

he held for eight years. Alfonso Rangel Guerra's summary of the

progress Yi~ez has initiated reflects the success he has had in

this capacity:

Durante su gesti6n como Secretario de Educaci6n
Piblica se ha creado el Servicio Nacional de Adiestra-
miento Ripido de Mano de Obra, y el Servicio de Orien-
taci6n y Formaci6n Vocacional; se crearon las tele-
aulas; se unificaron las secundarias llamadas generals,

prevocacionales y t4cnicas; se implant el Calendario
Unico para toda la Repdblica; se reform la ley que
establece el Premio Nacional de Artes y Ciencias; se
modificaron los planes de studio de la Preparatoria
T4cnica (Vocacional) y los de las carreras pro-
fesionales de Nivel Medio, en los planteles educativos
dependientes de la Secretarfa; se creo la Academia de
Artes; se cre6 el Centro Nacional de Ciencias y Tec-
nologia Marinas, dependiente de la Direcci6n General
de Enseianzas Tecnol6gicas, Industriales y Comercia-

Ya~ez has said that his goal in the realm of fiction is to

create a complete "retrato de M6xico." This is evident when one

considers the variety of settings and characters found in his

works. Al filo del agua takes place in a small town before the

Revolution; La creaci6n is in Mexico City during the aftermath of

the Revolution; Ojerosa y pintada describes the Mexico City of

today, and a tremendous variety of character types pass through

its pages; La tierra pr6diga looks at contemporary Jalisco, and

Las tierras flacas describes the lives of country people in a

barren region in the 1920's. He wishes to realize a number of

values in his works, and does not concentrate only on, say, religious

or moral values. He realizes the pitfalls involved in attempting

this, though he does not deny the possibility of doing it successfully!

El que crea arte politico o religioso esta expuesto en
cualquier moment a fracasar, pero en los grandes
artists comprometidos encontramos que el impulse
creador de tipo est6tico supera y sublima los aspec-
tos ancilares. Recuerdo a Fra Angelico, cuya pintura
esta al servicio de una doctrine religiosa. Un ejem-
plo mis reciente lo encuentro en Diego Rivera. El pro-
fetismo es una constant en toda su obra: en toda
ella diseia una realidad future mejor, y no por eso
deja de ser un gran artista2

According to Yaiez himself, his literary style was much

influenced by those of John Dos Passos, Aldous Huxley, and James

Joyce. Perhaps it can be said that his style is more involved and

complicated in those works of his that have been called novels.

This study will concentrate on two of these works: Al filo del

agua (1947) and Las tierras flacas (1962).

By way of a brief background it may be stated that Al filo

del agua deals with the religion-dominated lives of the people in

a small, obscure village of Jalisco in 1909 and 1910, just before

the outbreak of hostilities of the Mexican Revolution. This is

reflected in the title, as Yaiez himself states on the page

immediately preceding the beginning of the novel: "Al filo del

agua es una expresi6n campesina que significa el moment de iniciarse

la lluvia, y --en sentido figurado, muy comdn-- la inminencia o el

principio de un suceso."28 One of the great descriptive pieces in

all of literature is the "Acto Preparatorio", which describes in

haunting tones this village of veiled women and repression. The

priests dominate the people, from the super-scrupulous Padre Islas

to the truly good, Christ-like pastor, don Dionisio. According

to John A. Crow, the style seen here "tiene una cadencia y un

ritmo hipn6ticos. Es una especie de letana .30

In the work there are a large number of memorable, three-

dimensional characters: Timoteo Lim6n, who tries to conquer a

haunting superstition with the sign of the cross; Damidn Lim6n,

who learns the ways of the gringos and comes back to wreak havoc

on the village; Luis Gonzaga Perez, the ex-seminarian, who becomes

insane with his own peculiar brand of Catholicism; Micaela, the

town flirt who becomes dissatisfied with the village after visiting

Mexico City, and is eventually killed by Damidn; the parish priest,

don Dionisio Martinez, who has dedicated his life selflessly to

God, but whose way of life caves in with the arrival of Madero's

troops; nieces of the parish priest, Marta and Maria, the latter

of a rebellious nature who runs off with the troops at the novel's

end; Gabriel, the bell-ringer of obscure origin who exhibits a

great musical talent; Victoria, the strange newcomer who absorbs

from the people much of the blame for the disasters that befall

them; and many others. Biblical and liturgical elements abound

in the work, and in the end outside forces triumph over the tradi-

tional religious life of the villagers. Although the author wishes

to point out that the religious atmosphere of the place is overly

oppressive and therefore wrong, he never shows even a trace of

bitterness in doing this. Far from being a condemnation of religion,

Al filo del agua also points out its positive values, and glorifies

the sincere efforts of the pastor to save the souls that are under

his care.

Las tierras flacas takes place in a region which has been

named La Tierra Santa by its inhabitants, but which is reluctant

to bear crops and thereby sustain the hard working people who live

there. These people are slow to learn and equally slow to accept

change and progress. They practice a form of Catholicism mixed

with superstition. The time of the novel is during the 1920's, and

it ends with the coming of electricity to the region, thus marking

the beginning of a new era.

There is a Biblical atmosphere present in Las tierras flacas,

beginning with the Biblical framework on which it is set. The work

is heavily weighted with proverbs. Place names are called by

Biblical counterparts, and name symbolism is abundant, even in the

names of the dogs. Interior monologue is also used to a great

extent in this book, although it is not the stream of consciousness

technique used by the author in a previous novel, La tierra pr6diga.

In this interior monologue, as well as elsewhere, Biblical phrases

and allusions are common.

Perhaps of all the novel's characters, the one who is best

created and developed is Epifanio Trujillo. This rich man dominates

the region economically, and in certain ways is reminiscent of a

Biblical patriarch, although in other ways he is the exact opposite.

For Epifanio creation is the most beautiful of all things, and

true to this belief, he has taken in scores of women in his life

and has created a large number of illegitimate children, some of

whom will later vie for his inheritance after he dies. Another,

Miguel Arcingel, rebels against his father, and later comes back

to bring progress to the area.

Three more characters are worthy of mention at this time.

R6mulo and Merced are a husband and wife who, in debt to Trujillo,

are forced to either give up their land or the sewing machine of

their deceased daughter Te6fila, which Trujillo covets. The

machine has become a saintly relic in the minds of the people

because of the saintliness of Te6fila. Finally, there is the old

woman Matiana, whom the people regard as an all-knowing seer, and

who symbolizes the superstition of the region.


With this background information in mind, let us turn now to

the elements of Catholicism that are reflected in Al filo del agua

and Las tierras flacas.


Orlando G6mez-Gil, Historia Critica de la Literatura His-
panoamericana (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968), p. 564.

2Emmanuel Carballo, Diecinueve protagonistas de la literature
mexicana del siglo XX (Mexico: Empresas Editoriales, 1965), p. 292.

Joseph Sommers, After the Storm (Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1968), p. 67.

Hubert Herring, A History of Latin America from the Beginning
to the Present, 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), p. 170.

Agustin Ya6ez, Fray Bartolom6 de Las Casas, el Conquistador
Conquistado (Mexico: Ediciones Xochitl, 1949).

Samuel Ramos, "Religion and the Mexican Mind," Odyssey, 2,
No. 2, 110-121.

John Brushwood, Mexico in its Novel: A Nation's Search for
Identity (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), p. 8.
Fernando Alegria, Historia de la novela hispanoamericana,
2nd ed. (Mexico: Ediciones de Andrea Edison, 1965), p. 209.
9mez-Gil, pp. 669-70.
1Gmez-Gil, p. 669-70.

lG6mez-Gil, p. 670.

11The biographical data included in this section comes prin-
cipally from five sources: The introduction to John Flasher's
dissertation previously mentioned; Jos4 Luis Martinez, "Pr6logo:
La obra de Agustfn Ya6ez," from Obras Escogidas (Mexico: Agui-
lar, 1968); Emmanuel Carballo, Agustin Yagez (Havana: Casa de
las Americas, 1966); Linda M. Van Conant, Agustin Ygaez: Int4r-
prete de la novel mexicana modern (Mexico: Editorial Porrla,
1969); and the work of Alfonso Rangel Guerra mentioned in the

1Agustin Yanez, Yahualica (Mexico: Etopeya, 1946).

13Van Conant, p. 40.
Van Conant, p. 21.

1Rangel Guerra, p. 120.

16Harry Sylvester, "Revolution's Village," The New York
Times Book Review, August 11, 1963, p. 4.

7Eduardo Jibaja, "Ya1ez no Traicionari a las Letras,"
Humanismo, No. 4 (October, 1952), p. 84.

18Mauricio de la Selva, "Tres novelistas de nuestra America,"
Cuadernos Americanos, No. 114 (1961), p. 283.

19 -
Martinez, p. 50.

20Fernando Benitez, "Yanez visto por Fernando Benitez," Revista
Mexicana de Cultura, No. 15 (October 11, 1964), p. 5.

2Carballo, Agustin Yanez, p. 22.
Van Conant, p. 22.
Rangel Guerra, p. 131.

24Carballo, Agustin Yanez, p. 25.

2Rangel Guerra, p. 21.
Agustin Yanez, Don Justo Sierra, su vida, sus ideas y su obra
(Mexico: Universidad Nacional Aut6noma, 1950).

Rangel Guerra, p. 124.
Carballo, Agustin Ya5ez, p. 27.

29Agustin Ya5ez, Al filo del agua, 9th ed. (Mexico: Editorial
Porr6a, 1969). Subsequent quotes from here on will be from this
same edition, with page numbers given in parentheses. Italicized
passages will be underlined.

30John A. Crow, "Dos grandes estilistas mexicanos," Humanismo,
3, No. 30 (April-June, 1955), 170.



In at least two of his novels: Al filo del agua and Las

tierras flacas, Agustin YAfez makes a concentrated effort to

create a religious atmosphere as a basis for further development

of plot, characters, and theme. Religion becomes the supreme

underlying factor in the actions and thought processes of nearly

everyone in Al filo del agua, whether it be a conscious effort to

abide by religious principles, or an effort to reject them. It is

also an important element in Las tierras flacas. However, there

is a great difference in the pace with which the author establishes

the religious atmospheres within the two works. In Al filo del

agua it is established immediately and totally in the "Acto

Preparatorio," whereas in Las tierras flacas it is established more

gradually. The effect ultimately achieved: that of producing

a religious atmosphere, is the same, although there is a funda-

mental difference between the two atmospheres, as will be shown later.

The first thing to note is that in the author's prologue to

Al filo del agua, the "Acto Preparatorio," there are no characters

introduced, and there is no introduction of a plot. This piece

of writing, as Yafez notes, was not originally intended by the

author to be part of an extended work; rather, the novel mushroomed

from the "Acto Preparatorio." This explains why it is so condensed,

and for this reason it has tremendous emotive power.

Another aspect of the'Acto Preparatorio," perhaps a less

noticeable one, contributes to the effectiveness of its presentation.

It is written in a solemn, clipped style that reminds one of the

Catholic litany. Thus the author takes his first step in establishing

a religious atmosphere from the outset of the novel. Perhaps some

readers would not be consciously aware of this litany; but for the

average Catholic this cadence would have its subconscious effect,

that of plunging him into a Church atmosphere of prayer.

A litany is a Church prayer addressed to one of the Divine

Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son or Holy Spirit) as well as to

a saintly figure or figures, often rather lengthy and consisting

of a series of entreaties to which the answer is a simple request.

There is a Litany of the Saints, as well as litanies dedicated

to the Blessed Virgin, the Sacred Heart, the Most Holy Name, and

St. Joseph. Usually the responses are either "pray for us," "have

mercy on us," "deliver us, 0 Jesus," or "we beseech thee, hear us."

In group prayer during May devotions, forty hour devotions or

Lenten devotions, one or more litanies will almost invariably be

included. A leader leads the prayer and the entire congregation

responds. Thus the litany is a symbol of a people united in prayer.

It is therefore fitting that in the "Acto Preparatorio" the author

sets forth a string of short invocations describing the village

of Al filo del agua. Instead of the people invoking an individual,

we have the reverse: here Yaiez, in his own form of litany, invokes

the town at the same time that he describes it. First, examine these

passages taken from the "Acto," several of which are entire sentences:

Pueblo de mujeres enlutadas
Pueblo sin fiestas
Pueblo seco
Pueblo sin alameda
Pueblo cerrado
Pueblo solemne
Pueblo conventual
Pueblo sin billares, ni fon6grafos, ni pianos
Pueblo de perpetual cuaresma
Pueblo de 6nimas
Pueblo de templadas voces
Pueblo sin estridencias

The rhythm and structure is highly comparable to a segment

from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin:

Mother of Christ
Mother of divine grace
Mother most pure
Mother most chaste
Mother inviolate
Mother undefiled
Mother most amiable
Mother most admirable
Mother of good counsel
Mother of our Creator
Mother of our Savior, etc.

The response to this Litany of the Blessed Virgin is "pray

for us." Perhaps the hypothetical response to the litany of YAfez

would be "I pray for you," in the sense of "Be careful. Modify

yourself, for disaster is close at hand." The onslaught of the

Mexican Revolution will change the lives of the people and the

town, just as appealing to a saint will hopefully change the life

of the person in prayer.

Also evident in the "Acto Preparatorio" are clipped descriptive

phrases which, if combined into a litany, might occasion a response

such as "deliver us." This is one of the responses in the Litany

of the Saints: "O Lord, deliver us" follows each of the following


From all evil
From all sin
From Thy wrath
From threatening dangers
From the scourge of earthquake
From plague, famine and war
From sudden and unprovided death
From the snares of the devil
From anger, and hatred, and ill-will
From the spirit of fornication
From lightening and tempest
From everlasting death

It has already been emphasized that Y~aez is not hostile in

his legitimate criticism of the manners and way of life of this

hyper-religious people. He hesitates to come out strongly and

directly against some of their practices, but if he did he would

preach deliverance from the following, which he also mentions in

the first chapter:

Tertulias, nunca
Horror sagrado al baile
Aire de misterio y hermetismo
iCantaran las mujeres! No, nunca
Pasos obsesionados
Cintarazos de los cuatro jinetes
Calvario del matrimonio
Mon6tonos campaneos
Constante zozobra por malos temporales
Aire de desencanto
Rigurosa separacion de sexos
Labios consumidos. P6lidos cutis.

All of this combines to lend a wholly religious atmosphere to

Al filo del agua, and this is done completely in the first twelve

pages. What follows merely re-emphasizes or provides another example.

New elements brought in by Y~Aez in the succeeding chapters add

to the plot of the novel, but fit into the already existent atmos-

phere instead of adding to it a new dimension.

The next thing to consider is the impression the reader

derives from this description, and whether or not it is consistent

with the intentions of the author. First, the reader feels this

to be an oppressive, unnatural, undesirable atmosphere. At times

Yafez contributes to this impression by departing from his usual

impartiality and making a biased, negative comment to influence

the reader's opinion. At times he will describe something as the

people might describe it, other times as he sees it as an opinionated

outside observer. For example, he describes the inns on the out-

skirts of the town as "cantinas vergonzantes (5)." The adjective

"vergonzantes" would be from the people's point of view. However,

he later describes the pillars of the square "cuyas piedras reverberan

melancolia por un ausente pensamiento nazareno y una emoci6n

samaritana, tambien ausente (8)." Here the author goes out of his

way to interject a negative comment about the village life. The

people lack the charity of Christ; and the "emoci6n samaritana"

undoubtedly refers to the Bible's Parable of the Good Samaritan,2

the idea being that one must show Christian charity toward everyone,

even one's enemy. Another example of a negative comment by the

author is his calling marriage, that is, marriage as practiced in

the village "calvario (11)." Here he compares the agony that these

people experience in their married life to the agony of Christ

on the cross. Since these comments also have religious overtones,

they contribute to the atmosphere of religious oppression achieved.

Examples have been pointed out to illustrate how Ygaez, in

creating this atmosphere, emphasizes only the unpleasant aspects

of religion, ignoring the positive elements. This is consistent

with his purpose. The creation of a wholesome atmosphere would

make the final result of the story, the storming of the village by

the troops, an injustice. There are several items in the "Acto

Preparatorio" which show that the atmosphere created is not ideal

according to the precepts of Catholicism. Dancing is forbidden in

the village; this is an unwarranted extension of something the

townspeople assume is inherent in Catholic doctrine. In contrast,

there are several Biblical references in the Old Testament which

link dancing with rejoicing; and in the New Testament we see dancing

in celebration after the return of the Prodigal Son. But here

dancing is regarded as a grave sin in all circumstances, equal

to or worse than that of murder or stealing.

Also as a result of this atmosphere, ecclesiastical songs

and prayers are seen merely as a refuge for the breath of desire.

"Hay que oirla en los rezos y cantos eclesiasticos a donde se

refugia (5)." Thus their primary purpose is distorted. Similarly,

the women do not sing except in Church; and so a distinction, even

a complete separation, is made between ecclesiastical and profane

song, the latter being regarded as forbidden fruit.

Weddings take place at the first Mass of the day when it is

still dark. Again this is in direct contrast to the spirit of

weddings in the Old Testament, which were cause for great pomp and

joy. Christ came down to earth to reform, in part, the Old Testament

and introduce the New Law, but not to make such changes as these

people take it upon themselves to make. Matrimony, one of the

seven sacraments of the Church, is degraded not only below the

level of a sacrament, but as something to be abhorred.

As is done throughout the novel, casual mention is made of

various prayers, many of which emphasize spiritual qualities

contrary to the spirit of the village. The two prayers in which

this is especially evident are the Miserere and the De Profundis:

"Pdas del Miserere para las espaldas De profundis para

lenguas y gargantas (9)." The Miserere, Psalm 50, is a prayer

of penance. It is an interesting combination of the acknowledgement

of man's innate sinfulness but yet a plea for mercy to an all-

merciful God. The people of the village, however, prefer to

emphasize the former. There is very little room in their hearts

for forgiveness, as is witnessed by their attitude toward the

unfortunate grandchild of sinful love.

The same thing may be said about the De Profundis, Psalm 129.

It is a prayer for the dead, again begging God for forgiveness.

The names of these prayers come from the beginning of the Latin

Psalms, the Miserere implying mercy and De Profundis referring to

spiritual, not physical, depths: "Out of the depths I cry to you,

0 Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my

voice in supplication .."3 Even after having said this prayer

so many times, many people do not follow Christ's example of mercy.

A number of sacramentals, feast days, prayers, etc., are

mentioned, which in themselves lend a religious atmosphere to the

story. There are many different kinds of crosses on the houses

of the village, symbolic of the suffering of the people who live

there, just as it has its symbolism of suffering in the Church.

In addition to the prayers already discussed are the Memento, homo,

used in distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, and the Requiem

Aeternam found in the Mass for the Dead. These prayers are more

in line with the emphasis on the unpleasant, which these people seem

to prefer.

Two other things might be said regarding the style of the

"Acto Preparatorio." Martha Dfaz de Le6n points out the following

barely noticeable point:

En este caso, ese 'Acto Preparatorio' tiene un sen-
tido cuaresmal que se define precisamente por su
division en cuarenta parrafos que sirven para la
gestaci6n (y la palabra gestaci6n puede no ser ac-
cidental, Lcuarenta semanas?) del tema, y que este
acto es el acto preparatorio al nacimiento de la
creaci6n que en seguida tendremos.4

Ramona Lagos, commenting on Yaiez' "Litany of the Pueblo,"

also makes the following comment about his style!

Este leitmotif constitute el sentido quinta-
esenciado de lo que el narrador entrega en los largos
periodos de frases cortas, resume y define a la co-
munidad silenciosa. De aquf su caracter de letania
lenta y monocorde semejante al sonido reiterado de
una misma nota, pesada y oscura, marcada sobre el
resto de los acordes, determinindoles su sentido,
ordenindoles su ritmo y dominando la sinfonfa.5

One other device which is especially effective in submerging

the reader into a religious frame of mind is the use of saints'

days and feast days in place of calendar dates. This is the final

step toward an almost complete desecularization of the life of the

town as portrayed in Al filo del agua. As Diaz de Le6n says:

". .. las fechas de los sucesos mas importantes que ocurren en

la novela estan sefalados [sic por las festividades religiosas

que en esos dfas se celebran. Los dfas santos de la Cuaresma son

desde luego puntos de referencia muy importantes." In the "Acto

Preparatorio," it is true that Yanez mentions two calendar dates,

the eighth and twelfth of December, and doesn't tell us that these

dates correspond, respectively, to the feast of the Immaculate

Conception and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These calendar

dates, however, have a religious sense rather than a secular one,

as most Mexicans would know, and such usage is rare in the novel.

Thus, in Al filo del agua, an entire chapter is devoted not

to plot development, but to creating an oppressive religious

atmosphere. Through this technique, Yafez criticizes the people

of the town without criticizing Catholicism as it should ideally

exist. It is consistent with the author's purpose to justify the

coming of troops and the Mexican Revolution by placing the blame

in part on this society which we must believe was typical of the

status quo in provincial Jalisco in 1909.

On the other hand, in Las tierras flacas the author does not

choose to devote the beginning chapter to establishing an atmosphere;

rather, he goes immediately into development of characters and

plot. The time of the novel is in the twenties, and depicts the

aftermath of the revolution. The scene is not a provincial town,

but the countryside, inhabited also by provincial people but in an

atmosphere very much different from the village in Al filo del agua.

Although once again it is religious, it is not so oppressive or

unnatural. The religious sense of these characters is not dominated

by super-scrupulosity; instead, they have as their greatest short-

coming the mixing of orthodox Catholicism and superstition.

Contributing greatly to the atmosphere of Las tierras flacas

is a heavy dependance by the author on the Bible, which will be

discussed later in detail and which has already been briefly noted

in the Introduction. The Bible plays a greater role in this work

than in Al filo del agua, where it nevertheless has considerable

importance. But this Biblical atmosphere, which dominates the

general religious atmosphere created, is established slowly. From

the beginning of the novel until the end, one element builds upon

another; each point contributes something new which adds to what

has previously been revealed, instead of merely reinforcing some-

thing already established.

Aside from the Biblical atmosphere, Ya6ez affords the reader

many insights as to the religious climate nurtured by the people

in this area. A few elements from the first chapter should serve

to indicate the nature of this climate, how it affects the reader,

and why Yanez establishes it as he does.

The first chapter is entitled "Buenos dfas les d6 Dios c6mo

amanecieron?" corresponding to one of its beginning sentences.

From this and from the first sentence, "Ave Marfa,"7 religion takes

the place of secular conventions. This has the same effect as the

replacement of calendar dates by saints' feast days. Greetings are

formed religiously, in accordance with the Biblical image of the

land, called Tierra Santa, and the religious nature of the people.

From the first sentence, and from the other ejaculations (short,

one-lined prayers) at the beginning such as "Ave Maria Purisima .

Sin pecado original concebida (9)," it is evident that devotion to

the Blessed Virgin is intense. This is a positive quality that

the reader is apt to admire, as contrasted with the many negative

qualities of individuals that Yahez describes in Al filo del agua.

The first indication of the people's distortion of the Catholic

faith in Las tierras flacas is the matter of the sewing machine

of Te6fila, the deceased daughter of R6mulo and Merced. Because

she was a saintly girl, the people regard her machine as a relic.

In doing this they make two mistakes: first, Te6fila is not a

canonized saint, and for this reason the machine cannot be classified

as a relic. It is and should be considered a completely non-

religious item. Second, even if it were a relic, one would have

to take care not to venerate the relic, but rather the saint

associated with the relic. It would be by the saint's intercession

that good works might occur. Unfortunately, here the machine

becomes the object of worship, thereby becoming a substitute on

earth for Te6fila herself.

But the reader does not react unfavorably to this mistake

of the people. He realizes that it is done out of ignorance, and

not anything even remotely resembling malice or ill-will. In contrast

to the situation in Al filo del agua, the religious atmosphere in

Las tierras flacas is unoppressive definitely imperfect, yet far

more bearable.

With regard to Las tierras flacas, John Brushwood has stated

that "the strange role of the sewing machine is not intended to

indicate the religion of the people, but to comment on their means

of assuring their identity. Folk practices have joined with

Christianity, but Yahez is not portraying a primitively superstitious

people."8 Perhaps this affords an insight as to why the author

does not establish a religious atmosphere immediately with a

preparatory chapter, as he does in Al filo del agua: religion is

not the sole dominating factor in the people's lives. The impli-

cation here appears to be that whereas the people in Las tierras

flacas think that they are motivated by religious considerations,

they are really using religion as a vehicle for achieving non-

religious ends. It is probable, however, that they are not conscious

of this; therefore, their devotion to religion does not cease to

be admirable. It is also true that they are not primitively

superstitious. But neither are they so sophisticated as to con-

sciously use religion as a lever to establish their social identity

without really believing in the Catholic faith and attempting to

live it as best they can.

Yahez wishes the reader to feel compassion toward the poor,

common man of this region, and thus elevates him in stature in

comparison with certain antiheroes of the novel. The more tolerable

religious atmosphere he establishes is consistent with these

intentions. In addition to the Devil, these people have flesh-and-

blood enemies, whereas in Al filo del agua the only enemy worthy

of the name is the Devil. Unlike Al filo del agua, several char-

acters in Las tierras flacas are presented as bad in the sense of

ruthless and without feelings: Felipe, Jesusito, Plcida. In

contrast are the simple folk such as R6mulo and Merced, who at

times receive the reader's admiration.

In an attempt to crystallize exactly how Yanez' sympathy for

the poor country peasant is conveyed to the reader, perhaps a

comparison can be made with Azorin's short essay "Vida de un

labrantin." In a scant four pages the life of a poor country

peasant is summarized in the most bland, indifferent style of

prose possible. Indeed, the dominating theme is the utter indif-

ference of this peasant, his total resignation to what befalls him

without so much as a single thought passing through his mind about

it. Of course, Azorin is critical of this, since he adheres to

the spirit of progress and reform which had not influenced Spain

as it had much of the rest of Europe. His method of expressing

his disdain is to not express any opinions at all aboutthis laborer,

as though his actions were not worthy of comment. Also, he reiterates

over and over the thoughtless, automatic reaction of the man to his

bad luck: "jEa! ZQu le vamos a hacer? Dios dird; Dios nos sacard

del apuro."9 Similarly, when two of his children die and the

other runs off, his reaction is "iEa! jC6mo ha de ser? Dios lo

ha dispuesto asi."10 And Azorfn ends the essay by saying that if

the peasant's wife dies first, the peasant will exclaim: "iEa!

ZQu6 le vamos a hacer? Todo sea por Dios."I

R6mulo would be a good example of a character in Las tierras

flacas comparable to this laborer. But Yafez devotes considerable

time to analyzing R6mulo and his way of life, and this implies

his conviction that the character is indeed worthy of a great deal

of study. R6mulo is one of only four characters who are revealed

to the reader through the use of interior monologue. His relation-

ship with his grandfather Te6dulo, his past relationship with Merced,

in short, much of his life, is closely scrutinized. As a result,

more than one side of the man is brought forward. Yahez does not

wish to merely pass him off as an ignorant, unthinking peasant

worthy of the reader's disdain. He is presented, at least to a

small degree, as a man who thinks.

Scrupulosity is found to a certain extent in many characters,

particularly Te6dulo, but it is nothing compared to the preoccu-

pations of Mercedes Toledo, Timoteo Lim6n, and Luis Gonzaga Perez

in Al filo del agua. Not only is this scrupulosity usually due

to ignorance, but also it does not normally result in the repression

of a passion or desire. The Tierra Santa is a region without a

chapel. The people cannot hear Mass or receive the sacraments,

and similarly they have no residing authority, a priest, to question

in matters of faith. As Te6dulo used to say: "Ya que no me confieso

ni siquiera puedo ir seguido a misa pues por todo aca no hay ni

una iglesia y el pueblo esta a seis horas de ida y otras tantas

de vuelta, lo menos en que puedo servir a nuestra Santa Religidn

es con esto de sostener sus Nombres Benditos (39)."

R6mulo, in his interior monologues, often falls back on his

memories of his grandfather, whom he admired immensely. And he

remembers how one time his grandfather was told "de no se qu6

motors o maquinas para facilitar la labranza y romper la dureza

de la tierra. Hizo la seal de la cruz y rompi6 en maldiciones (20)."

In addition to highlighting the ironic juxtaposition of cursing

with the sign of the cross, this also points out Te6dulo's scrupu-

losity but again, not on matters of sex involving repression of

love. R6mulo, remembering the example shown him by his grandfather,

is understandably hesitant to change. This explains his reluctance

to accept the divining rod that his friend Palem6n tries to thrust

upon him to look for water. Here the question arises as to whether

the use of such an article is against Church teaching. Palem6n

insists that it is not, that it is based on science and not witch-

craft. But R6mulo, in the words of Yafez, "tuvo miedo de verse

metido en riesgos, pretextando mentirosamente que las varillas

eran hechicerfas y pactos del demonio, contrarios a nuestra Santa

Madre Iglesia (33)." In alleging the rods to be forbidden by the

Church, and alleging it "untruthfully," R6mulo may be right,

although he thinks he isn't. The important thing to note is that

he has no method whatsoever of finding out the truth. The scrupu-

losity of the characters in Las tierras flacas is therefore much

more understandable and forgiveable than that of the villagers in

Al filo del agua, who have priests to consult, including the

liberal Father Reyes.

One more example from the first chapter along the same lines

might be mentioned. In an argument between R6mulo and Merced,

the latter affirms: "hasta pecado es, como desde chica les of de-

cir a los padres de iglesia tanto de los usureros como de

los que aceptan sus abuses (14)." R6mulo does not agree with her,

but there is no priest available to consult. From this unfortunate

situation arises the superstition which runs throughout the novel,

and is synthesized in La Madre Matiana, who emerges into a major

character as the novel progresses. There are already indications

in the first chapter of her importance, such as the large number

of concoctions and devices used to help Merced deliver her baby,

Te6fila, in a flashback sequence. Evident too is the tendency of

the people to loosely attribute miraculous qualities to articles,

and to regard any unusual occurrence as a sign from the hand of

Providence. When Merced becomes pregnant, R6mulo says: "Casinos

habfamos resignado con la voluntad de la Divina Providencia, cuando

su Ojo, que se venera en la Ermita del Cruce, nos hace el Milagro

(24)." Similarly, when Merced gives birth, R6mulo's sister-in-law

brings a wooden hand of Providence, "que se abre para former los

Cinco Dedos, y no ha faltado quien diga que se dio de milagro

(24) ."

These, then, are the two religious climates nurtured in the

respective novels, similar in some ways but different in tone and

emphasis. The creation of a religious atmosphere goes hand in

hand with the development of characters in any novel taking place

in Jalisco, and is essential if the reader is to fully understand

these characters. The religious substratum of the Jaliscan

personality is not to be underestimated, as Octaviano Valdds

points out:

S los lectores poco avezados o movidos por pre-
juicios, no es nada remote que concluyan, que toda la
religiosidad de nuestra gente de campo es s6lo eso!
superstici6n y equivocada credulidad. Lo cual es fal-
so: pues aun cuando esas distorciones mentales inva-
dan en mayor o menor grado su religiosidad, poseen sin
embargo los sustanciales concepts del cristianismo
con suficiente claridad; esto much mas en regions
tan cristianas como las de Jalisco.1

At times this personality is further complicated by a puzzling

tendency to resort to violence when necessary: "Nunca he visto

una explicaci6n convincente de este fen6meno de la idiosincrasia

jalisciense que aparece siempre maridado con otra proclividad

igualmente vitanda: el fanatismo cat6lico--mas desaforado y cerril

en Jalisco que en ning6n otro estado. Diriase que el rosario y la

pistola machihembrados son los simbolos definidores del caricter


In order to emphasize the predominating importance of religion,

perhaps it would be valuable to examine the characters of two

individuals from two other Y6Aez novels: the Gabriel Martinez

of La creaci6n, and Ricardo Guerra Victoria of La tierra pr6diga.

These are extreme examples in the sense that both men appear to

have sufficient control over their destinies so as not to feel

the need to take solace in religion. Yet neither would be able

to discard the religious aspect of his character even if he wished

to do so.

The Gabriel Martinez introduced in Al filo del agua will be

discussed later. In La creaci6n Gabriel has just returned to

Mexico City after having studied music for several years in Europe.

Relatively speaking, La creaci6n lacks religious references, and

the atmosphere of the novel is almost completely secular. But

Gabriel struggles with the decision of dedicating himself to

composing either ecclesiastical or secular music. At first he

identifies his attraction to ecclesiastical music with Maria:

--Marfa era la iglesia. Unidos bajo el mismo
techo desde muy ninos, el metr6nomo lit6rgico acom-
pasaba nuestras vidas; no conocfamos otra m6sica que
la eclesidstica, sumergidos en los confines de la
parroquia y el curato, bajo la tutela clerical del
tio Dionisio, que nos habia recogido huerfanos, an-
tes de que alcanziramos el uso de la raz6n. Pronto
Maria entr6 al coro; me gustaba distinguir su voz en
ejercicios y ceremonies; me gustaba verla ensayar en
las noches oscuras del curato; me habria gustado
acompafarla en el canto; a solas recordaba las melo-
dias que ofa en su boca, imaginaba sus gestos y ade-
manes al cantar, sus risas cuando alguien desafinaba
en los ensayos; me habria gustado ser el cantor pa-
rroquial que dirigia el coro y tocaba el armonium,
cerca del cual se colocaba Maria, inclinandose para
descifrar las notas que cantaba. Entonces consegui
ser el campanero y hall voces mas poderosas, que
prolongaban muy lejos del pueblo el concerto reli-
gioso; me aferr4 por interpreter la m6sica escuchada
en labios de Maria, la m6sica que Maria y yo habi-
amos escuchado quiz6 desde antes que naci6ramos,
la mdsica que sigo escuchando en lo profundo, a
pesar de los anos, a pesar del teatro .

But then Gabriel realizes that Maria, by introducing him to various

theatrical celebrities, is influential in attracting him to the

theater. He also realizes that Victoria, who financed his studies,

had wanted him to study sacred music; but at the same time Gabriel's

memory of her did not inspire him in a religious sense. This

inability to identify one woman or the other with religious or

secular music parallels his inability to choose between one career

or the other. And whereas the current atmosphere in which he lives

seems to point toward his choosing theatrical music, the possibility

of composing church music still lingers in his mind. He cannot

totally escape his background.

Ricardo Guerra Victoria, the extremely powerful cacique of La

tierra pr6diga, is an ideal example of a man who wields a rosary

in one hand and a pistol in the other. He is a ruthless opportunist

who admittedly uses religion to achieve his own ends. In order to

exert his dominance over the people of the region, he insists that

they pray and say the rosary in a group, attend Mass on Sundays,

wear scapulars, fast and abstain from meat on the appointed days,

use holy water, and study the catechism. He imposes severe punishments

on those who fail to comply with these mandates, and emphasizes as

well the spiritual punishment that awaits the nonreligious: the

everlasting fires of hell. He also uses religion in other ways:

"Elena descubri6 que el alteno era un timido sexual que

trataba de ocultarse .bajo disculpas de origen religioso."15

He invokes religion against Pascual Medellfn, implying that the

latter is a heretic and Communist, in order to discredit the

authority of the government.16 And he rejects the authority of

the clergy: "41 es el sumo pontifice de su religion y conciencia."17

No one talks with the bishop except in his presence, and he tries

to impede confessions; as much as possible he takes on the functions

of the priest himself.

Yet it is evident that Ricardo Guerra Victoria is a man with

a religious conscience, a prisoner of religious beliefs. He

actually finds inherent value in his religion, which he cannot

escape: "Guerra Victoria encarna la ambici6n, las malas artes,

el machismo y los crimenes del conquistador; pero a la vez es

muy religioso, al extreme de convertirse en predicador y sacerdote

de sus mesnadas."18

These religious scruples were infused in him during his child-

hood, particularly scruples regarding women: "Habia crecido y

llegado a joven bajo inhibiciones de procedencia religiosa respect

a la mujer, que clandestinamente incitaban su curiosidad y violencia,

mezclando imagenes de sehora y esclava, bestia y angel, devoci6n

y golpes.1l9 As with the villagers of Al filo del agua, he regards

dancing as a sin, and at one point even calls a halt to a community

dance. These scruples explain his obsession to control the land;

land is often compared to woman in the novel, and for Guerra

Victoria it becomes a substitute for woman.

The fact that it is necessary for him to have a "conciencia

tranquila" is very important. This latter phrase is mentioned

several times in the novel, and Guerra Victoria's adherence to

religious beliefs helps to soothe his conscience. He achieves this

by manipulating religion so as to fool himself, by bending dogmatic

principles to suit his own personality. This is done to a certain

extent by many Catholics. The important principle is that if

there is any doubt whatsoever in the individual's mind about whether

or not he is doing wrong, the scruple can be dismissed with a clear

conscience. The novel states that Guerra Victoria "no se mete en

honduras de religi6n,"20 and thus he is better able to convince

himself that his actions are justified. But because of his religious

background it is essential for his peace of mind that he do this.

Whenever he cannot, his conscience triumphs somewhat over ruthless-

ness and pride; for example, he invites the bishop to give Confir-


At other times he considers himself to be the priest of the

region, and this is part of his power complex. But even as he

does this, his dual personality becomes evident. He considers his

obligation to stress the importance of religion to the people as

a true moral obligation to be scrupulously carried out. In the

final analysis Guerra Victoria succeeds in deluding himself to

pacify his conscience, but at times the apparent sincerity of the

religious side of his personality stands out strikingly. An

example is when he invokes God, in an interior monologue, to save

the soul of Sotero Castillo, and also to forgive him (Guerra

Victoria): Dios lo tenga en su santo reino bendito sea Dios que

me libr6 de sus manos Dios me perdone y a 41 en su reino

por los siglos de los siglos."21

Thus, religion has a powerful and lasting effect even on

Gabriel Martinez and Ricardo Guerra Victoria, and this underscores

the extreme importance of the religious atmosphere of the novels

of Ya9ez which take place in Jalisco. From this basis a more

specific analysis of Catholicism in Al filo del agua and Las

tierras flacas will follow, beginning with the elements of the

Mass that appear in the works, and their significance.

In neither Al filo del agua nor Las tierras flacas does the

Mass occupy a position of primary focus, in spite of its being the

most important Catholic ritual ceremony. In Las tierras flacas

there is no chapel in the Tierra Santa, and therefore no Masses

are celebrated. The people find a substitute for the Mass in

other rituals such as pastoral skits; in general, they must

constantly search for things to replace most of the aspects of the

liturgy that they cannot, for geographical reasons, take part in.

The Mass receives greater emphasis in Al filo del agua, although

its description and discussion is deemphasized in comparison with

the extended, elaborate descriptions of the once-a-year Holy Week

rituals, for example.

Briefly, the Mass is primarily a rite of thanksgiving to God

the Father. It takes the form of a meal of which both priest and

congregation partake. In another sense, closely related to the

concept of a meal, it is the unbloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ

through the consecration of bread and wine, which become,

respectively, the body and blood of Christ. Therefore it is a

reenactment of Christ's death on the cross, and contains the

central tenet of the Catholic faith: that Christ died to reopen

the gates of heaven in order that mankind might live. In essence,

the Mass has two parts: the Ordinary, which basically does not

change, and the Proper, which consists of a series of prayers

which vary according to the particular feast day being celebrated.

The Mass which will be referred to here is the old Mass which

existed before changes made in its structure in recent years, as

well as the change made from Latin to the vernacular. The Proper

prayers, in order of their appearance, are the Introit, Collect,

Epistle, Gradual (and sometimes Sequence), Gospel, Offertory,

Secret, Communion, and Postcommunion.

In Al filo del agua, references to the Mass serve various

functions. One simple function is to situate the reader in time

in a very subtle, esoteric way, and on a larger scale, to show him

the impressive knowledge the people have of Church liturgy. For

example, in one of his interior monologues Timoteo Lim6n says to

himself: "Ya estamos a mediados de marzo y apenas la semana que

viene sera de Lizaro (19)." The Gospel of the Friday of the fourth

week in Lent describes Christ's raising Lazarus from the dead,22

and so the next week will be the fourth week in Lent. The fact

that Lim6n knows this indicates his knowledge of the liturgy, and

in general the same might be said for all the people of the village.

Yanez constantly emphasizes the total dedication and preoccupation

with religion which permeates the village by making casual Biblical

and liturgical references throughout the novel, and implying that

this is an integral part of the psychic processes of the people.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this involving the Mass

occurs when all the men of the village are on retreat, and the

women are left to talk to themselves: "el tema de las pliticas

no es otro! Pedro y Pablo, Andr6s, Jaime, Juan, Tomas, Santiago,

Felipe, Bartolom6, Mateo, Sim6n y Tadeo! Lino, Cleto, Clemente,

Sixto, Cornelio, Cipriano, Lorenzo, Cris6gono, Juan y Pablo, Cosme

y Damian (56)." This list of names, ostensibly a list of husbands

on retreat, is taken directly from the list of saints in the

Comunicantes of the Canon of the Mass, without addition or omission.

It would not be an overstatement to say that these names are as

much second nature to the villagers as their own names. There is

also a symbolic implication. Those who are here on earth are

called the Church Militant, i.e., the men of the village. These

saints, however, comprise the Church Triumphant; perhaps this is

what the women of the village subconsciously aspire to become, and

the goal for which the men are preparing themselves at the retreat.

A similar example along the same lines refers to the tendency

of don Timoteo Lim6n to be distracted by the women of the village.

Try as he might to eliminate all temptations and impure thoughts,

at times he is unsuccessful in avoiding them: "no, era el diablo,

trafa las figures de cien mujeres apetitosas: Marfa, 6rsula, Teresa,

Paula, Domitila, Rosa, Epifania, Trinidad, Ventura, Felicitas,

Agueda, Cecilia (20). ." Although this list of girls' names

is not taken verbatim from the Mass, it is reminiscent of the

Nobis quoque peccatoribus, which appears immediately before the

Pater Noster. The Our Father itself serves the same purpose in

the novel when used as a refrain, but in Latin, thereby becoming

part of the Mass. This will be discussed a little later in

reference to the parish priest, don Dionisio; but it might be

said here that the author's frequent use of Latin phrases, from

the Mass and elsewhere, contributes to this same idea of the village

being strictly a Church community, like a monastery, instead of a

secular one. Similarly, the use of the phrase "en aquel tiempo"

to begin a paragraph, as on page 100, reminds one of the words

used to introduce the Gospel of the Mass.

As is the case in other areas of the Catholic faith discussed

in Al filo del agua, it appears that the negative aspects of the

Mass are the most emphasized. "Negative" here means either those

aspects which do not deal specifically with rejoicing, as does an

Alleluia refrain which appears in the Proper of the Mass after

Easter, or else those aspects which deal specifically with sorrow

or suffering. An example of the former occurs in the discussion

of the Ejercicios de Encierro, which are for those who are "en

peligro de tentaci6n y los que hayan de pecar en pensamientos,

palabras y obras (69). ." The Confiteor, appearing at the

beginning of the Mass in the prayers at the foot of the altar, is

a declaration of man's sinfulness and a request for prayer, and

includes the words quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo et opere.

Although this demonstrates that the final Retreat Day of the men

has been one of confession and peacemaking with God, it still

focuses on the evil of man.

The specific references to the Proper of the Mass are even

more negative, as can be seen from the only two sequences mentioned

in the novel. The first is the reference to the Stabat Mater (83),

which is the Mass Sequence of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, or

Friday in Passion Week. It describes Mary's agony at the foot

of the cross, and begs to share that grief as a stepping-stone to

heaven. The other references are to the Dies Irae Sequence of the

Requiem Mass (196, 207-8, 213, 365), which in addition to merely

having been mentioned has symbolic overtones in the novel. The

"day of wrath" will be the day on which the troops will storm

the village.

Among all the Mass Propers, the Requiem Mass receives special

focus throughout the work. The recurrence of the phrase Requiem

aeternam becomes a part of the reader, but one finds no such

recurrence of a similar refrain of joy. Contrast the importance

given the Requiem Mass in the novel with that of Christmas:

"Navidad siquiera tiene la extraordinaria liturgia de las tres

misas por un mismo celebrate, como en la conmemoraci6n de los

fieles difuntos, aunque no todos los afos hay misa de gallo, y

cuando la hay es una simple misa cantada, sin boato ni ruidos

especiales (319)." On the other hand, Y5aez devotes extended

scenes to the Mass for the Dead, and the main ideas from the Dies

irae sequence are repeated over and over again in two different scenes.

In both instances the Dies irae, symbolic of the Requiem Mass,

appears as a prelude to an imminent tragedy, and the reader accepts

it as a forewarning, anticipating (or trying to anticipate) what

will follow. The first example is when it precedes the tragedy

of the murder of Micaela by Damign; it appears, in Spanish rather

than Latin, at the beginning of the chapter entitled "El dia de

la Santa Cruz": "dfa de ira, de furor, aquel dfa, esa noche de

divina venganza, en que fu6 concebida la abominacion y previno el

Supremo Juez un gran castigo para el pueblo (196)." It then

reappears woven in among don Dionisio's nightmarish dream the night

of the feast of the finding of the Holy Cross. The "Supremo Juez"

(God) referred to above is the same as the "judex" in the Sequence,

which refers to the day of the Last Judgement. This might be

taken as a bad omen of things to come, as might the other sections

of the Sequence running through Dionisio's nightmare, nearly all

of which have a funereal, dark, deathly ring of wrath to them.

Quantus tremor est futurus refers to man's fear of the Supreme

Judge; quidquid latet apparebit refers to those things which each

man has hidden inside himself which will be avenged; ingemisco

tamquam reus emphasizes man's guilt; mors stupebit et natural calls

attention to the coming of death, as does the grave-like intonation

of per sepulcra regionum, etc. All this is consistent with the

author's purpose. The Mass for the Dead symbolizes the upcoming

death of Micaela and that of the entire village. Also, it is

appropriate in connection with the death of don Dionisio's dreams

and hopes, which are soon to be shattered. Since he is tormented

as well by feelings of self-guilt, as though he alone were responsible

for all the ills of the village, other portions of the Dies irae

are included to reflect his desire for contrition and the receiving

of God's mercy. Cor contritum quasi cinis (207), followed by Rex

tremendae majestatis, Qui salvandos salvas gratis, Salva me fons

pietatis (208) serve as a background for this self-mortification,

and is one of the devices Yahez uses as a background to arouse

the reader's heartfelt sympathy for the priest, and to add to the

religious atmosphere. The scene describing his nightmare concludes,

however, by emphasizing the element of condemnation and eternal

fire, which is what most contributes to the agony of Dionisio.

The second and final time that the Requiem Mass appears, with

its dies irae, dies illa leitmotif, is in the final chapter, and

thus previews the coming of the troops and the flight of Maria.

The particular feast being celebrated is that of All Souls Day

(November 2nd), on which three Masses per priest are offered for

those in Purgatory. In a way, the entire village is offering itself

up for the holocaust which is soon to follow. The people desperately

need something or someone to save them from the imminent disaster

which by this time is sensed and felt by nearly everyone. This

is highlighted by the repetition, first in Latin and then in

Spanish, of a section of the Offertory hymn of the Requiem Mass:

"Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant

in obscuram: sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in

lucem sanctam liberal eas (365). ." which two pages later

is reiterated: "Lfbralas del profundo lago y de las fauces del

le6n el abismo no se las trague, ni caigan en las tinieblas .

el Principe San Miguel conddzcalas a la santa luz (367). ." The

fact that this is the Offertory hymn is significant in that the

people have, in effect, offered themselves and their old way of

life as a sacrifice to the Revolution which is about to come. Still,

they don't want to do it, and they call on the traditional standard-

bearer of the faith, St. Michael, to aid them. St. Michael appears

so often in both novels because he is taken to be the antithesis

of the Devil, the people's chief enemy. Since all enemies can

eventually be traced to the Devil, St. Michael is the natural

figure to emerge from the people's subconscious. Likened to the

Devil, both in this Requiem Mass scene and the previous one, is

Damian Lim6n. In the first scene he appears with Micaela, and in

the second he has returned to the village in disguise. His presence

indicates that havoc will be wrought on the village.

Marfa flees the village in the end, and thus does not consider

herself a "victim" of the tragedy; Marta, however, is one of those

victimized. Again the Requiem Mass reflects this, since its Gospel

talks about Martha, one of only three or four times in which Martha

is mentioned in Scripture.

Other examples, too, are seen in which portions of the Gospel

are taken out of the context of the particular feast day, and offer

pertinent comments on the particular scene being treated. Early

in the novel, the Gospel of Monday in Holy Week, which mentions

Mary Magdalene and Martha, brings torturous thoughts to the priest's

mind: "Tambi6n el Evangelio habla de Marta Marta, la sobrina

del sehor cura .; pero energicamente ha rechazado tales

pensamientos y su alma se levanta con ligereza (92). ." This

is also coincidental in the sense that the author had just finished

talking about Marta and Marfa, and continues to talk about them

in the immediately succeeding pages.

Another example of the symbolic use of a portion of the Gospel

is found in the description of Father Islas' sermon from the

Epistle of Ascension Thursday!

Una nube le sustrajo a sus ojos, y como estuviesen
con la vista clavada en el cielo, mientras El se iba,
he aqui que dos varones se les pusieron delante con
vestiduras blancas, los cuales les dijeron: gque
estais mirando al cielo? Este Jesus que de vosotros
ha sido recogido, vendri de la misma manera que le
hab4is contemplado (249).23

Christ's going away here pertains directly to Father Islas, in that

his lack of true Christian charity and his twisting of the prin-

ciples of Catholicism to an absurd extreme symbolize the slow

withdrawal of Christ, that is, religion, from the hearts of the

people under Father Islas' direction, hopefully to return another

day. Another interpretation would be that it refers to the departure

and eventual return of Gabriel to the village. For the moment, it

is sufficient to point out that Gabriel occupies a somewhat celestial

place in the novel through his constantly being compared with

Gabriel the archangel. He was always in the bell tower, the highest

spot in the village and toward which the people always looked up.

Thus his leaving might be construed as an ascension, both physical

and spiritual.

Perhaps the final function of the Mass in Al filo del agua is

that it symbolizes the traditional past which is to be shattered

forever in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. It carries this

symbolism especially in the eyes of don Dionisio, who at times

uses it as a "security blanket" to fall back on, in order to avoid

disturbing, agonizing thoughts. Throughout pages 242-245 portions

of the Our Father (in Latin and therefore part of the Mass) permeate

his thoughts. He is tormented by thoughts of his dream of a few

nights before, but eventually, as he interrupts his unpleasant

thoughts with refrains from the Mass, he succeeds in falling

asleep, thereby achieving a temporary respite from his anguish.

An early sign of this tendency occurs when Yanez informs us

of how very slowly don Dionisio says his daily Mass, as though he

never wanted to finish it: "Escrupulosamente lenta es la celebraci6n.

Lento el revestirse. Mucho mas lento el consagrar y el consumer.

Prolongada, la acci6n de gracias, cubierta con las manos la cara,

sobre el reclinatorio (40-41)." And when things are going wrong,

the priest clings to the security of something he has known and

cherished: the Mass. He feels completely away from the world

when engaged in this sacrifice, as if nothing could harm him.

The same thing happens in the final scene of the novel.

According to Harry Sylvester, "under the impact of the night's

events he on Dionisio has reached some understanding of how he

and the society in which he ministers have failed. In grief but

with dignity under the newly doubtful eyes of the villagers, he

can only make one immediate response, and this for him must be

the Mass." The final page introduces lines from the prayers at

the foot of the altar, the final sentence being "Ad Deum qui

laetificat juventutem meam," reiterated twice. Discussing this

part, Eileen Connelly states that "la dltima frase de la novela

sugerirg la frase final de la acci6n eterna de todos los ritos,
la promesa de la resurrecci6n." That is, it is ironic that the

end of the novel should be the beginning of Mass, except that in

it is contained the hope that the villagers, now spiritually dead,

will again rise to life, and perhaps establish a better spiritual

climate than they had before. Also, the beginning of Mass parallels

the beginning of the Revolution. The idea of youth contained

in the passage ("To God, who gives joy to my youth") contrasts

the situation of don Dionisio, who will never again see his youth,

and will have to wait quite some time to experience joy. He can

only beg God to aid him in his struggle with unholy people:

"discerne causam meam de gente non sancta (387)."

As already stated, only fleeting glimpses of the Mass as such

are seen in Las tierras flacas; there is no chapel in the Tierra

Santa, and no priest to celebrate Mass even if there were. To a

great extent, the atmosphere and the attitudes of the people of

the region, especially Epifanio Trujillo, remind the reader of

the Old Testament rather than the New; the concept of the Mass

was introduced by Christ Himself at the Last Supper. Despite this,

the actual time of the novel is during the 1920's, the Mass does

exist, the people are aware of this although they don't have it,

and therefore it does receive occasional references. First of all,

the reason there are no Masses can be traced directly to the

attitude towards Mass of Epifanio Trujillo, the most powerful

man of the region: "Yo digo que para no mas rezarle a Usted y a

los Santos, en cualquier lugar se puede, no habiendo los requilorios

que pide la misa o el bautismo y otras ceremonies con padre y todo;

el cielo raso es suficiente y mas director para levantar los ojos

y rezar (283). ." This point of view is strictly an Old Testament

one, and as a result the people must create other rituals as a

substitute for the Mass. Te6fila's sewing machine is adored by

many as a relic because the people, who in spite of lack of facilities

retain a deep fervor in their religion, are looking for something,

anything, to adore, in order to give their religious sentiments an

outlet. The result is the very curious situation in which the

closest thing to a Mass in the Tierra Santa are the movements of

Te6fila with her sewing machine. At least, the people felt some-

thing akin to the feeling of attending a Church ceremony while

watching her, which Merced describes in the first few pages:

"Seria, lista, segura, sus movimientos tenian algo de los de los

padres en el altar (12)." Just as the townspeople of Al filo del

agua admired the priests, the people here, including Epifanio,

admired Te6fila when she lived.

Mass is denied the people at times to the extent that, even

when they go into town, they are unable to hear Mass due to one

turn of events or another, such as the one involving the man who

was arrested for being "indecent" (161). Candles are occasionally

linked with the Mass, as when Epifanio falls asleep after lighting

candles on All Souls Day, and encounters St. Michael with his

sword (123), again reminiscent of the Offertory of the Requiem

Mass. Finally, the author alludes to the Confiteor in reference

to the desire of the people to throw the guilt for all the evil

that befalls the Tierra Santa on the shoulders of Epifanio:

"Llovia sobre mojado encima de la Casa Grande. Por su culpa, por

su culpa, por su grandisima torpeza (221)." This variation of the

Confiteor's mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa is written in

third person rather than first, reflecting the tendency of the

people to blame someone else. The concept of guilt fascinates

Ydaez, and his paraphrasing of the Confiteor, with minor alterations,

provides a religious background for commentary on this highly

religious theme. The same device is found in La tierra pr6diga,

in the scene near the end when Elena commits suicide: "El dominion

de tu marido ha llegado a su fin por tu culpa, por tu culpa, por

tu gravisima cobardia."26

In summary, in accordance with the Old Testament atmosphere

pervading Las tierras flacas, the few references to the Mass found

in the text are of little consequence. The Mass is most conspicuous

by its absence, as is Church liturgy in general.

In discussing the emphasis on the Church "liturgy" in Al filo

del agua and Las tierras flacas, it is to be understood here that

the word liturgy is to be taken in its broadest sense: it refers

to the Church calendar as well as the outward manifestations of

adoration of God. According to the Catholic Dictionary of the

Holy Trinity Bible, liturgy is the public worship offered to God

by the Church; it is not the same as rubrics, which are the

directions for the conduct of liturgical services. Ceremonial

actions performed according to these directions, or altars or

vestments designed according to the rubrics, are called rubrical.2

Ya6ez does not adhere to this definition, as is seen in Al filo

del agua when he calls the monument that Marta imagines in the

multi-colored sky "extasis de la liturgia siderea (95)." This

study will not make such a distinction, either.

It has already been said that in Al filo del agua the liturgical

calendar is used almost completely in place of the secular one,

thus contributing to the monastic atmosphere of the village.

Occasionally this affords special insights into the character of

an individual or of the people as a whole. For example, Timoteo

Lim6n rationalizes not going to the Lenten spiritual exercises on

the grounds that Lent comes very late that particular year, with

Easter falling on April llth (19). Since on the liturgical calendar

Easter varies from the last week in March to the 22nd of April,

this is only an average date; thus it becomes evident that Lim6n

is merely groping for an excuse. Nevertheless, he and many others

know the calendar well, which contrasts starkly with the situation

in Las tierras flacas. Basically, about everyone in the Tierra

Santa depends almost exclusively on Matiana for information on the

liturgical calendar. R6mulo on occasion is forced to admit to

ignorance as to what time of year it is because of not having

recently seen Matiana: ". debe haber sido la semana de pascua

(bien a bien ac6 no sabemos el calendario si no andamos preguntandole

a Matiana las fechas (254). ." With Te6fila gone, Matiana becomes

the substitute for the priest of the region, and if the priests

of Al filo del agua are influential on the thought processes of

the people, then Matiana wields an even greater power in comparison:

La necesidad, la curiosidad, la devoci6n o el
gusto mueven la junta de los dos calendarios. Se
acude a Matiana para saber cuindo hay que mandar al
pueblo por las palmas benditas que han de defender
las puertas de las casas; por los cordones de San Blas
para los males de la garganta; por las velas de la
Calendaria y el Santisimo para la hora de la muerte
y contra las tempestades deshechas; cuando es el ul-
timo dia en que se puede cortar la flor de la santa-
marfa para former cruces y coronas que ahuyentan
perjuicios y moscos; cu6ndo es la noche de San Juan
para buscar el trebol de la buena suerte y bafarse
temprano en el rio; cuando es la fiesta de San Anto-
nio para cumplir las mandas por animals perdidos y
matrimonios avenidos; cuindo han de comenzarse los
siete domingos de San Jose, para que resuelva lo que
mejor convenga a los pretendientes; cuando caer6 la

fiesta de San Miguel para ir al pueblo, y el dia de
difuntos, y la Nochebuena para ir preparando las
pastorelas (90-91).

As might be expected, the liturgical pageantry most em-

phasized in Al filo del agua relates to Lent, particularly Holy

Week. Other ceremonies related in some detail are those having

to do with All Souls' Day and the feast of the finding of the Holy

Cross. Both of these emphasize death, because almost the entire

emphasis of Holy Cross Day is on death and the Last Judgment. The

constant repetition of the word "moriras" reinforces the morbid

atmosphere of the village: "Moriras. Moriras. Por el Valle de

Josafat pasaras (202)." Not emphasized are Christmas, the Epiphany,

pilgrimages, the adorning of altars, or the Solemn High Mass.

The Spiritual Exercises, which John Flasher has already analyzed

in depth in his dissertation, might be presented as another example

of an extreme attempt, at least in this village, to instill an

unnatural, terrifying fear of God into the parishioners'hearts as

the basic element of their spiritual nourishment.

The bizarre personality of Luis Gonzaga P6rez goes hand in

hand with the discussion of the Holy Week liturgical services and

customs, for it is Luis who is most influenced by them. Although

a great many factors combine to drive Luis to insanity, it is

the Good Friday service (the Adoration of the Cross and the Mass

of the Presanctified) which serves as the catalyst to push him

over the brink. How and why this happens must inevitably involve

a discussion of his personality.

Luis Gonzaga Perez was an undeniably intelligent, yet proud

lad who had entered the Seminary bent on leading a saintly,

scholarly, industrious life. After returning from the Seminary to

the village for the summer, he decided to set up a daily work,

study and pray schedule, under which he thought he would groom

himself mentally and spiritually for his return to the Seminary.

However, the schedule was so rigorous that he did not have the

fortitude to stick by it, because in reality he lacked a true

religious vocation. When he dropped out of the Seminary, he was

congratulated by Father Reyes, one of the parish priests, who

correctly analyzed his motives for wanting to become a priest:

"Luis, t6 eres un cat6lico a lo Chateaubriand; de la religion te

gusta lo externo, que halague los sentidos. Apuesto que aspirabas

al sacerdocio por lucir los ornamentos, porque te besaran la mano,

etc. Hiciste bien destripando (119)."

The intelligence of Luis is brought out specifically by Church

liturgy, which completely provides him with the motivation he uses

to write articles and poems, and to create his strangely allegorical

incendios during Holy Week. It also reveals itself in his refusal

to accept as truth certain second-hand stories relating miraculous

events. When his mother tells him about how a stream rose up to

stop some soldiers from crossing, forcing them to go back, Luis'

reply is curt and to the point: "Las mojigangas de los indios.

Yo no s6 c6mo este cura tan celoso no ha acabado con ellas (111)."

In one way, the reader sympathizes with Luis. The coming of

Holy Week excites him and brings joy to him, which it should to

everyone: "Desde los aios de Seminario, quizg desde antes, la

llegada de la Semana Santa le produce un regocijo interior diffcil

de descubrir: quisiera componer armonfas, pintar grandes cuadros

murales, realizar un poema de proporciones o brevisimos versos que

fueran joyas de la literature universal (93)." This ecstasy that

he feels would be admirable, were it not that he fails utterly

to keep it in check. According to Porfirio Sanchez, this is due

to two reasons: Luis' pride, and because for him the liturgy is

an outlet for his sensuality. First, Sanchez describes Luis as
"el ex seminarista de orgullo satanico." This trait comes to the

fore when Luis, considering himself one of Mexico's great potential

intellectuals, is enraged when Father Martinez (don Dionisio) refuses

to allow him to take part in the Good Friday services for having

attended a meeting of Spiritists. This causes him to run out into

the country and meditate on the hill, which is the start of his

troubles. Secondly, Sanchez claims that "el muchacho encuentra en

las practices religiosas un medio para llegar a paroxismos de

sensaci6n que 41 clasifica como 'misticismo.'"29 While on the hill,

Luis creates his own Good Friday service; at the very least his

overly-fertile imagination has gone berserk on him, and from then

on, his discourse turns into one of evil vengeance toward Father

Martinez, rather than one of lament, which the actual Adoration of

the Cross emphasizes because of Christ's death on the cross.

As noted above, Sanchez mentions Luis in connection with

Satan; in the Good Friday scene on the hill, however, Luis also

becomes a demented Christ figure, as he sacrifices himself just as

Christ sacrificed himself for mankind on the cross. In addition,

he becomes the symbol of the priest in the ceremony, as well as

the Judas figure who wants to betray the figure of Christ in the

village, don Dionisio: ". no hablara ya nunca mas con el sefor

cura y tratar6 de que lo quiten del pueblo (112)." This complex

symbolism is consistent with the complex nature of Luis, and

parallels his mixed-up state of mind in this scene. Running

through his mind, as echoed from the village far in the distance,

is the refrain flectamus genua, levate from the Adoration of the

Cross. This sensuality stimulates Luis, as the liturgy always had;

and as Father Martinez recites the Ecce lignum Crucis, Luis

imitates him. This is a ceremony whereby a cloth covering the

cross to be venerated by the people is uncovered little by little,

each time with the repetition of the words ecce lignum crucis. As

the priest ascends the altar steps, he chants, and finally

prostrates himself at the foot of the cross. Luis does the same:

"A media que ascendfa por el monte iba repitiendo: --Ecce lignum

Crucis y postrandose con la cara en el suelo: --Venite,

adoremus (113)." The hill has converted itself into an altar of

sacrifice, and Luis, in effect, sacrifices himself as did Christ,

except that Luis is motivated by vengeance.

Luis continues by reciting Jesus' lament, which is also found

in the Good Friday text. The author's description of the landscape,

"terroso, calcinado, sin arboles (114)," compares favorably with

the landscape of the actual Calvary scene. Then, in Luis' final

harangue against the pueblo, this latter word acquires a double

meaning. He addresses himself to the pueblo in the sense of "town,"

but the word pueblo can also mean "people." In this sense, Luis

is converted into the figure of Christ, and this pueblo of Jalisco

becomes the entire Mystical Body of Christ, mankind on earth,

rejecting Luis (because he is rejected, alone out in the country)

as mankind rejected Christ:

--Pueblo mfo, amargo y sordo. Ingrato. Incom-
prensivo. Te quiero y me desprecias. Quiero tu glo-
ria y me humillas. Lucho por tu esplendor y me com-
bates. Mi esfuerzo es por tu renombre y te burlas
de mi. Me desvela tu prosperidad y haces ludibrio
de mis aspiraciones. Mi sacrificio te sirve de mofa.
Mis disciplines te hacen refr. Conviertes en escar-
nio mis obras y no hay empresa mia que no hagas past
de ridicule. En verdad te compararon con Jerusalen.
Dia llegar6 en que tu dureza se convierta en asom-
bro, tu desamor en blandura. Cuando escuches llegar
mi nombre por trompetas de fama. Entonces te arre-
pentirds de las vergUenzas que me diste y querras
atraerme a tu regazo, ahora hosco, pueblo mio her-
m6tico (115-16).

The comparison with Christ is evident, but it is a bitter, ego-

tistical Christ. In the end, the hopeless contradiction that is

Luis crystallizes as the Judas and Christ figures that he represents

come together: "Pueblo mio, yo vencer6 tu obstinaci6n, yo vencere

la obstinaci6n de tu cura y tu ceguera. He nacido para salvarte

y tus escarnios me exaltaran (117-18)." Luis feels that he is

motivated by a desire to glorify the village, in the sense that

once he becomes famous as an intellectual, the village will reap

some of his glory also. But his sincerity is doubtful, especially

since by this time his mind is turned. His cries of flectamus

genua, levate, are intermingled with liturgical elements from the

Stations of the Cross: "Adormioste, Cristo, y bendecimoste: que

por vuestra Santa Cruz redimiste al mundo y a mi, pecador; amen

(119)." This could be a mixup on the part of Luis in his recollection

of the liturgy, indicating that his mind is going.

The next day, in a state of delirium, Luis becomes engrossed

with the ritual of Holy Saturday: "Al amanecer, cuando prenden el

fuego nuevo (145)." He compares his situation to that of Holy

Saturday morning. Had he died out on the hill, his soul would be

newly lit, like the blessing of the new fire. This is another

indication of the strong imaginative power that a Church service

can have on a youth. Y~aez himself was tremendously taken with

the liturgy while young, as is evidenced from the constant litur-

gical descriptions in his semi-autobiographical Flor de juegos

antiguos. And it appears that he is somewhat awed even now at the

splendor of this Holy Week pageantry from his detailed description

of it. Unfortunately, here it works against Luis, given his state

of mind. He has arrived at the point of being so immersed in the

rituals that certain basic principles that form their bases become

a mystery to him. For example, in reference to the Holy Saturday

ritual, he speaks of the "tres--misteriosas--velas de la cana (146)

." In this service the three candles symbolize the Blessed

Trinity, which has now come to the fore since the gates of heaven

have been reopened. This symbolism is emphasized three times with

the words Lumen Christi as each candle is lighted. But for Luis

this is obscured by the pageantry that surrounds it: the basic

principle escapes him.

In summary, these liturgical elements in Al filo del agua

serve as a background which aids in revealing and reflecting certain

character traits; and, in the case of Luis Gonzaga Perez, they

serve as a catalyst which is the primary motivating factor in

setting his disastrous actions in motion. Despite all of this,

the tragedy of Luis would not have had to happen. Two other

factors contributed to its occurrence: the arrival of Victoria in

the village, which unleashed Luis' baser passions; and the influence

on Luis of Father Islas (who will be discussed later in detail).

It was Luis' mistake to choose him as his confessor, and Luis'

desire to discipline himself too rigidly can certainly be attributed

in part to Father Islas' viewpoints and his super-scrupulosity.

In contrast to the spectacular celebration of Lent in Al filo

del agua, in Las tierras flacas Lent passes the people by with

hardly a word spoken. The beginning of Lent is ushered in together

with the beginning of the windstorms that lash the Tierra Santa at

about that time, an indication of the sacrifice and suffering that

it stands for: "Se habian soltado los ventarrones que anunciaban

la llegada de la cuaresma (220)." The next indication is found

thirteen pages later: "Corri6 la cuaresma en una calma chicha,

entrecruzada de rumors (233)." It is an especially quiet Lent,

liturgically speaking, because hostilities have broken out on the

plain. Everyone is outraged at the crime perpetrated by the

Trujillos, that of shooting R6mulo's and Merced's dogs and stealing

from them their coveted relic, the sewing machine. This prevailing

uneasiness prevents many people from participating in Holy Week

ceremonies: "Con tanta inquietud, escasos vecinos hicieron jornada

al pueblo para visitar las Siete Casas y concurrir a las procesiones

de Semana Santa, que otros aios vacian los ranchos (236)."

As a result of this, the inhabitants, forced to stay home on

the plain, must grope for a way to celebrate the Lenten season

that is an integral part of their religion. They find it from a

most unusual source: the interplay of colors that the landscape

of the Tierra Santa offers them. In the minds of the people, the

colors become symbolic, and convert themselves into a form of

Church liturgy, in the sense that liturgy can be an outward

manifestation of worshipping God. Just as in Al filo del agua, this

is a heavy emphasis on the sensual aspect of the liturgy. It is

felt by everyone, even, to a certain extent, by Epifanio Trujillo.

Earlier, as Epifanio gloats over the prospect of possibly inventing

a false miracle which would bring people to Bel4n from miles

around, he envisions a chapel "humeada con tantas velas, irrespirable

con el olor de tantas flores, brillante de lamparas y exvotos de

plata, reventando los cepos de limosnas (56-57)."

Returning to the color scheme of the landscape, the first

evidence of color symbolism is seen on the mountains, which are

red as blood, symbolizing the blood Christ shed for the human

race on Good Friday:

Para los desterrados en este rinc6n del mundo,
la cuaresma se reduce a sentir los colors con que
la resequedad cubre campos y montafas, revisti4ndo-
les metalica solemnidad. Seg6n es la hora y la tem-
perie del dia, el gran velo oxidado refulge o amor-
tigua sus matices. A la mahana, el sol-- oblicuo en

la iniciaci6n primaveral-- unta de sangre tierna,
luminosa, los altos acantilados, los desmoches y res-
quebrajaduras de la cordillera, como pedazos de es-
pejos encendidos en carmin, o tajos de corales al
fuego (239-40). .

This symbol is elaborated on farther down, and is combined with

purple hues, a symbol of the repentance that all should feel on

Good Friday:

El aire seco rompe obstaculos y distancias a la trans-
verberaci6n, que hiere ambitos y dilata los ardientes,
profundos, contritos colors cuaresmales, a media que
sube la mahana el camino del mediodia. La implacable,
creciente crudeza de reflejos muestra la desnudez, la
desolaci6n de la tierra; su piel despellejada por to-
das parties; manchada de inflamaciones y gangrenas;
como nazareno caido en medio de montafas, todo el
cuerpo azotado por turbas de huizaches, que invaden
el scenario, encarnizadamente (240).

It is at this point that the height of the suffering of Christ

is felt, as well as the height of individual repentance. However,

as the agony passes, the intensity of the colors slowly passes,

and this parallels the lessening in suffering and in the feeling

of individual guilt. The time of day involved, as in Christ's

agony on the cross, is the three hour period from twelve to three

o'clock. When the time passes, the reader receives indications of

the approach of the time of rejoicing, Easter Sunday. A crust of

red is now partially gold. On Easter Sunday, in a spirit of

gladness and rejoicing, the priest will wear gold vestments in

celebration, contrasting with the purple vestments of Lent. A

glimpse of that is revealed here, and also signs of light, barely

discernible, are seen in the east, as opposed to the dark shadows

in the west. The reader feels himself in a state of limbo, waiting

for something to break:

Colores requemados: costra de sangre oreada en la ex-
tensi6n del Llano. Transcurridas las tres horas de
agonia, los colors entran en reposo, se suavizan,
juegan con los huizaches, las veredas y cercas; co-
rren por las laderas; lamen mansamente las heridas y
costras del paisaje; aclaran perspectives, resal-
tandolas. El ocre sangriento se mitiga. En su des-
cendimiento, el sol derrama yodo gradualmente carga-
do El mundo vuelve a dividirse: las tierras al
occidente caen condenadas a rapidas sombras: el
oriented levanta defenses de luz Al yodo se mez-
clan azafranes y aiiles. El gran velo vuelve a ser
morado, corroido de oxidaciones y escaras, que avan-
zan de poniente a oriented, precipitando lutos (240-

This description combining nature with religion can only be

described as masterful, and these colors move the people, as well

as the reader, to emotional heights they do not reach in other

seasons of the year, as if this beautiful scene presented itself

only in Lent: "En el sentimiento, en la sensaci6n cuaresmal de

los colors, los vecinos toman visperas, comen ansias, comulgan

en la religion de la tierra tratan de adivinar la suerte,

de hallar en los distintos rumbos del cielo, en los colors del

cielo, seiales (241). ." Thus the religion becomes the land,

and vice versa. Even the Holy Eucharist, which the people cannot

normally receive, is found in the land, which is about all the

people have. Even the winds, symbolic of the Lenten season in

the Tierra Santa, cease as Easter Sunday approaches: "Enigma de

los vientos. Los ventarrones van cesando (242)." As Lent ends,

one final line from the Holy Week liturgy crosses the pages of

the novel: the crowing of the cock, mentioned numerous times in

both novels, referring to the sign of the denial of Peter in the

Passion of Our Lord: "Esperanza y angustia puestas en el velo de

pdjaros y abejas; en el caminar de hormigas y asquiles; en los

gallos cuando cambia su hora de cantar (242). ."

The only other substitute the people have for the conventional

Church liturgy are the pastoral plays that are presented at special

times of the year corresponding to liturgical feast days. They

are generally presented with splendid pageantry and, in opposition

to the attitude of Al filo del agua, are celebrated in times of

rejoicing, particularly the feasts of Christmas and the Epiphany.

The subtle difference of attitude of the people of the Tierra

Santa, in comparison with the villagers of Al filo del agua, comes

to light after a disturbance sours the performance of the Christmas

pastoral. The author comments: "Habia de ser esta noche del

veinticinco de diciembre, dfa en que naci6 Nuestro Sefor. (Peor

que si fuera Viernes Santo) (176)." This puts Christmas in its

rightful place as one of the greatest feast days in the Liturgical

Year, the only greater one being that of Easter Sunday. Perhaps

the most elegant pastoral is the one occurring on the Epiphany,

after which Epifanio Trujillo is named. In comparison with, say,

a given liturgical procession or service in Church on a given day,

the pastorals often cover a far greater span of historical time,

and can be staged with greater freedom of space and props. The

Epiphany pastoral runs from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise

to the visit of the three Wise Men to the manger of Christ. Magni-

ficent horses and costumes contribute to the enjoyment of the plays.

However, due to the nature of the atmosphere in which these

plays are acted out, the result is that they turn out to be nothing

more than entertainment, in the same way that any secular play

would be entertainment. Although religious fervor can originate

from viewing the pastorals, the possibilities are limited for the

audience to meditate on the various elements of their religious

faith presented. Therefore, they fall only on the very outskirts

of what might be termed "liturgical ceremonies."

The seven sacraments of the Church do not receive a great deal

of consideration in the two novels, with the possible exceptions

of Baptism, Penance and Matrimony. In Al filo del agua, as in

Las tierras flacas, Baptism signifies a beginning, both in a

spiritual and temporal sense. In one scene Luis Gonzaga P6rez

has this in mind as he begins the day: ". hoy se ha levantado

con gran agilidad spiritual .. siete veces ha puesto la cabeza

dentro del aguamanil rebosante (92)." But even Baptism, by which

a soul is reborn into favor with God, is made to appear distasteful:

. hay un olor suyo, inconfundible, olor sudoroso, sabor salino,

en los rincones de los confesionarios, en las capillas oscurecidas,

en la pila bautismal (7). ." A bit of salt is placed on the

tongue of the person baptized, symbolizing the knowledge of God

and the protection from evil; but the effect achieved in the

description of the'Acto Preparatorio" is not one of joy, but of


In Las tierras flacas, Baptism for the most part is not con-

sidered from the spiritual point of view, but from the secular one.

With regard to the name symbolism prevalent in the novel, the author

speaks of the "bautizo legendario que convirti6 al Llano de los

Tepetates en el Plan de la Tierra Santa (54)." Just as man is

given a name, and just as man's soul is reborn with a spiritual

meaning through Baptism, so does the land acquire a spiritual

meaning by being "baptized" with a new name. Perhaps this religious

name that the land acquires also enables the people to better see

the Lenten symbolism in its hues.

Nevertheless, aside from this concept, which has religious

overtones, Baptism takes on a secular meaning only. For Epifanio

Trujillo, it is nothing more than a means to determine who will

be his heir.. This is why he meditates for several years before

baptizing one of his offspring, comparing the waiting period with

the years of training taken by a monk:

Tambi4n me motejan por el tiempo que me tomo para
llevar los crfos a bautizar, que es tanto como ha-
cerlos mis herederos: yo no mas pregunto cuantos
aios duran los frailes en el noviciado; no asi como
asi, porque no es de enchilame la otra, voy a repar-
tir mi nombre, mis drogas, mis pocos terrones y unos
cuantos centavos que alcance a juntar (53). .

As a result, Baptism becomes more of a tradition than a

sacrament as such. This general idea of religion being a tradition

rather than something spiritually beneficial is not uncommon in

Latin America.

The black, forbidden nature of Matrimony in Al filo del agua

has already been seen in the "Acto Preparatorio," chiefly perpetrated

by Father Islas. Rarely is it viewed in any other way, except on

page 231 when Father Rosas, describing a wedding, teases Father

Islas: "tocar6 una misica de viento, luego seguir6 un gran comelit6n

y a los ocho dias habr6 tornaboda, como Dios manda." This is more

in line with the Old Testament concept of a wedding being a great

celebration. In spite of the Old Testament Biblical atmosphere of

Las tierras flacas, however, Matrimony is neither brought up in

this sense nor as a sacrament. For Epifanio Trujillo, it is a

completely foreign idea, unrelated to his way of life. The only

one to ever convince him of the value of Matrimony was Te6fila,

as revealed indirectly by Epifanio himself: "iPalabra! por ella

fue la 6nica vez que llegu6 a flaquear en lo tocante a casorio:

alli qued4 convencido de que velo y mortaja del cielo baja (58)."

But again, Matrimony is not considered a sacrament as such, nor is

the sacrament of Penance, except in general terms.

In Al filo del agua Penance plays a more important role. The

format for going to confession reflects the way of life in the

village. Before one steps into the confessional to confess his sins

and receive absolution, he pauses in the pews for a few minutes and

makes an examination of conscience. This is exactly what life in

the village is: a constant examination of conscience. The tragedy,

because normally a daily examination of conscience is a positive

trait, is that scrupulosity dominates to the point where the exam-

ination of conscience turns into mere self-torture. Running

consistently through the narration is a series of interrogatives

which refer to a rigorous examination of conscience, as in the

author's description of the spiritual exercises: "El quinto

mandamiento fu4 la material de la platica moral y del examen de

conciencia, ese dfa. ('Quien, que, en d6nde, a qui6n, cuintas

veces, por qu6, de qu4 manera, cuando.') (62-63)" Later, this

series of interrogatives is repeated as the men on retreat make a

general confession, usually made only on special occasions such

as retreats. A general confession is not a public confession made

in a group, but a private review in the confessional of one's whole

life, in order to receive a new perspective on where one should

be going.

One of the misconceptions of the villagers which constantly

crops up in the novel has to do with their emphasis on the absolute

necessity of a last confession for anyone before he dies. It is

brought out with regard to whether or not Timoteo Lim6n's wife died

with confession right before her death: "('iNo, no --dice la intima

conciencia empavorecida de los que oyen y aun de la que habla--,

que no nos coja sin confesar!) (134)" The implied misconception

here is that the formal ritual of the sacrament of Penance makes

all the difference. Receiving secondary emphasis is the question

of whether the person's soul is in the state of grace at the time

of his death. If so, then a last-minute confession, though highly

desirable, is not essential. This is yet another manifestation of

the overemphasis on the exterior aspects of the liturgy. Confession

is looked upon as an "absolution machine" which functions the same

regardless of the condition of the individual's soul, and completely

apart from the sincerity of his intentions.

The appearances of the Blessed Virgin, the Devil, Christ, the

angels and the saints in the two works serve a variety of functions

according to the intentions of the author. Considering first the

Blessed Virgin, note that in Las tierras flacas she is the object

of special, intense devotion. Aside from its intensity, it has no

other unusual characteristics. The portrayal of her character in

the pastorals is uniform, in the sense that it is a representative

combination of the traditional qualities she is usually considered

to possess. Lacking in this novel is a heavy emphasis on the rosary,

the traditional medium through which one prays to her.

On the other hand, in Al filo del agua the Blessed Virgin means

different things to different people, and many individuals think of

her in terms of only one particular side of her personality as the

Mexican conceives it. In various parts of the novel she will

represent either 1) spotless purity; 2) patriotism; 3) sorrow;

4) motherhood; or 5) conquest and triumph.

The first two attributes can best be discussed in terms of

the rivalry and differences of opinion between two of the village's

parish priests: Father Islas and Father Reyes. The former is the

most austere of the priests when it comes to matters of self-

discipline and scrupulosity, and his fanatical repression of anything

and everything that might even remotely have a sexual connotation

does much harm to the people of the village, particularly to Luis

Gonzaga P6rez. The harshness of Father Islas is brought out in

page after page of bone-chilling description. His only conception

of the Blessed Virgin relates to her impeccable chastity: "Cuintos

esponsales ha impedido; a cugntos otros ha llevado dudas y remordimientos.

Nada podra convencerlo de que la virginidad no es el estado perfect.

Invariablemente habla de 'la Santisima Virgen', de 'la siempre

Inmaculada y sin mancilla'; nunca la llama 'Nuestra Sefora' o

'Nuestra Madre' (230). ." Not only does Father Islas emphasize

this one aspect alone of the Blessed Virgin, but he gives the

people something of a misimpression of her nature. When he speaks

of "la siempre Inmaculada y sin mancilla," he is referring to the

Church doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This does not

allude to Mary's leading the life of a virgin, but rather her

preservation from original sin. Father Islas apparently has no

desire to teach this to the people as it should be taught. Instead,

he simply fuses this doctrine with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth

(another matter entirely), because he is so preoccupied and intent

on condemning all sex, including sex within the sacrament of Matrimony.

Father Reyes is the so-called "progressive" priest of the

village who is convinced that Father Islas' points of view are

doing more harm than good. In attempting to combat this super-

scrupulosity, Father Reyes makes few, if any, references to the

purity of Mary. Instead, he stresses Our Lady of Guadalupe from

time to time, and uses her as something of a patriotic symbol.

She is the patron saint of Mexico, and according to the story, she

appeared to Juan Diego near Mexico City in 1531, asking him to go

to the bishop and plead for the construction of a church at that

spot. The church was constructed, and inside is Mary's shroud

with her image miraculously imprinted upon it. Today, many Mexicans

make pilgrimages to the shrine in order to venerate her.

Although the primary connotation associated with Our Lady of

Guadalupe is a religious one, it also implies a patriotic connota-

tion that Father Islas wants nothing to do with. The rivalry

between the two priests is manifested in the competition to have

the best service on the respective feast days: ".. ya el aho

pasado surgieron pequeios incidents por el celo de dar mas

lucimiento a cada una de las dos funciones (305). ." The fact

that the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Guadalupe, on

the eighth and twelfth of December respectively, fall so close

together gives the people a chance to compare their relative merits.

Whereas previously the feast of the Immaculate Conception always

took precedence, in the novel Father Reyes gets the upper hand,

winning the admiration of the people for his presentation on the

feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The most interesting thing about

the whole matter is that the people are moved by the exterior

aspects of the presentation, not by the basic concept which ideally

motivates it, and not by the aspect of patriotism that Father Reyes

stresses: "la seriedad, la inmovilidad a lo largo del trayecto

y la buena caracterizaci6n del nino que hacia de Juan Diego,

maravillaron al pueblo (316). ."

The third aspect of Mary's character which is emphasized is

her sorrowful aspect. Already the impact of the Stabat Mater

Sequence on the psyche of the people has been shown as an example

to illustrate this. It is the people of the village with personal

problems who tend to look upon her as an essentially sorrowful

figure, such as Bartolo Jimenez, whose daughter was originally

going to marry Damian Lim6n. Two nearly identical references are

seen with respect to Bartolo and Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

In these scenes, in which Bartolo feels himself to be on the verge

of desperation, he subconsciously assumes the role of Mary the

victim, identifying with her sorrow: "Lo que descubri6 --ese dfa

veinticuatro de agosto de mil novecientos nueve--, fue peor que

si Damian le hubiera pegado siete tiros en el coraz6n (168)."

Throughout the novel Damian has taken on the role of enemy of the

Catholic faith in the minds of the people, and Bartolo serves to

highlight this image:

Fue una fiereza contenida de muchos aios que de pron-
to estallaba, mirando a Bartolo con rencor y resenti-
miento, como a viejo enemigo, como a ladr6n que inicua,
injustamente la poseyera, como a verdugo, como a cau-
sante de la desgracia caida sobre Damian. Peor que
si 6ste lo hubiese dejado seco, abati6ndolo con siete
tiros en el coraz6n (274).

In contrast to, and despite, the image of the Blessed Virgin

that Father Islas is always trying to convey, Marta, one of the

two nieces of don Dionisio, cannot look upon her in any other way

than from the motherhood aspect. This corresponds to the term that

Father Islas most abhors relating to Mary: "Nuestra Sefora." The

reader has realized from almost the very beginning of the novel

that Marta suffers from a frustrated desire to become a mother,

to have a child and hold him in her arms. For her every small

child, especially Pedrito, for whom she has a special fondness, is

the image of the Christ child. At age twenty-seven as the novel

unfolds, under the supervision of Father Martfnez, she lives a

frustrating life of true martyrdom. Perhaps the situation is aggra-

vated because she is a quiet, respectful, hermetic individual who

keeps her emotions and longings to herself instead of allowing them

to rise to the surface, as does Maria. Of all the characters who

take a one-sided view of the Blessed Mother, Marta's justification

for this seems to be the most reasonable, and the most understandable:

CJNo es rebeldia la tristeza -- como envidia del bien
extraio-- que l6timamente le ocasiona la vista y tra-
to de los niios? Zla tristeza --como miedo de morir
o de pecar-- que desde abril, desde que Pedrito que-
d6 hu4rfano, viene asaltindola? el rehuir con tris-
teza la indagaci6n --excitante, deleitable, temerosa--
del misterio materno, hecho patronato en Maria Auxi-
liadora, la Virgen del Niho en brazos (307)?

For Marta, the taking on of Mary as the patron of her longing

for motherhood represents a yearning for a goal which every girl,

under certain conditions, has a right to. Marta is not motivated

in the least by any base motive such as self-pity, self-rightousness,

or vengeance.

The final role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Al filo del agua

is that of a conqueror, which will introduce discussion of one of

the most important personalities in the novel: the Devil. He is

the most dangerous and feared of all the enemies of the villagers

and the priests, and in their minds perhaps the only one. Conquering

the Devil is a formidable task, even an impossible one in the sense

that no one in the village can hope to completely eliminate his

temptations; therefore no one feels competent to fight him. This

is why they resort to supernatural forces to help them in this

battle. The Blessed Mother becomes a natural ally. Luis Gonzaga

Perez certainly feels incapable of conquering the Devil all by

himself, which explains his conduct on the hill when a serpent

passes by him. The serpent is the time-honored symbol of the Devil,

and Luis' ineptitude in fighting him is reflected by his reticence

in killing this serpent. On the symbolic level, this refusal to

act has its consequences, as Luis succumbs totally to the wiles of

Satan. Thus, in Al filo del agua the concepts of the enemy and

the Devil become virtually synonymous. Physical enemies such as

federal troops represent evil,'but ultimately they can all be

traced to the Devil; the people feel that it is one's spiritual

enemy which is to be most feared. The Devil has the capability of

attacking at any moment of the day, and moments of idleness are

the most dangerous. This is exemplified when Micaela's mother

scolds her for lying in bed and debating as to whether or not to

get up: "Nomas estas allf despierta, sin levantarte, que esa es

la mejor hora del diablo para infundir malos pensamientos (90)."

The concept of don Dionisio as a Christ figure in the novel

becomes clearer in juxtaposition with the Devil. When the priest

has his nightmarish dream involving bizarre combinations of per-

sonalities and unknown identities, he assumes that the Devil is

behind it all; the Devil thereby symbolizes temptation, and the

distinction is made to the reader between actual sin, and merely

the temptation to sin. Often this distinction does not make itself

clear in the minds of the characters of the novel. To point out

that Christ Himself was tempted by the Devil, but did not sin,

accentuates it sharply. Don Dionisio does this here: "%el Demonio?

De pronto un fogonazo ilumina su conciencia: --'iEs el Demonio!

iRetirate, Satanas, pues qued6 escrito que no has de tener parte

en mi, ni lograras perturbarme (211)!'" Another juxtaposition of

the Devil is with St. Michael, because of this saint's affinity

with him as a conqueror. Since St. Michael appears often in both

works, discussion of him will be postponed until the section on

the angels.

If it can be said that the Devil practically assumes the

stature of a character in the novel, so great is his influence in

the unfolding of the plot, then the personality he acquires combines

a number of personality traits garnered from different people.

Luis Gonzaga P6rez and Gabriel, two of the most psychologically

complex characters, show similarities at various times to the Devil,

as does the extremely stern and impenetrable Father Islas. With

regard to Gabriel, Yafez is correct in stating: "tenfa much de

arcangel y much de demonio (188) ." His affinity with the

archangel Gabriel, the dominant theme of his being which will be

discussed later, is also combined with certain Christ-like and

demonic traits which contribute to his complexity.

In both novels the Devil is associated with evil, but in each

of the two novels the concept of evil is taken in a different

sense. In Al filo del agua evil refers not merely to the bad

results of temptation, but also to temptation itself. And evil,

being thus taken completely on the spiritual level, does not

crystallize into anything tangible that can be measured, at least

not in terms of physical quantity.

This is not the case in Las tierras flacas. In addition to

the treatment he receives in Al filo del agua, here the people

associate the Devil many times with progress: things like weather

vanes, electricity and airplanes. The idea that change is to be

resisted and should be avoided is shown not only in the people's

aversion to the coming of electricity, but in the very structure

of the novel. From the beginning, the Old Testament Biblical

atmosphere labels the region as antiquated with regard to material

progress. Thousands of years passed in the Old Testament without

any material progress being made. The implication is, therefore,

that progress is also foreign to the Tierra Santa. When progress

does arrive, the people associate it with the Devil; actually, it

might be considered to parallel the coming of Christ, who changed

the way of life of the Old Testament people, just as electricity

will change the way of life in this region.

The airplane becomes the most evident symbol of the Devil in

Las tierras flacas, as it flies over the region for the first time,

startling the natives. The Blessed Virgin is not called upon to

conquer him, but extensive use is made of symbolic signs and

sacramentals to ward him off, such as making crosses in the air;

the airplane passes so quickly that one man states: "ni tiempo

hubo de sacar agua y velas benditas que hay en algunas casas,

a prevention (81)."

In summary, the Devil in Al filo del agua symbolizes temptation,

plays the role in a foil to the Christ-like personality of the

parish priest, and is incarnated partially in several of the novel's

characters. In Las tierras flacas, he symbolizes progress in the

region, and highlights some of the superstitions of the region's


Several times in both works, various characters exhibit

characteristics which give them a certain affinity with Jesus Christ,

but only on occasion. Nowhere is the concept of Christ more evi-

dent than in the personality of don Dionisio. He represents Christ

in the village as its pastor; but more than that, his actions and

intentions conform consistently with those of the God-man, rather

than merely reminding the reader of Him once in a while.

Among the references which link don Dionisio with Christ is

the author's statement that in the confessional the parish priest

"se transfigura (42)," an obvious association with Christ's

transfiguration before Peter, James and John.30 This provides an

example of an exaggeration on the part of Yanez, as seen from the

people's point of view, conceivably for the purpose of graphically

bringing this comparison to the reader's attention to prepare him

for other parallels to come. In a similar fashion, don Dionisio

is said to have sweated blood, as did Christ in His agony in the

garden: "No podia ser sino sangre lo que sudaba don Dionisio en

aquellos moments (211)." Whether or not he really did sweat blood

in this case is secondary to the purpose of the passage, that of

establishing don Dionisio forcefully in the reader's mind as an

extraordinarily concerned, saintly, yet tortured figure. This agony

receives the greatest emphasis of all the attributes of the priest,

especially the concern he suffers for his fellow man, paralleling

Christ's concern for the human race. For example, just as don

Dionisio prays for his assistant priests after supper during Retreat

(69), so Christ prayed for His Apostles after the Last Supper. A

few pages later, Yanez characterizes him as John characterizes

Christ in his Gospel: "Como hubiese amado a los suyos, que vivian
en el mundo, los am6 hasta el fin (101)." This accentuates the

love, humility and dedication of the man.

Don Dionisio's model of imitation is Christ Himself, and as

a result he often finds himself abiding rigidly by the example set

forth by Christ as a standard and guide to his own conduct. In

the same nightmare referred to previously, he confuses the identity

of Marfa and Marta, and momentarily lacks Christian charity:

Don Dionisio la mira como Cristo a los mercaderes
venidos al temple. Era tal aquella mirada, que la
mujer, entire gritos, articul6 estas palabras:
--";Lo quise! jLo quiero todavia! Yo soy la cul-
pable. iFu6 por mi gusto!" Enloquecido, sin control,
don Dionisio lanza puntapies a la pecadora. --"Nues-
tro Sefor no trat6 asi a Maria Magdalena, ni siquiera
a la mujer addltera (212)."

When Christ lost His temper with the money-changers in the temple,32

this was considered to be a just anger on His part. Thus by

extension don Dionisio's anger might be considered the same. The

difference is that don Dionisio feels anguish created by the fact

that he is not sure if his anger in this case is justified or not.

The example of Christ shames him, and remembering how Mary Magdalene

and the adulterous woman were treated, his torture is increased

by his own constant self-examination and self-doubt.

It would perhaps be valuable to examine briefly the similarities

and differences between don Dionisio and one of the most famous

Christ-like figures of the twentieth century novel in Spain, Don

Manuel of Miguel de Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno, martir. The

similarities are many. Both priests have as their only concern

the welfare of their village parishoners. Both are highly influential

in the thought processes of the people under their care. Both men

fight themselves: don Dionisio is tortured by scruples relating

to the question of whether or not he has done his best, and Don

Manuel suffers because of his own lack of ability to grasp intel-

lectually, and thereby believe in, the concept of life after death.

The fact that the situations of the two priests are not dissim-

iliar is indicated by various direct points of comparison in the

two novels. Both have a very emotional people as parishoners,

people who are more than willing to attribute otherwise explainable

phenomena to miracles. The people's claim in Al filo del agua that

once on Good Friday a statue of the Blessed Virgin sweat blood (82)

is similar to the belief of the people of Valverde de Lucerna that

the statue of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows had called out "jhijo
mio!" to Don Manuel. Actually, it was Don Manuel's own mother

who had physically exclaimed this in church.

Both priests are unable on a given occasion to distribute

communion, and they faint: "Don Dionisio se levant, dijo misa;

pero no pudo cumplir el deseo de llevar la comuni6n, por el pueblo,

a todos los enfermos; casi se habia desvanecido al fin del

Sacrificio (163-64). ." The same thing happened with Don Manuel

as he attempted to give Lizaro his first communion: