The Ring of General Macias

Introduction:

 

Many writers have been interested in the theme of loyalty and betrayal from ancient Sophocles and his masterpiece Antigone, to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to Carmen Taffola’s Marked, and finally Josephina Niggli and her amazing play, The Ring of General Macias. Each one of the mentioned works relates to different aspects of the mentioned theme. Yet, the most critical question comes when loyalty or betrayal is accompanied with issues of life and death. At that point, the real question is dropped: When is it justifiable to betray ones country and beliefs or when is it righteous to take a life in order to preserve one’s honor?

 

Part One: Analysis of The Ring Of General Macias:

 

-I-

 

1- About the Author:

 

Josephina Niggli, an acknowledged author and playwright was born on July 13 1912 in Monterrey Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Soon at the age of fifteen, young Josephina was sent to San Antonio to attend school. This indeed cut her off her heritage and built some feelings of isolation, for she has longed for her homeland and the warmth of its people. And yet, there is no doubt that those same feelings have emerged in many of her prominent writings. Her first book which lies under the title “Mexican Silhouettes” revealed a great deal about her childhood and more about the Mexican Heritage.

 

In most of her work, Niggli has presented the reader with both sides (Anglo and Mexican) of her heritage. She grew up speaking both English and Spanish fluently. And finally received her degree in Philosophy and History at the College of Incarnate Word. Later in her life, she worked as a stable anonymous writer at the “Twentieth Century Fox.” Being a stable writer didn’t put her in the spotlight, though she participated in many notable movies such as “The Mask of Zorro” and “Sombrero”. Later on, she devoted her experience and skills in teaching at the Faculty of Western California University. Above all, most of her works present the reader with a touch of the Mexican heritage. Yet, most importantly, the play in our hands is considered a masterpiece.

 

2- Background Check: The Mexican Revolution

 

The Mexican Revolution started in 1910, when Francisco Madero rose against the Dictatorship and its unjust system that caused many of the citizens (farmers) to suffer and die out of hunger. This revolution is considered one of the most important revolutions in the history of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the Revolution extended to a multi- civil war which lasted till 1920. Yet, the same revolution gave birth to the Mexican constitution in 1917 and helped form and shapes the Mexican identity.

 

3 - Setting:

 

In a play, the setting is a very vital element. It helps the audience draw a specific time frame and is responsible for making the play realistic or not. The Ring of General Macias for example, is set in the luxurious house of General Macias just outside Mexico City in 1912 during the Mexican Revolution. This precise time fame makes loyalty and betrayal a key issue. Niggli describes the house using the stage directions to help set the stage for the performance on one hand and to aid the reader visualize the life style back then. “The living room of General Macias’s home is luxuriously furnished in the gold and ornate style of Louis VXI. In the right wall are French widows leading into the patio. Flanking these windows are low bookcases. In the back wall is, Right, a closet door, and Center, a table holding wine decanter and glasses.”From the given details we can view the house in every single manner. This shows that General Macias is either an Aristocrat or a prominent commander in the army.

 

The setting is a crucial element and gives the play a glimpse of reality. While Raquel, the major character in the story enjoys a luxurious life, the farmers on the other hand, are struggling to find food and many have died out of hunger. If Niggli has changed the set , altered or dismissed the stage directions in any manner, the play would rather be a vague or unrealistic one.

 

 

3-Summary:

 

Raquel the main character is on one night interrupted by two spies from the Revolutionary Army who have decided to take refuge in her mansion. She discovers that from Andres and Cleto that her husband (a prominent general in the Federal Army) deliberately betrayed his own country in order to have his life spared. She is then faced with a crucial question: Should she help those spies and betray her country in order to spare her husband’s life? When soldiers of the Federal Army barge into the house, Raquel is obliged to hide the spies. As a reward, Andres decides to deliver a message to her husband. Yet, Raquel has already made up her mind and decided to murder the spies using poisoned wine. Thus, she remains loyal to her government and preserves her husband’s honor.

 

­-II-

 

Elements of Drama:

 

 

1-Characters: A character is a person who appears in a play and acts his role on stage. The attitude, movement, method of speech among other stuffs her shape a character’s personality. The latter is based on the playwright’s stage directions and words. In our play, we have two sorts of roles played by the characters. The characters are either loyal to the Federal Government or to the Revolutionary Army.

 

a- Raquel: Raquel is from top to bottom loyal to her government. In my opinion, she is the kind of character that gets the reader to think numerously when trying to analyze her character and personality. As for a start, she comes from a family that overvalues honor and reputation. She was born in a grand house in Tabasco and went to a school of nuns in Paris. Raquel also married one of the richest men in the Republic. She is introduced at the beginning of the play. By the help of stage directions the reader and the audience as well can visualize a great woman, “The woman has a queenly air, and whether she is actually beautiful or not people think she is. She is thirty two.” It is pretty obvious that she comes from an aristocratic family and is used to the luxurious life style that her husband General Macias has ensured for her, “The living room of General Macias’s home is luxuriously furnished in the gold and ornate style of Louis XVI.” Josephina portrays Raquel as a believer who considers that “Man should fight for what they believe in.” She tells Marica that “It is an honorable thing to die for your country as a soldier.” It is also admirable that Raquel was able to hide Andres and Cleto under the Federal soldiers noses without being discovered. She finally discovers that her husband deliberately betrayed his country and decides to commit murder in order to preserve her husband’s honor and protect her country. There is no doubt that the choice Raquel had to make is an extremely rough and unfair one. Yet, she seems abnormally composed at the end of the play. Thanks to Josephina, Raquel is one admirable character who will remain in the readers’ heart and soul.

 

b- Andres de la O: A captain in the Revolutionary Army who seems to share some fragments of his miserable life with Raquel. He was thrown in jail at a young age for stealing five oranges due to extreme starvation. As time passed, his hate for the unjust government grew since his mother died on the streets due to famine when he was in prison. At some early point of the story he is considered the protagonist character. Raquel also represents the Aristocrats while Andres and Cleto represents the working class and farmers who live in despair. Above all, his courage and self esteem is splendid. And yet, there is no doubt that he possess all the traits of a great leader. His complete devotion to his cause makes him stand out. Yet, Andres deserve the reader and captures the audience eye.

 

c- Basilio Flores (Minor Character): A captain in the Federal Army who is introduced in the middle of the play as an opposing force. He is searching for two spies and is very determinate when it comes to finding them. Flores is compassionate when it comes to Raquel’s so called unfortunate cousin when in fact; the reader knows that it is Andres in disguise.

 

d- Cleto (minor character): He is a private in the Revolutionary Army. Cleto shows complete loyalty to his captain and is ready to lay down his life for him. He believes that Andres “Is a great man”.

 

e- Marica (minor character): The sister in law of Raquel who lost her husband at war. She is devastated by the loss and tries to commit suicide.

 

2-Point of View:

 

Niggli uses the third person point of view omniscient when it comes to her play- considering the stage directions only-. “Raquel snaps the light. She buries her face in her hands for a while.” The reader and the audience know that Andres is disguised and Raquel’s cousin , but Flores is unaware of that.

 

3-Genre:

 

This piece of work is a play written by Josephina Niggli to be performed on a stage in front of an audience. The play contains all the main elements of drama and revolves around the theme of loyalty and betrayal. The stage directions help the reader in visualizing the scene and the actors performing. There is no doubt that this play depicts the Mexican Revolution in every single feature.

 

4- Dialogue:

 

“Dialogue provides the substance of the play “. It is the readers’ and the audiences’ free ticket into the world created by the author and helps us understand how the minds of the characters really work. For example, in this play death is more humanized than other plays. Niggli shows that the death of a beloved can cause great pain and in many cases might lead to suicide, “Oh Raquel why do we have to have wars?”

 

 

Raquel: What a magnificent army you have here. So clever. I’m sure you must win many victories.

 

Andres: We do. And we will win the greatest victory remember that.

 

Raquel: This farce has gone on long enough. Will you please take your army and climb over the patio wall with it?

 

This example shows Raquel’s great self- confidence and Andres shows self composure on another hand. The example suggests that Raquel looks down at Andres. Her words are sarcastic but mainly degrading.

 

5-Conflict:

 

The conflict in our story has grown and developed in two different stages. At the beginning, Niggli makes Andres and Cleto look like the opposing forces. The conflict is external between Raquel and Andres since both of them are members of two different colliding political aspects. Raquel represents the Aristocrats and their fancy life, while Andres and Cleto represent the commoners and the hardships they have to face in order to survive. In the middle of the play, the conflict is between Flores and Raquel. Raquel views Flores at that point as a prominent threat that might cause her to lose her husband. She is determined to save the intruders in order to save her husband’s life but changes her mind when she discovers the truth.

 

6-Theme:

 

The play falls under the theme of loyalty and betrayal; this is pretty obvious because the play is set in a war period. Raquel believes that a person should remain loyal to his country and government no matter what and that “It is an honorable thing to die for your country as a soldier.”

 

7-Plot:

1- Exposition:

-Marica is caught by Raquel trying to commit suicide.

In this part of the story Niggli introduces the characters (Marica and Raquel). She created a sad mood forged out of melancholy. Marica feels depressed and broken

2- Rising Events:

 

- Two spies barge into the house of general Macias demanding refuge and sanctuary.

- Raquel discovers that her husband betrayed his country to save his life.

- Raquel is obligated to hide the spies from the incoming federal soldiers.

The plot in this section starts to build up and part of the conflict is introduced, and lots of information is revealed about Raquel.

 

3- Climax :

-Federal soldiers invade the house searching for the spies and Andres and Cleto are almost discovered.

 

 

4- Falling Events:

-The spies are safe and plan to head to their base.

 

Suspense dominates the scene and seriousness, the relief when the soldiers are gone.

 

5- Resolution:

- Raquel poisons the wine and kills the spies thus, preserving her husband’s honor.

 

8- Author’s Purpose:

 

Niggli in this master piece sheds light on the hard struggle between the Revolutionists and the Federals who are devoted to the unjust government. She sucks in the reader and the audience as well into the blurry world of loyalty and betrayal and depicts the terrible burden a woman is faced with when she discovers that her husband is a captive. The purpose is merely to entertain but to reveal what life seemed life back and to high lighten the importance of loyalty in our community.

 

 

-III-

 

Style:

 

 

1-Imagery: “The light reveals her to be quit young – no more than twenty- a timid dovelike creature.” The sensory details help envision a young beautiful young woman who is sneaking to the living room.

 

2-Irony: The play is bursting with examples on irony, Irony plays a great role in building suspense it also add a sense of humor to the play and lightens the dense melancholic mood.

 

“Will you please take your army and climb over the patio wall with it? (Verbal irony)

 

“{Ostentatiously yawning} I’m devastated! (Verbal irony)

 

“Don’t miss that closet captain. Inside that closet is a very fierce and wicked spy.” {Situational and verbal irony}

 

“Captain Flores has captured one of the spies.” {Dramatic irony}

 

 

Part Two: The Ring of General Macias versus Marked

 

Throughout history, man has formulated innumerable questions concerning loyalty, betrayal, and when it is justifiable to betray one’s country and beliefs. “The Ring of General Macias”, a play by Josephina Niggli, and “Marked”, a poem by CarmenTaffola create for us a world where the fine line between loyalty and betrayal is blurred.

 

 

Both literary works impart an important moral weight to the theme mentioned earlier. For example, Raquel, the main character in “The Ring of General Macias”, is torn between two choices: whether to remain loyal to her country and government, which will eventually get her husband killed, or save her husband and live for the rest of her life in shame. Thought her husband’s life is at stake, she decides to remain true to her values and convictions, thus, killing the spies who had taken refuge in her house. At the end of the play, Raquel sits devastated, “Listening to an empty house.”

 

The poem on the other hand, focuses on another aspect of the stated theme. Taffola for an instance suggests the a person should remain loyal to his ethics and convictions even if they might cost that same person his life. The speaker tells her daughter and the reader as well to, “Make your mark proud and open, brave beauty folded into its imperfection like a piece of turquoise marked.”

 

Furthermore, it has been said that the author’s choice of words i.e. style reveals a great deal about his purpose in writing, attitude towards his subject, and the audience to whom he presents his work. Niggli for example, presents her play in a firm formal style which gives it a rigid style. The choice of words in the below example suggests that Andres and Cleto are an imposing threat to the government, “We are hunting for two spies. One of them is the notorious Andres de La O.”

 

On the contrary, the speaker in the other work of literature uses a combination of formal and informal style while advising her daughter and the reader as well, “Never write with pencil Mi’ja.” The style described by its simplicity, portrays the warmth of the mother’s words which gives them a dense moral weight.

 

Upon the loss of a beloved husband, the playwright creates a sad mood forged out of melancholy. Marica, who is devastated by Tomas’s death says, “We can pray. And when the terrible news comes, it is no use praying anymore.” Her tone also suggests that she has lost faith and probably might commit suicide. In the middle of the play, the tone tends to a more sarcastic, slightly humorous one. This is portrayed in Raquel’s conversation with Andres, “Oh Cleto your army!” Similar to the beginning of the play, the playwright ends it with a touch of melancholy, “Nothing just listening …. Listening to an empty house.”

 

On the contrary, the poem’s tone is one of seriousness and warmth, which is represented by the mother’s (the speaker’s) thoughts and admirable pieces of advice. Unlike the earlier work, the poem doesn’t portray issues of life and death in details.

 

Similarly, the setting has a gigantic impact on a literary piece of work. “The Ring of General Macias” is set in Mexico City, during the revolution in April 1912. This exact time frame makes loyalty and betrayal an imposing yet crucial issue. During the war, Raquel’s husband is taken in captivity. This event raises the main conflict: Should Raquel let her emotions get to her and betray her country? Her dilemma is finally resolved at the end of the play when she decides to murder the intruders and preserve her husband’s honor.

 

However, the poem which lies between our hands has no specific time and place. Its theme may be applied to any time and any place due to its universal theme. And thus, the latter work doesn’t clearly presents a conflict to be determined since the speaker jots down some pieces of advice which the reader might choose to follow.

 

Above all, the characters are an essential element of drama. Raquel the major character is describe by Maria as “cold and hard” and is admired by Andres and Cleto for none of them has “ever seen a braver woman.” Also, the stage directions depict her in every single aspect, “The woman was a queenly air, and whether she is actually beautiful or not, people think she is.”

 

Unlike this play, the poem is formed of a speaker (the mother) and a recipient (the reader). Its universal theme makes it hard to have any characters at all.

 

 

As a sum up, many literary works have treated the theme of loyalty and betrayal and their colliding aspects. Yet, I recommend “The Ring of General Macias “I for those who seek adventure and live for drama. Similarly, I advice all those who are in search for their identity to read and contemplate over Taffola’s masterpiece.

 

Part Three: Comments:

 

 

As for a last thought, the play is realistic and takes the reader and the audience into a world which is woven in a very delicate manner. The style and the choice of words fit the message wanted to be delivered. Yet, there are some points that I found over dramatic like when Andres kisses Raquel , the thing is absurd and out of place. I do believe that there is no justifiable reason for him to do. Regardless to that, the play is one perfect work which will with stand time. Yet, there is no doubt that this play is no rival for Sophocles’ Antigone.

 

 

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