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The Death of Artemio Cruz Book Review

Updated on July 28, 2010

Before Reading:

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Photo courtesy of Macmillian.com
Photo courtesy of Macmillian.com

Full Reflective Summary

Carlos Fuentes gives a unique narration of the life of the character Artemio Cruz in the romantic novel “The Death of Artemio Cruz”, through the lens of reflection. Cruz is minutes away from death and is narrating his current observations and reflections about his life’s accomplishments. It becomes clear that Cruz’s life is composed of corruption, denial, and a deep appreciation of money & materialism over most other aspects of his life. This book seems to be a metaphor for Mexico’s history and future. This book inspires reflections about life, love and what makes people who they are. It is important to understand the key aspects of this book (corruption, materialism, denial, etc.), as they provide a melancholy insight to clues that can create a misguided, and ultimately, negative person. Cruz through the lens of corruption was my chosen theme and examples of such will appear organically throughout this analysis.

“The Death of Artemio Cruz” represents contemporary Latin American literary fiction of modernist and postmodernist influences. This novel is written in a unique “I, You, He” format which represents the present, the future about the past (since he has no future, he is dying) and the past, respectively. This is not a traditional novel, and thus the style of the book is untraditional, henceforth. It is important to note that this novel is a collection of fragmentations (memories) that provide insight to who Artemio Cruz was, and what these actions (as metaphors for Mexican history) represented, among other concepts. I feel this concept is unique to Fuentes, as he requires you to decipher the challenging arrangement and order in which the memories are arranged.

The story of Cruz is cryptic and confusing at best, yet somewhat clear when finally understood. The novel’s idealistic undertones come from Cruz’s feeling that we was a “victim of geography” (paraphrase, pg. 26), and thus he has more in common with America (and their optimistic ideals) than Mexico (which represents pessimism and realism). Another idealistic tone is the Mexican Revolution itself, which Cruz participates in as an officer (only to become richer and more powerful, though). The novel overall contains a pessimistic and sad tone, which represents the chronology of Mexican history itself. This novel is a great example of a romantic novel written during a modernist / postmodernist time-frame.

Artemio Cruz can be considered corrupt and materialistic at best. He utilized the Mexican Revolution as a catalyst to increase his own wealth, based on the manipulation and pillage of his own people. Cruz manipulated and sold his people out to the neoliberal tendencies of his American clientele, which is just one example of his corruption. It is heavily implied that Cruz kills Catalina’s (his future wife) brother Gonzalo, so that Cruz could approach Don Gamaliel (Catalina’s father) and become the new heir of the family’s wealth. Don Gamaliel is a land owner that represents the old wealth of Mexico, the feudal system that was dominant prior to the Mexican revolution. Cruz represents the impending new wealth of Mexico, still based on the manipulation of the Mexican people. Don Gamaliel understands Cruz’s offer to marry in to the family in order to consolidate wealth. It seems Catalina never forgives Cruz for the perceived killing of her brother, and only married Cruz out of pressure from her father. “This man can save us. And that’s all that matters…” (pg. 46).

Cruz was not always corrupt. His corruption began when he accidentally killed his uncle Pedro (father’s side) in Cocuya—which was his childhood paradise, he had to flee afterwards. This situation could be paralleled with the biblical chronicle of Adam and Eve. Cruz is not accepted by his father’s side of the family because he is mulatto (the family is creole) and the fact that Cruz is a bastard child, among other reasons such as his uncle’s death. Cruz received his last name from his mother, which is unorthodox given the nature of hierarchy in Mexican society. This particularity could be explained by Cruz being a bastard child. The burden of his mother’s last name could have planted the seeds of lost identity, which may describe his tendencies to abuse his own people later in life. I feel Cruz contains parallels with a modern pachuco personality—caught between two worlds yet belongs to neither.

Cruz’s innocence went relatively dormant went he fell in love with Regina (after raping her) and accepted the lies Regina told him about how they met in order to calm his soul. Cruz took these lies as mock-truth, as he avoids his true memories—a common theme of Cruz’s character in this novel. Cruz is highly controlling with people, with Regina as a fine example when he first met (raped) her “she’s been afraid of such happiness” (pg. 76). In reality he just wanted to use her to the maximum extent, and thus I feel it made him sick to think that he lost something (Regina) before he could use her to the fullest. Cruz is affluent and spoiled, and I do not feel that he actually loved her, but in hindsight he may feel this way because he was not able to maximize his use of her. I say this because there seems to be no chronicled accounts of actual love existing between the two, only lies.

The “I, You, He” method of the story’s plot represents a unique orientation to decipher and organize the fragmentations in which the book is written in. Memories are fragments in themselves, and naturally are out of order when recollecting—this holds true especially within the context of realizing impending death, which Cruz is expecting. The “I, You, He” format represents a remarkable method to organize the memories represented as fragments. The story is wholly narrated by Cruz and his according accounts throughout life. The truth behind Cruz’s words may be difficult to find, as he sometimes lies to himself and thus the reader.

There are several ideological and biblical references in this novel. Three is a commonly found number, as it represents the holy trinity. Cruz was banished from his birthplace, Coyuca, which parallels with Adam and Eve, and Cruz also contains reminders of Jesus himself—everyone seems to die around Cruz, yet never Cruz himself. Cruz (arguably like Jesus, and Christianity as a whole) is indirectly responsible for the death of many people.

Conclusion

“The Death of Artemio Cruz” and thus Cruz’s thoughts and memories take place during his childhood, adolescence and adulthood—often through the lens of the Mexican Revolution and post Mexican Revolution Mexico. As stated prior, Don Gamaliel represents old Mexican wealth while Cruz represents new Mexican wealth—both based on exploitation of the Mexican people, although in different ways. Cruz’s father’s side of the family, the Menchacas worked for General Santa Anna. Cruz, as a lieutenant (and later it seems, Captain) joined forces joined with Alvaro Obregon, who would ascend to power after the Mexican Revolution. Cruz is an archetype of a cacique that would make sure that nothing changed after the revolution, that wealth and power would be distributed to himself and his constituents. This archetype (caciques, the wealthy, those who were transferred power) solidified the fact that nothing would change after the revolution. “The Death of Artemio Cruz”, in its essence, is the reasons and justifications for why the Mexican Revolution failed in its objectives, and why it failed through the lens of an archetype so powerful that it sealed its fate.

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      Michael R 7 years ago

      thnx, your review is very helpful

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

      interesting post modernist view, Maita

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