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The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

Updated on March 27, 2019
Steven Larue profile image

A writer and a blogger for three years now. Educational projects and students research inspire me a lot, young people with burning issues!

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia is a novel. The storyline follows the life of Federico de la Fe, and his daughter, Little Merced, after his wife Merced, leaves. Federico de la Fe plots war against Saturn, to which he puts the blames of life's indignities which includes the departure of his wife. Without any central narrative voice, the novel alternates between the cacophonies of the characters' perspective which are connected through experiences of unrequited love. After being left by his wife, Federico accidentally realizes the cure for sadness and his inappropriate urination what he considers "burn collecting;" a method which he uses to burn his body to a sear. The themes of metafiction, magical realism and sadness are increasingly evident in the novel.

The novel starts in the mid-twentieth century and focuses on the life of Federico de la Fe. Initially, from Mexico, Federico illegally crosses the border into Southern California accompanied by his young daughter Little Merced. The two settle in El Monte, a rural place at the outskirts of Los Angeles, where Federico is employed as a farm laborer in a flower industry. He discovers that an unseen power in the sky called Saturn has documented the script of his life and has determined the conditions to which he and others are supposed to live. Therefore, Federico chooses to gather with his fellow workmates to wage war against Saturn, concentrating on a group known as the El Monte Flores Gang (EMF).

Like Little Merced puts it, the "EMF was not like city gangs…they never looted or stole cars; instead, they drank mescal and worked in the furrows harvesting flowers next to my father." Although, the workers are locked in a war with Saturn all through the novel, in the traditional view their struggle assumes an approach of ‘class struggle.' Their fight is against an almost infinite, a power that seems to be indestructible which controls every aspect of the lives they live, a force which created them and therefore accesses every thought they have and has advanced knowledge of their role in the novel.

Initially, this oppressive force is considered as Saturn, but later on revealed as the author of the figure himself, Salvador Plascencia or Sal as he identifies himself in the novel. The struggle that these workers and groups leader, Federico undergo under the limiting roles given to them by Saturn or Sal is about nothing other than a war on the concept of omniscient narration. The second plotline accentuates this metafictional twist providing details about the loss Sal had on his girlfriend Liz to a white lover while he was laboring on the novel. This implies that the commodification of sadness partly assuages Saturn's unrequited love through a voyeuristic and sometimes sadistic relationship with the characters in the story.

The characters in the novel declare ‘war against tyranny, a war against the future of the story' with the aim of toppling the author of their world (46). While fighting for the violation, they use several tactics to resist, ranging from hiding in silence under lead and thinking thoughts which can only be considered mundane to having open fights for narrative territory by asserting their voices as well as making claims of controlling the narrative space. Liz's battle with the author's novel seems to have gained some success because she ensures that Salvador Plascencia starts the story once again, which begins at page 141, entirely with a different title page and dedication.

The text introduces characters and represents them as living and having communications with one another within a single fictional universe. The author blurs the differences between reality and fiction, while at the same time making metalepsis a primary narrative device. Rhetorical metalepsis, epistemological metalepsis, and ontological metalepsis all recur all through the novel. An evident example of rhetorical metalepsis is seen in the third chapter after chapter one and two presents what could be classified as magic realist version of Chicano experience.

The final twist in the story is presented in the subsequent section where Cameroon is introduced, which starts with the words: “Cameroon opened the novel and realized that she was swallowed by sharks (227).” She then makes speculations on why her fate was unimaginative death and comes to a conclusion that she knew a lot about Saturn. Due to the temporal arrangement of the events, Cameroon literally resurrects on the level of the presented world. Her death and the subsequent act of reading about the way she dies calls into question the identity of the unnamed narrator who narrates these events. Either these narrators are completely different providing descriptions of two different ontological levels or supposedly omniscient and omnipotent heterodiegetic narrator is truly inherently unreliable and unstable.

Just in the same sense of Federico’s rebellion, the interactions between Saturn and the ‘real’ people seem in the novel to affect its material form, hence further destabilizing the status of the people of paper. The section which follows the second title page returns Federico’s story and the rebellion against Saturn. At first, Saturn is not presented, like the blank spaces headed with is name shows. In his return, he at first defeated Federico’s stratagem of pushing into the page, since he is too distracted by memories of his lost love. But, he regains his strength after coming to terms with his new situation and yet a different metallic gesture destroys the multilinear structure of the text.

Plascencia brings to life some of his characters naturally through the story of the Saturn War. Just as Saturn is presented to be present in the universe of the characters, the rebellion of the characters takes the form of concrete action. After realizing that the bullets from their guns cannot pierce the sky and reach Saturn, Federico alongside his soldiers make attempts of blocking their minds from being accessed by Saturn. They do this by covering their houses with lead shells. The narration Saturn gives of this action ends with the words: "Federico crawled into the lead shell, sheltered securely under the density of metal that even a powerful x-ray could infiltrate (26)."

Plascencia puts his audiences in a voyeuristic place which Saturn as the author supposedly occupies. Eventually, it is the reader who experiences the effects of the character's actions directly. The novel has several styles and visual elements that enrich the story, despite the confusing storyline. The novel also has drawings of Loteria cards, gang tags, and food pyramid that has sadness at the base, as well as black boxes and circles. All characters in the novel struggle to shape their destiny and narrating their own stories.

The People of Paper is an engaging metafictional novel visually. The stylistic fusion through which the story is written provides a rich text backdrop to the mundane and epic struggles that Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans, experience in the borderlands of Mexico. In the novel, the material arrangement of the text is similar to its meaning and its abstract verbal representation.

Works Cited

Plascencia, Salvador. The People of Paper. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Steven Larue


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