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Domingo Faustino Sarmiento is a key figure in the history of Latin-American literature. Apart from his contribution to literature, Sarmiento is also a key figure in the social and political history of Argentina. In the nineteenth century, Sarmiento took up several political roles in his country and eventually became Argentina’s president in 1865.
Some of his literary works such as his 1845 biography “Facundo” feature his political views. Most scholars are skeptical about the magnanimity of Sarmiento’s contribution to literature but it is often agreed that his works are an accurate reflection of the social and political situations in the 1800s’ Argentina.
Sarmiento was born in the Argentine city of San Juan in 1818. He had fourteen other siblings although only Sarmiento and four others survived to adulthood. Sarmiento’s parents were poor with his mother usually acting as the manager of their home affairs while his father Jose Clemente Sarmiento worked as a laborer, a political organizer, and a soldier (Sarmiento 17).
As a young boy, Sarmiento began exhibiting signs of being an independent thinker. For instance, he took the initiative to change his name to Domingo when he was only a young boy. In his early years, Sarmiento showed a keen interest in reading, as he was already able to read when he was four years old.
Sarmiento started his formal schooling in 1816 by enrolling in the School of Fatherland. In this school, equality of all students was encouraged. However, the school was later closed down due to political strife prompting Sarmiento to turn to his uncle for more education.
After studying with his uncle for a while, Sarmiento started a school of his own. By this time, Sarmiento’s love for education and freedom had already taken shape. His learning was however interrupted by the mandatory service in the provincial militia where he served and was elevated to the rank of Second Lieutenant.
After serving in the militia for a while, Sarmiento decided to abandon military service and this led to his imprisonment. During his stint in prison, Sarmiento was introduced to the works and philosophies of Victor Cousin among other writers. After being acquainted to these readings, his political values and beliefs began to change gradually (Haberly 1).
The first of these changes was witnessed when Sarmiento started supporting the Unitarist political group. In 1830, the author was arrested for his opposition against Facundo an army general. Soon afterwards, he fled to Chile where he stayed until he became critically ill and returned home in 1836.
When he was incapacitated by his illness, Sarmiento’s interest in French theorists flourished. It was also shortly after this period that Sarmiento started a school and founded a newspaper. Most of Sarmiento’s efforts during this period were aimed at opposing the Federalist regime of the time. His efforts did not go unnoticed as he soon found himself in exile once again.
Most of his time in exile was spent in Chile where the author’s literary attack against the Argentine government intensified. He published several editorials and wrote three books that were mostly meant to bring down the Argentine leaders of the time (Sarmiento 178). Sarmiento’s brand of aggressive and critical literature eventually got him evicted from Chile.
After leaving Chile, Sarmiento sought residence in the United States and Europe. In the years between 1845 and 1847, Sarmiento toured the United States and Europe analyzing different political and educational structures on behalf of the Chilean government. During his stay in the United States Sarmiento met a renowned education theorist Horace Mann who later translated his book “Facundo” to English.
His tours around the world are captured in the book “Viajes por Europa, África i América”. Sarmiento returned home in 1850 where he took up several administrative posts. The author later returned to the United States as an ambassador for his country Argentina.
During his tenure in the United States, he started another newspaper. After his service in the United States ended, Sarmiento returned to Argentina where he was elected president in 1865. After his term as president, Sarmiento continued writing and he was able to publish several books including “Conflictos y armonías de las razas” and “La vida de Dominguito”. Sarmiento died in 1888 shortly after moving to Paraguay.
Sarmiento’s most influential literature works were written during his lengthy exile in Chile. His most popular book “Facundo” was first serialized in a local Chilean newspaper. “Facundo” is more than an autographical work because it also serves as a critical analysis of the cultural settings of Argentina.
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Some observers have often assumed that Sarmiento wrote the book as a protest against the rising influence of white settlers (Barnstone 103). In this book, Sarmiento also included his opinion about the revolution of 1810. Other than political based literature, Sarmiento also explored other literary genres.
For instance, his other well-known book “Viajes por Europa, África i América” chronicled his experiences while he was visiting different continents around the world. In this book, his love for the American way of life is noticeable. He not only praises the American educational system but also the cultural and economic practices of the country.
While Europe served as an ideological inspiration for Sarmiento, America gave him a more practical demonstration of politics. From his early days as a writer, Sarmiento had always looked up to French philosophers and theorists. However, this is not adequately represented in the author’s body of work. His actual philosophy tended to lean more towards the United States’ political systems.
In his lifetime, the author wrote several biographies including a biography of Abraham Lincoln and another one about his adopted son. His most controversial work is his book “Conflictos y armonías de las razas” in which he argues against ‘race mixing’ and calls for a disintegrated society. This stand jeopardizes the author’s stature as an enlightened voice of the nineteenth century (Ocasio 45).
It is clear that Sarmiento’s work plays a major role in the history of Argentina’s literature and that of Latin America in general. However, many scholars criticize Sarmiento’s work for its poor research. Most critics suggest that Sarmiento usually wrote in haste and this weakened the outcome of his work. His most famous book “Facundo” is an example of how poor preparation degraded the quality of his work.
The book lacks a solid structure and some of its logic is flawed. The books he wrote concerning America are not only beneficial to an Argentine audience but they also offer useful insight to an American audience. The influence of American authors and culture on Sarmiento is apparent in his book “Viajes por Europa, África i América”.
Sarmiento was an Argentine author and statesman who paved the way for other Latin American authors. His works are a great literary asset to the southern American literature. The author’s ability to blend biographical accounts with social and political commentary also makes his work stand out.
Barnstone, Willis. Literatures of Latin America: From Antiquity to the Present, New York, NY: Pearson College Division, 1999. Print.
Haberly, David. “Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino”. JamesChastain.com. 2005. Web. <https://www.ohio.edu/chastain/rz/sarmi.htm>.
Ocasio, Rafael. Literature of Latin America, New York, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. Print
Sarmiento, Faustino. Facundo: civilización y barbarie, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Fundacion Biblioteca Ayacuch, 2003. Print.