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“The Underdogs” by Mariano Azuela: Criticism of the Mexican Revolution Essay

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Updated: Dec 17th, 2021

The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela may be considered an anti-war novel on the issue of the historical relationship between Mexico and the United States, emphasizing the interconnected nature of the countries in question. Depicting the events of the Mexican Revolution through the soldier’s eyes, the author criticizes the goals and means of the Federales in these military operations in particular and reveals the tragedy of common people in any kind of warfare in general.

Since times immemorial Mexico had its way of development, determined by peculiarities of the geographical position, climate, natural resources and character of the residents. Though most of the travelers were astonished by the backwardness of this region, this state of affairs had a strong historical and political ground that could not be noticed at a glance. “The life in rural Mexico – food, clothing, and shelter – seemed stone age, primitive and backward” (Beezley 71). Poor huts, barefooted or wearing sandals people, using extensive methods and tools for cultivation produced the impression of the prehistoric society, but “Mexicans saw no need to change, even if they could afford it” (Beezley 68). “One commentator concluded that what a Mexican could not do with rawhide was not worth doing” (Beezley 76). Besides this unique trait of the national character, there were more substantial obstacles for successful economic growth of the country, among which are the inadequate transportation network and lack of economic organization. The method proposed for improvement of the situation presupposed involvement of the modern technology and foreign capital, it was aimed at providing new economic opportunities for the investors. In other words, the needs and interests of common people and the whole country were not taken into consideration, the changes were imposed and did not fit the existing situation. For example, the modern plow did not satisfy the requirements of agriculture and its use appeared to be not effective.

The wooden plow was better suited for Mexico, where the soil was loose and ordinarily full of stones of all sizes and shapes. The best modern plow… would quickly be cut to pieces by the rocks and soon be unfit for use (Beezley 86).

Mexican social and economic structure of the nineteenth century may be regarded backward and prehistoric, but the level of people’s accommodation to their poverty and circumstances may be appreciated as well. For example, “Harper praised the Mexicans for the life they managed, saying they were “clever enough to make the best of conditions’” (Beezley 87). Revolutionary operations interrupted the peaceful life of the nation and made the rural people struggle for their principles and the whole way of life. Mariano Azuela expresses the feelings and righteous indignation of common people involved in the warfare, underdogs in this situation, as they were to lose their struggle.

The main character, Demetrio Macias, was made to join the army, when the Mexican Revolution came to his small village. Though he demonstrated military talent, Demetrio did it exclusively out of necessity, he was satisfied with his pre-war way of life, even though it could be poor or backward in some respects. Azuela’s characters of civilian residents exclaimed from time to time that they were confident with what they had before the Revolution had started and regret what they had been deprived of. “Imagine… I had eggs, chickens and even a goat that had just had kids, but those damned Federales cleaned me out” (Azuela 9). It is noticeable that the character was only earning his living, the chickens and a goat was the sense of existence for him.

The author depicts the combatants as unwilling participants of the military operations, as the people who are interested in the results of the Revolution and can gain profit from it, never run the risk themselves. The novel portrays the combatants’ travels, a number of their successful battles but does not focus on it. Perhaps, making the protagonist a bit idealistic, Azuela endows his ability to analyze the situation, come to the conclusions as to the positions of different its participants and be philosophical as to their goal and contribution to the future of their Motherland. “We are not fighting to overthrow a miserable assassin, but to overthrow tyranny itself” (Azuela 26). The questions raised are too serious to be discussed in some ordinary atmosphere, but constantly risking their lives, men could become wiser and their desire to realize the sense of their inevitable death seems to be rather reasonable. The goals of the Revolution and the role of every separate warrior in it interpreted by an ordinary warrior express Azuela’s critical views upon the revolutionary events.

The goals of the Revolution appeared to be miserable and purposeless compared to the eternal values of life, family, motherland and peace. Regarding every character a personality with his/her feelings, dreams and destiny but not the material for reaching the goals, the author reveals the rich inner world of the people, emphasizing the diversity of the views and personal tragedies neglected in the course of Revolution and subdued by the will of the leaders. Nobody cared that a warrior participating in the battle was thinking of his wife and children left at home or even admired the beauty of nature. The descriptions of the landscapes are especially touching, not only drawing the parallels between the condition of nature and the inner state of the characters, but emphasizing the love of the native land, demonstrating one of the points, that the combatants are struggling for. While the families are too far and the notion of the prewar lifestyle is too abstract to motivate the warriors for the further struggle, the native landscapes are so close and every sunset and every tree made the participants desire to free the land from the aggressors.

The episodes depicting the personal tragedies of the characters may not leave somebody indifferent. Attempting to affect the revolutionaries’ feelings and the readers’ feelings, on the other hand, the author allowed his characters not to choose their words carefully but to express their true thoughts and feelings as sincere and natural as it was possible. In this respect Azuela demonstrates not only the skills of a successful psychologist but his own life experience at the same time. The author admits the fact that facing mortal danger people can do anything to save their lives and the lives of their children. Azuela recognizes that in some situations even the strongest personalities are reduced to despair and cannot think logically, it is their heart or instinct of self-preservation that directs them. It makes the novel and its characters realistic and intensifies the tension of every episode. The words of a woman addressed to the soldiers: “I am a widower, gentlemen; I have nine children and I work for a living… Don’t be cruel to the poor!”(Azuela 67) are full of sorrow. The soldiers were not able to answer the woman and it proves that the soldiers of Revolution have their feelings as well. This episode leads the reader to a conclusion that all the common people, whatever idea they are struggling for, remain the humans and only unwilling participants of the war, induced to kill each other, being the instruments for somebody’s economic growth.

Following the protagonist to his inevitable death, the reader shares with him all the deprivations of the military time and can not but empathize with him. Demetrio Macias died in combat at the same place where the narration started. This fact is only one more piece of evidence that the war was purposeless, the protagonist gained nothing, ending his way at the same place where he had begun it. Certainly, the author does not criticize the protagonist’s choice, Azuela is against the basis of the society leading to the circumstances making one people kill the other. One of the main ideas of the work and the author’s critical view of the military operations of any kind is expressed by one of the characters. “What a shame so many lives were cut off, so many widows and orphans, so much blood spilled! And for what? So that a few rascals can get rich and everything can be the same or worse than it was before?” (Azuela 25)

The Underdogs revealed Azuela’s anti-war sentiments dwelling on the issue of the Mexican Revolution. Raising the questions of universal values, the author concludes that any kind of military operation is purposeless and miserable.

Bibliography

Azuela, Mariano. The Underdogs with Related Texts. Hacket Publishing Company. 2006: 174.

Beezley, William. Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico.University of Nebraska Press. 2004: 151.

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IvyPanda. ""The Underdogs" by Mariano Azuela: Criticism of the Mexican Revolution." December 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-underdogs-by-mariano-azuela-criticism-of-the-mexican-revolution/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. ""The Underdogs" by Mariano Azuela: Criticism of the Mexican Revolution." December 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-underdogs-by-mariano-azuela-criticism-of-the-mexican-revolution/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '"The Underdogs" by Mariano Azuela: Criticism of the Mexican Revolution'. 17 December.

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