El águila y la serpiente de Martín Luis Guzmán: Una mea culpa revolucionaria

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The effectiveness of the 1910 Revolution in bringing about social change continues to be fiercely debated one hundred years after the fact. The genre called "narrative of the Mexican Revolution" has acted as a literary compass in this regard.

One outstanding example is El águila y la serpiente by Martín Luis Guzmán. Written during the author's second exile in Spain, it quickly became a bestseller. Since then, however, it has been criticized as lacking in genre or as an elitist series of portraits of "los de arriba," or those on top. In order to vindicate Guzmán's fictionalized memoirs, I take a different approach based on a key character ignored by 20th-century critics: the narrator.

First, the ways in which moral judgment has been wielded against Guzmán by critics such as Fernando Curiel, prevented a clear vision of his literary "I." Despite his contributions in the political and literary arena, he became in essence the Cortez of the Mexican literary canon, one whose faults eclipsed not only his name--notable for its absence within the arena of celebratory public manifestations--but also his major cultural and literary contributions. These contributions include: editing newspapers such as El sol and La voz under the 2nd Republic of Spain as a trusted collaborator of President Azaña's, spearheading the independence of Latin American academies of language from the Royal Academy, and founding the National Commission of Free Textbooks in Mexico. Through an analysis of his intellectual agenda and the previous critical readings of El águila y la serpiente I offer new readings of his work, contrasting Guzmán's vision of the Revolution with that of his contemporary, José Vasconcelos, in La tormenta (1935). Finally, I conclude that El águila y la serpiente is a superbly written, sui generis vision unlike any others found in the genre, delving into the relationship between memory and guilt at a time that defined both Mexico and its literature. This book stands as a mea culpa from a member of the criollo intellectual elite, who courageously revealed his social class as a failure and the Revolution itself as a paradoxical wheel of fortune.