Friday, October 23, 2009

Men Between Banana Trees

In ancient epic warfare, the heroes of two opposing armies would face each other in an open plane, fighting to the death in hand to hand combat surrounded by their respective armies. Though brutal, these fights were public, honorable, vicious, but respectful in that both men acknowledged their war and their weapons up front.

Not so between rinches and vengeful Mexican fighters in banana groves or the chaparral. Guálinto's battle against the rinche/tree on p. 68, however imaginary, childish, and surreptitious is written in the style of an epic battle with vivid, successive action verbs, similes, alliteration contribute to Guálinto's status as "champion" (68) here and make his pretend struggle all the more foreboding.

Though reminiscent of the ancient heroes of Troy, our new hero fights in typical Western/corrido fashion. Paredes writes, "G spun around and burried his daggger into the wretch's side before the gun was half-drawn. Crackslich! The blade sank deep into his pulpy flesh." Not only the verbal imagery clear and concise, the personification of the tree, "a once smooth stalk...[now] a pulpy oozing mess, scratched, stabbed, and cut, with patches of the skin-like bark hanging loose" (68). Not only does this vivid action sequence paint an almost empirical picture of the "fight," but the treatment of the tree as a true rinche who has killed "unarmed men and children" and who will now die at the hands of a fighter defending his people transforms the playtime of a 6-year-old in his backyard into a potential scene of sobering reality and probability.

Surrounding and during the killing scene, Guálinto references three names and two specific crimes that help us locate the historical context of the banana-grove episode. He asks the rinche-tree twice where Apolonio Gonzalez and then Apolonio Rodriguez are. This apparent slip-up by G in identifying their last names is intentional work on Paredes' part - revealing G's innocence and childlike understanding/memory of the specific event. Though he cannot remember the facts perfectly, however, G knows the most pertinent information--a Mexican (or multiple Mexicans) was "shot in the back," killed while unarmed.

Guálinto's apparent ignorance of the historical but acute awareness of the principle (i.e. cold-blooded, racially motivated murder) is crucial in understanding his development as a character. This scene, paradoxically playful and brutal, hopeful and tragic, reveals in part the mind of 6-year-old G. In his play time, Guálinto is obsessed with thoughts of vengeful murder and his inner dialogue about his stained shirt resembles that of a murderer caught with the blood of his victim on his clothes (68). Still, though the boy explodes in a violent range with this historical crime in mind, his age and his timid spirit have not vanished: after "almost killing the plant" he is frightened about more than just getting caught. The very sensation and experience was, somehow, terrifying.

While this murder scene, it would seem, foreshadows G's future work in revenge, it is still unclear at this point in the story whether his sense of vengeance or sense of fear will dominate his psyche in the (likely) chance that he comes upon a rinche who's skin cuts much more easily than bark.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent close reading, Maggie. And you make a clear transition from that reading into your argument about his childhood identity. Nice work.