Historical Perspective

A The Birth of Latin American Culture

The term “Latin America” refers to the area that includes all of the Caribbean islands and the mainland that stretches from Mexico to the southernmost tip of South America. Latin America has a very long history, dating back to Columbus’ discovery of the territory in the late 15th century. Settled mostly by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, Latin American culture is derived from both its European newcomers and its native inhabitants’ traditions. Marquez blends elements from both cultures in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived, they easily overcame the native populations. The colonists destroyed native architecture, replaced the native religions with Catholicism, and strengthened the class system that already existed. As the natives died from diseases brought to them by the European immigrants, they were replaced by a new generation that resulted from an intermixing of the male immigrants and the female natives. The new population, known as mestizos, makes up the greatest part of Latin American society today. The mestizos, along with the remaining natives and African slaves, made up the lower class of Latin Americans. They and the mixed-blood mulattos worked as slaves or in the mines. The upper class included whites from Spain and Portugal known as peninsulares. The peninsulares were the only Latin Americans who could hold public office or work as professionals. Between the upper and lower class were the Creoles, European whites who were born in the colonies. The Creoles, although really equal to the peninsulares, were not permitted to hold government positions or to work as professionals. The struggles between the peninsulares and Creoles contributed to the wars for independence.

B Colombian Civil Wars

In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Ibrahim Nasar comes to the village after the end of the civil wars. The wars to which Garcia Marquez refers are the Colombian wars for independence. Colombia, called New Granada at the time, experienced a separatist movement in the 1700s as a result of taxation and political and commercial restrictions placed on the Creoles. While independence was assured with Simon Bolivar’s victory at the Battle of Boyaca, disagreement between Conservatives and Liberals arose over the issue of separation between church and state. Conservatives stood for a strong centralized government and the continuation of traditional class and clerical privileges. The Liberals believed in universal suffrage and the complete separation of church and state. The conflicts have continued throughout the years.

C Post-Colonial Latin America

By 1830 most of the Latin America colonies had gained independence from their mother countries. While they continued to trade with Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, they began to establish themselves as exporters of raw materials to the rest of the world. In addition to experiencing economic growth, Latin America also gained population. Immigrants poured into Latin America from less prosperous or politically unstable European countries. The growth in population and economic development continued through the 20th century. In the late 1990s the Latin American economy was about the same size as the economies of France, Italy, or the United Kingdom.

D Latin American Literature

Latin American literature aligns itself with the history of the region. Literary experts typically delineate four periods of Latin American literature: the colonial period, the independence period, the national consolidation period, and the contemporary period. During the colonial period, the literature reflected its Spanish and Portuguese roots and consisted primarily of didactic prose and chronicles of events. The independence movement of the early 1800s saw a move towards patriotic themes in mostly poetic form. The consolidation period that followed brought about Romanticism-and later, modernism-with essays being the favorite mode of expression. Finally, Latin American literature evolved into the short story and drama forms that matured in the early 20th century. The mid-20th century saw the rise of magical realism, for which Garcia Marquez is best known. Marquez was part of the “boom” trend, the growth of novel writing, that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. During the boom trend, male voices and masculine themes dominated Latin American writing. Recently, female writers have been recognized for their early works as well as their current achievements.

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