Pages 404-465: Florita
At the half-way point I want to indulge briefly in a generalization about this novel, something that I have tried to refrain from doing. To this point I personally have not encountered one shred of text that leads me in any way to the thought that this is some sort of crusading novel, that it is sending out some clarion call for action along the lines of, “something must be done about these murders” or “something must be done about the working conditions on the Mexican side of the border.” Nor do I detect any sort of message like that from the tone of the novel.
When I speak of a “crusading novel,” I am thinking of something like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It is hard to miss the message in that novel that “something must be done about the corruption and working conditions in the meat industry.” Again, I can detect nothing like that in this novel. Of course, as sensitive human beings I think that we all want very much to see such a message. I simply submit that it is not there.
It appears to me that we are being presented with a particular vision of the nature of human existence by a man who takes pride in portraying the most troubling aspects of that existence with nary a flinch. That’s all. There is not a lick of redemption here nor is there held out the hope of any because that is the way he sees the truth of the matter.
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There is not much question but that Florita Almada is the star of the show in this section of the book. Daryl has thoughtfully discussed aspects of her character below. My own reaction to her was much warmer as has my reaction to Barry Seaman become much warmer as I have reread his speeches. I want to focus on a different facet of the poem to which Daryl referred.
As Florita scans the poem on page 432, she comes to a downright apocalyptic passage:
Old, white haired, weak, barefoot, bearing enormous burden, up mountain and down valley, over sharp rocks, across deep sands and bracken, though wind and storm, when it’s hot and later freezes, running on, running faster, crossing rivers, swamps, falling and rising and hurrying faster, no rest or relief, battered and bloody, at last coming to where the way and all effort has led: terrible, immense abyss into which, upon falling, all is forgotten.
After considering this, she comes to this conclusion at page 433:
. . . (4) that if it was true that all effort led to a vast abyss, she had two recommendations to begin with, first, not to cheat people, and, second, to treat them properly. Beyond that, there was room for discussion.
Superficially, that is heartwarming of course, the kind of simple, pithy observation that wise old people are capable of. But then consider it further. How, pray tell, did we get from the premise–the abyss–to that conclusion, the recommendation of fair and just treatment of people? It is a leap that made me laugh. She endeared herself to me with it, but it makes no sense.
Of course the better way to look at it is that it is a piece of homespun philosophy being presented to us rather than a piece of logic. The centerpiece of this philosophy is not human kindness in any form but rather fairness and justice. The idea is that even in the face of the ultimate void, we ought still to act with fairness and justice toward others.
Now is there some redemptive message here? Not for me. I cannot escape the conclusion that this being presented to us as a piece of naïveté for our affectionate amusement. I cannot believe that we are expected to take this from Florita seriously.
In other words, it seems clear to me that the author has spoken to us at times through several characters in this novel. However, I do not believe that he speaks to us through Florita.