Week Five: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

The reading this week certainly was interesting! Echeverría must have been extremely passionate in his criticism of the caudillo system, considering the incessant use of violence and gory imagery in his short story.

The Slaughterhouse is told from the perspective of those he aims to criticise. I think the purpose of this was for Echeverría to expose them through the actions and words they used in the story. This way, they would appear unlikeable, needlessly violent, and barbaric. Contrarily, the martyr-like figure of the story I believe is supposed to represent civility and the European Enlightenment ideas that Echeverría favoured. However, while reading the story, I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, including the Unitarian. He was portrayed as a snobby, pretentious man. The fact “he was so absorbed in his mental calculations” to notice what was going on in the slaughter yard and in the streets makes it seem as if Unitarians (supposedly the “good guys” of this story) are too preoccupied with themselves to worry about the good of the rest of the people (66). Also, the fact that Echeverría portrays the Unitarian as defenceless, innocent, and Christ-like is ridiculous in my opinion. Just like the over-the-top simplicity and violence of the “barbaric” Federalists, the simple conceit of the Unitarian is overbearing and offputting. The Unitarian is also young in the story. Was Echeverría just as young (25) when he wrote this story? Perhaps this character is a direct self-service for him and his ideals. Or, perhaps I’m just reading into this too far!

By writing in such a descriptive, violent manner, it’s almost like Echeverría succumbs to the patterns of barbarism that he is criticising. Also, while the animalistic Federalists yell insults at each other, Echeverría insults them through sarcasm and passive aggression within the story’s narration. For example, the narrator says “The people of Buenos Aires possess the precious quality of an extraordinary docility for bowing to any kind of command,” and that some people “departed for the afterlife to atone for such an abominable sin as to partake of meat and fish in the same meal” (60, 61). These quotes scream sarcasm to me and make both the narrator and the characters the author is trying to defend extremely unlikeable.

I was surprised about how accessible the story was to read. The plot followed a basic format, the characters were all extremely simple, and the descriptions were so detailed that it was almost too easy to imagine what was going on throughout. What surprised me even more was Echeverría’s explicit reference as to why the story was written: “It was all a simulacrum in miniature of the barbaric ways in which individual and social issues and rights are resolved in our country” (65). He directly acknowledges his story’s microcosmic function and makes the entire story that much easier to understand.

This leads to my question: despite the story being ambivalent (whether intended or not) and grotesque, was it yet another form of a literary call to action for the people of Argentina, and those living under Caudillaje in general, to fight back against the oppression of Rosas and Caudillaje in favour of a more egalitarian, liberal, “Enlightened” social structure? Or was it simply a critique of the conditions that allowed racial boundaries (a negative instance in terms of an elite liberal mindset like Echeverría) to be crossed and liberals to be shunned from the government?

4 thoughts on “Week Five: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

  1. Hanae Delaunay

    Hi! Thank you for your blog, I agree on a lot of points! To answer your question, I don’t think we could say that it was anotger wat to call to action the one submissive to the Caudillos for a simple reason: were they lettered enough to have access to such documents? Even though, as you said, the story was very easy to understand, I assume it was mainly adressed to the local social elite at this time!

    Reply
    1. kelsey wiebe Post author

      Thanks Hanae! I think I agree; I think the situation is similar to the casta paintings, even down to using the medium of art to influence thoughts and ideals. The elites (first español, then creole) want to manage and control their “inferiors,” yet the provocative works they create with these themes probably wouldn’t be seen by anyone other than the elites! Interesting, but I guess it makes sense in the context that only the elites had the power to change the social and political structure? So technically, no one else needed to see it for the message to be seriously considered

      Reply
  2. Narissa J Brennan

    Hi! your post made me think into much more depth about the reading assigned from Echeverría’s, ‘The Slaughterhouse’. I felt that I only looked at it in a very surface level way and you made me think about the message he was actually trying to send and how the story can differ in the perspective of the person reading and engaging with it. This new lens of looking at a story is very eye opening and made me read the whole thing entirely differently than I had before.

    Reply
  3. Jon

    “The Slaughterhouse is told from the perspective of those he aims to criticise.”

    This is a good observation, and perhaps counter-intuitive. To what extent do you think that he is actually here trying to understand the motivations of those he is writing against? How much does he succeed in this?

    Reply

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