Week 5: On “The Slaughterhouse”

The first thing I noticed about this fiction is the use of sarcasm and irony. Echeverría used this powerful literary weapon to fire his condemnation and disdain towards the Federalists. First of all, the federalists surrendered their freedom to the church and the government, and the readiness to bow to commands. Mocking their beliefs, the author wrote that “since the Church…holds material power over the consciences and stomachs that do not … belong to the individual, then nothing more is fair or rational than for it to forbid what is evil.” He believes that this kind of submission degrades a human being to a machine that has to ask for permission before every action.
To me, it is one thing to be religious and have faith, and it is another to renounce your own judgement and will. The story reminds me of the miserable life of people in Geneva under Calvin’s rule. It is amazing how malleable people’s mind can be, and I understand how difficult it was for the lower class people in Buenos Aires to be liberal beings, because they didn’t have the material basis or education and enlightenment to physically or spiritually stand against the Restorer. Life of submission might be the easiest.
Another prominent feature of the fiction is recurrent similes comparing the barbarian mob with animals. Not only did the scene of grotesque bedlam in the slaughterhouse lack any trace of civilization, but the particular actions of people resembled those of beasts. Boys surrounded and harassed a woman “the way dos will badger a bull”. Followers of Matasiete rushed at the young Unitarian “like rapacious caranchos alighting on the bones of a tiger-ravaged ox.” And in the following comment Echeverría used both sarcasm and simile: “What noble souls, what courage, that of the Federalists! Always in gangs and swooping down on their defenseless victims like vultures!”
What also appalls me is how unsympathetic and even lighthearted the people were about violence and savagery. When the escaped animal was proved to indeed be a bull instead of a steer, all it invoked was “uproarious laughter and loud chatter”—the tragedy of the decapitated boy was trivial. Also, realizing that the young Unitarian was bleeding to death, the judge said “all we wanted was to have a bit of fun with him”. Yes that’s his word—“fun”.
It is a significant and thorny issue for a country to deal with people of different ideologies and beliefs. Brutality is the most frequent resort but is undoubtedly the worst one. However I cannot think of another solution for the conflict between barbarianism and civilization; perhaps blood has to be the price for progress and revolutionary success. But the problem is further complicated and worsened when people begin to associate a certain ideology with race, forming a stereotype which in some cases might hold true but others not. Since then hatred can be easily aroused and indiscriminate. You can see someone as enemy just by their color, their look, or their clothes. Such an association overshadows the attempt to build a liberal, egalitarian republic.

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  1. I found the use of extreme imagery very expressive of the happenings themselves, as well, but also telling of Echeverría’s take on it. He could have easily not been so graphic were he supportive of the Federalists’ cause AND behaviour… but it seems he was just as distressed by it as we are. The sarcasm also helps. He even expresses sarcasm towards the Church,which is something I did not expect.

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