Creating a political environment that is fully devoid of violence is barely possible since there will always be war profiteers who will spur the development of confrontations. However, when considering the history of political brutality in the 20th century, one should mention that Latin America has been at the forefront of the described sad trend. The problems of political violence in Latin American countries have been scrutinized thoroughly in Gabriel García Márquez’s News of Kidnapping and Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. Although each of the books deals with an unrelated phenomenon of political violence, the personal tragedy of innocent people that were caught in a crossfire is what makes the books stand out and showcase the cyclical nature of violence in Latin America.
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Although the connection between politics and people’s personal lives might seem quite distant, The House of Spirits is quick to show that the inhumane attitudes toward citizens easily trickle into interpersonal relationships. The severity of the military dictatorship in Chile is paralleled with the use of violence in the community. Esteban killing a “mangy dog” is the first clear sign of aggression, yet the casual nature of this action marks the cyclical essence of violence in society and indicates the presence of tension (Allende 68).
It is also quite curious that Allende adds another source of tension on top of the presence of political dictatorship in her novel. Apart from the intrusive forces of political violence, religious conflicts are also interwoven into the fabric of the story. For instance, representing a stark contrast to Rosa, Severo is described as an atheist, who frequents the Catholic Church only to clutch for the opportunity to seize more power and, thus, use his affiliations to gain influence in the political circles. As Allende describes it, “he had political ambitions and could not allow himself the luxury of missing the most heavily attended mass on Sundays” (12). The desire to use religion as the means of seizing power renders the insidious nature of political dictatorship in Chile at the time, creating a very unsettling yet vivid portrayal of the misplaced values in the society.
Changes in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships caused by the presence of dictatorship and the persistent, ubiquitous threat of violence may occur at a different pace, as the novel shows. However, the cyclic nature of the observed problem remains in its place, with random outbursts of violence at the start of the novel being replaced by the consistent sense of irritation that can be seen as a sign of hopelessness. Allende portrays the described alterations in social and family relationships very vividly by creating a sense of despair in the novel.
The tragedy of a dysfunctional family in which the notion of violence has been perpetuated by the powers ruling the country becomes fully evident as Nicolas’ relationships with his family are described. For instance, Allende mentions that “the materialism of domestic life and the excessive ministrations of his mother and his sister, who insisted on feeding and dressing him, irritated him” (312). Thus, the presence of political pressure and the use of violence as the means of forcing people into following the artificially constructed social hierarchy represents the fluctuation of violence in the history of South American society.
As a result, the connection between the increase in the brutality of the measures used by government authorities and the rise in violence in interpersonal communication is shown perfectly in the novel. Moreover, Allende makes a very compelling statement by showing how violence circulates in society, causing new loops of brutality to become even more intense and causing even greater pain to innocent people.
Although revolving around an entirely different problem, the incident in Colombia could also be seen as the direct effect of cycles of violence in the Colombian political arena. Remarkably, unlike Allende’s novel, which features exclusively imaginary characters, the novel by Márquez describes an actual case of a journalist’s kidnapping. The reference to an actual tragedy that occurred in Columbia adds another layer of credibility to the story, making the author’s argument of the problem of violence in Colombian society even more profound.
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It is quite peculiar that, while also affecting interactions between the lead characters, the increase in brutality in the political arena causes civilians to oppose the unfairness of the people at the helm instead of submitting to their will. Maruja is shown at her bravest, with the author referring to her political and journalistic activism being the core reasons for the kidnapping to have taken place (Márquez 7). Furthermore, the tone of the violent intentions of criminals is shifted toward cunning and conniving manipulation as opposed to thirst for blood.
For instance, the leader of the kidnappers sets the tone for the overall dynamics of the negotiations between his gang and the government in cold blood: “We acknowledge publicly that we are holding the missing journalists” (Márquez 45). The situation described by Márquez proves that, whether being driven by emotions or twisted logic, the very notion of violence and any kind of brutality is inherently immoral.
One could argue that, in contrast to Allende’s novel, the story of Maruja in Márquez’s book did not feature quite as much brutality and violence, not even using euphemisms to coat the uninhibited and inhumane nature of the acts. Nevertheless, Márquez establishes quite early that the only reasoning behind keeping the hostages alive was the argument that “Maruja and Beatriz will be Escobar’s defense against extradition” (31). Therefore, the violence Described by Allende can be paralleled with the conniving calculations of Escobar. Keeping people against their will in inhumane conditions, Escobar demonstrates another curve of violence in the history of Latin America and establishes dictatorship as a norm.
When considered as a part of a longer narrative about the nature of power in Latin America, the books in question show a rather troubling tendency toward power being viewed as the end goal of political relationships in South America, and violence being rendered as one of the only tools to attain it. However, even when considered alone, each novel indicates that the described case is only another link in the chain of political choices made to use violence as the tool for attaining power. Both The House of the Spirits and News of Kidnapping show explicitly how people are dehumanized in the process of fighting for political power, and how their rights are systematically violated to the point where winning a political argument is deemed as a justification for glaring violence against civilians.
Despite the differences in their narratives, each book indicates that the increase in political violence introduces immediate changes to social relationships, making them more aggressive and, thus, closing the cycle. The perpetual aggression amplified to the nth degree as political authorities apply criminally violent measures to restrain civilians is demonstrated masterfully, albeit very morbidly, in both books.
Admittedly, there are numerous differences between the storylines, the main one being that Márquez’s novel is centered on a true story, and Allende prefers to create her characters. Still, in both novels, the portrayal of the political disarray in Latin America through the lives of innocent people helps to prove that the phenomenon of political violence transferring into personal relationships among citizens has a fully cyclic nature and, therefore, is forced to repeat itself as long as brutality is justified on a political level.
Furthermore, the recurrent nature of violence in Latin American society is shown explicitly through the depiction of interpersonal relationships. In The House of the Spirits, sexual brutality as an inherent element of the deeply patriarchal society is hinted at, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps: “Before her, her mother – and before her, her grandmother – had suffered the same animal fate” (Allende 74).
At first, the connection between the political regime and interpersonal violence might seem somewhat blurred, but the further exploration of the wider context of the story will show that Esteben acts knowing that he would not have to face any legal repercussions. With violence firmly engraved into the very foundation of the political decisions within a state, it will inevitably force its way into interpersonal relationships, marginalizing those who cannot fend for themselves. Thus, the problem of brutality and violence as a phenomenon that transcends political boundaries and trickles into social relationships is portrayed as irreversible and constantly repeating itself.
As a result, both novels show graphically that the problem of violence in Latin America is nested deeply into its political history and, thus, defines interpersonal relationships with fixed standards for social interactions and gender normativity. The authors do not shy away from the graphic portrayal of the implications of violence being engraved into the very system of Latin American society and affecting every facet of people’s interactions. Intertwining personal conflicts with political ones, both authors show how the terrible legacy of violence continues, becoming inherently characteristic of communication in societies that are driven by dictatorship relationships with their rulers.
Despite dealing with entirely different plots that unwrap under different political circumstances, both Márquez’s News of Kidnapping and Allende’s The House of Spirits poignantly emphasize the dire effects of political violence on the social relationships within the Latin American community. Describing the lives ruined by the ill-conceived and often criminally destructive decisions of the ruling class, be it a state dictator or a covert drug syndicate, the authors link the political violence in Latin America to its social implications. Thus, each novel represents an elaborate and cruelly honest account of the cyclical nature of political crimes in Latin American society.
Penetrating the minds of citizens and shaping their perception of relationships between authorities and country residents, the tragic phenomenon of political violence betrays the trust that the balance of powers is expected to create within a state. Consequently, both books can be seen as crucial arguments against the use of political violence under any circumstances.
Allende, Isabel. The House of Spirits. Translated by Magda Bogin, Bantam, 1986.
Márquez, Gabriel García. News of Kidnapping. Translated by Edith Grossman. Reprint ed., Vintage, 2008.