The essence of Paraguayan reality, cloaked in myths since the days of the Conquest, is an enigma which, for the most part, has been elusive to the writer's pen. There is, however, one man, Augusto Roa Bastos, who has succeeded masterfully in capturing that essence and who has done so precisely through the revelation of both Paraguay's myths and her reality. His work is the highly complex narrative Hijo de hombre, winner in 1959 of the esteemed Losada prize in Buenos Aires.
The success of Roa's novel stems from a deeply felt commitment to his fellow Paraguayans against man's injustices to man. Serving to convey this commitment is an esthetic blend of Paraguayan tradition and universal themes synthesized in a unique and symbolic concept of the Christ figure: the Cristo rebelde. This concept is formally introduced in the annual ritual of the Cristo de Itape and prefigures the course of the remaining narrative by capturing the essence of the vital reality suffered in some way by all the novel's characters. During the ritual the wooden Cristo, left to the villagers by the leprous and near-mythical person of Gaspar Mora, becomes transformed into the Son of man; carved in man's image, it is furthermore symbolic of what man can do for his salvation. Each participant, moved to rebellion at the sight of the wooden statue, is reminded of his responsibility to the others; losing himself in the struggle for goodness and love, he becomes for a moment a part-of the greater fraternity of man while finding his true Self.
In psychoanalytic terms, the Christ figure is a symbol of man's personal struggle to balance the opposing elements within himself. Consequently, it plays an important role in the development of Roa's novel, for implicit in such a symbol is a fundamental choice: either man accepts it as a goal or he rejects it.
Distinguished by an omniscient, third-person narrative, the even chapters reflect a positive effort to accept the message of the Cristo. Together they are a skillful demonstration of a mythopoeic process embracing a growing spiritual and rebellious collective and culminating in the most complete realization of the Christ figure, Cristobal Jara, a personaje-masa representative of countless Paraguayans who are sacrificed through man's inhumanity to man. Contrasting with this picture and alternating with it in the odd chapters is the first-person account of Miguel Vera, a spiritually broken and disintegrated man whose life pattern falls into a vicious circle, a neverending process of man's losing his innocence and then, unable to recapture it, becoming ensnared in a web of irrationalities designed to prevent him from being an independent and responsible individual. Keeping this circle revolving are the Gaspar Moras and the Cristobal Jaras who appear from time to time, as in the ritual of the Cristo, long enough to revive the still unfulfilled thirst. It is for this reason that Vera seeks unconsciously to attain a sense of unity after each successive failure and that the reader detects the repeated process of individuation, the dialectic of the spirit and the flesh, throughout Vera's life.
Hijo de hombre is an ambiguous novel suggesting both pessimism and optimism. For Roa Bastos, man's efforts to improve the human condition seem forever being crushed by the overwhelming power of irrational forces, yet he never ceases to pick up the pieces and begin again with the hope of some day arriving at a universal brotherhood of mankind.
Level of Degree
First Committee Member (Chair)
William H. Roberts
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Gifford, David R.. "Myth and Reality in Hijo de Hombre, A Novel by Augusto Roa Bastos." (1974). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/fll_etds/141