Men of Maze

Dialogues

Men of Maize is the critically acclamed novel written by Miguel Angel Asturias. Born into poverty in Guatemala City in 1899, Asturias tells the history of the post-colonized society of Guatamala that continually oppresses its native Mayan dwellers. Asturias tells this story from a wide variety of perspectives: his own personal accounts, through the history and culture of his native land, through the actions of the government, and through the eyes of the people of Guatamala. His story is moving and it brings to life, as does the testimony of Rigoberta Menchu, many of the trials and challenges that face native peoples that are forced to defend their land and fight in order to survive, but ironically Men of Maize is a ficticious work. Though Asturias uses some of his personal experiences, this novel is not told as a testimony.

Miguel Angel Asturias

Miguel Angel Asturias was born the eldest son of his middle-class parents in Guatemala. He grew up in an environment filled with heartache and struggle, forced to live under the terrifying rule of Dictator Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920). His accomplishments under this terrifying life far outweighed any turmoil he suffered however, and he later became quite scholarly in his post-adolescent years. He went on to the university in Guatemala City where he studied law and developed his love for writing. He wrote the country's first thesis there on the "Indian problem." He then went on to study in Paris for a time and worked as a newspaper correspondant when he wasn't traveling or experimenting with the socialism around him. When he returned to Guatemala, he began writing on a more prominent level as he grew older. His first major work, Leyendes de Guatemala (Legends of Guatemala), launched his career and propelled him into his next famous piece, El senor presidente (The President).

He began working on Men of Maize in the 1920's, without even realizing he was beginning to write his premier novel. Parts of the novel can be recognized from earlier publishings in French and Latin American Magazines. Most of the work was done however between 1933 and 1945 when Asturias was in one of his many unhappy and negetive phases. This period was later to be called the "dark ages" for Asturias because this was when the political opression was at its peak, and so was Asturias' anger. His scorn for the society and the inequality of the system, especially for native people, shines through his novel with the sun's fury. Men of Maize could easily be called his most influencial piece because of his passion for this topic. Eventhough this piece was not officially publisheduntil 1949 in Buenos Aires, the voice of Asturias was still heard throughout the dark years.

Most often when this novel is discussed, its composition is brought to the forefront. Thoughout the novel, native culture is a dominant force. Like this force, the novel is related to Mayan tradition. The book is broken into three phases: tribal, feudal-colonial, and capitalist-neocolonial. "The three phases based on modes of production are alligned, in mythological fashion, to the three-part Mayan cosmic design-- underworld, earth, and sky (past, present, and future..." (Martin, xvii). This in turn is based on the journey and path of the sun that represents all life, and is a direct reflection on the protagonist. Asturias uses this beautiful imagry to capture the hearts of his readers, and gives them just a slight glimpse into the secret world of the Maya. It leaves the reader captivated, and longing for the chance to experience the spiritual world of this fascinating religion. This in turn keeps the attention of the reader, and gives Asturias the opportunity to show the reader what life can really be like in Guatemala.

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  Dialogues

Many books can be related to Men of Maize, but the one that sticks out most is I, Rigoberta Menchu. The testimony of Rigoberta Menchu has many similarities to the text of Men of Maize. Asturias and Menchu both focus on native culture, opression, and political strife in thier native land of Guatemala and this shines clear throughout both of their works. Although Men of Maize is more of a ficticious nature, the life style is still the same: native people of the area forced to fight for thier land, family, and future.

Asturias tends to focus on the individual more than the community as a whole. Throughout the novel he singles out individual characters and how they relate to others. He also taklks about the government and how they took over and the turmoil it causes. Everything seems to be wrapped up into one giant problem that he is writing about to solve. Asturias focues on the national proble simply because he is not writing out of total personal experience, but his passion for his goal is not copromised. He wants to bring national recognition to the politcal stife going on in his home land of Guatemala.

Menchu writes about the birthing ceremony, the development of community, how the structure of the family is highly stylized and everyone has a specific role. She takes it more in depth, and centralizes it on the family and on her own community. It seems as if the individual is not as important as the collective group is. Menchu is focusing on her village as an example, but she does keep the big picture of all the oppressed natives in mind. Hers is more of a personal experience. They both have the same goal in mind, but they are coming at it from two very different directions.

 

  Notes

It is a necesity to understand the time frame of Asturias' novel. This is a work that takes place over many years, and it needs to be remembered while reading it. From parts two to four alone, seven years pass.

One of the goals, and Asturias' focus, is to point out the idea of "transculturation." It is defined in essence as "translation of a translation." this is one his "claims to fame" so to speak.

Often those who do not understand the background of the setting of this people, misjudge it and do not give the novel the chance it deserves. Some feel it is just a "poor little indian" plea to have attention focused on them. That is NOT the purpose of the novel. Asturias believed that educating people of the situation could bring about change. Menchu feels the same way, and that was the purpose of her narritive as well.

One should know that Asturias narrates from a feminist point of view. It is his determnation that the Latin American idea of male domination is incorrect, and that male feminism needs to be pushed more than "machismo."

  Links

***http://www.guatemala-embassy.org

This site gives the history, life, and culture of Guatemala. It also gives a glimpse into how the USA plays a factor in the continuos struggle that is Guatemala. Plus, there is a lot of information on the leaders of the past.

*** http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1967

This site is excellent!! It is all about Asturias, specifically his Nobel Prize award in 1967. I highly reccomend that you check this out.

**http://www.countrywatch.com

This site provides a lot of information on what is going on in Guatemala today. It is valuable, but not a site that gives a lot of insite on Asturias' time. It does provide information on the current situation in Guatemala.

**www.Amazon.com

If you need a copy of this book....here is the place to go. It will also provide you with several links to information about Men of Maize.

  Teaching

This novel has many wonderful implications for adolescent students to utilize in their literary study. A few ideas came to mind as I was reading this book.

Keeping a journal: Throughout this novel, many changes occur in point of view, settings, political issues, culture, and society. In order to help keep them straiat, I think keeping a journal of your thoughts, questions, comments, ect. would be extremely helpful; especially for adolescent readers.

Unit planning: This novel has so many issues that it discusses that it could take up a whole unit in and of itself. Reading through some segments as a class would be most beneficial in a high school setting. There are smany activities that you could pull out of this as well. Take the time to study Mayan culture. Bring in a speaker to present the culture, the food, the games and history of the coulture. And in one final culminating project, have students write a research paper on one of the major themes of the novel.

Mayan religion: Religion makes up a huge aspect of Mayan heritage. Take the time to discuss it, present it, and let students ask questions about it. Turn it into a web assignment for extra credit, or just for discussion purposes, but utilize the web for this book. There is a lot of wonderful information out there.

 

  Citations

Asturias, Miguel Angel. Men of Maize: Critical Edition.Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 1993.

 

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Last Updated: 5/6/02