A Revolution (Dis)Placed: Environment and the Creation of Cultural Identity in Fernández, Yáñez, Castellanos, and Poniatowska

Gates, Stephanie, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pellon, Gustavo, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

Mexican history and culture are particularly illuminating when considering the question of environment and the significance a society places on it. This dissertation analyzes four works from post-revolutionary Mexico that span from the years 1943-1969, by examining how the space in each work interacts with characters to create meaning. Through it, a sense of identity—cultural and historical—emerges which is heavily dependent on environmental space. The works studied in each chapter are: Emilio Fernández’s 1943 film, María Candelaria; Agustín Yánez’s 1947 novel, Al filo del agua; Rosario Castellanos’s 1963 novel, Oficio de tinieblas; and Elena Poniatowska’s 1969 testimonial novel, Hasta no verte Jesús mío.

These works build on the foundations set by the Latin American writers of the regional novel of the 1920s, adding their own nuances to and taking creative liberties in order to create an understanding of the interrelatedness of society and environment: each one presents environmental identities in a culturally and regionally specific way. The study of these works serves to better understand how the rural and urban environments, along with all of their political and cultural weight, influenced the particular construction of identity portrayed in each one. The trajectory of the four works represents a shift in the general mentality concerning the Mexican government, which was ruled by the almost dictatorial political party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI): a sense of acquiescence to the government wanes, ideas about belonging to a certain place are adjusted, and the ideal of a single Mexican identity comes under serious criticism. In different ways, each work demonstrates how a society or an artist can imbue a place with different meanings, impregnating a space for purposes of power, vindication, or social critique. Through the study of these four works and their different depictions of Mexican land, city, and identity, this dissertation exposes the ways that literature and film can question, manipulate, and play with mainstream ideas of land ownership, environment and national identity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Mexican Literature, Mexican Film, Emilio Fernández, Agustín Yáñez, Rosario Castellanos, Elena Poniatowska, Environment
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