Octavio Paz, a famous writer and poet was born in Mexico and devoted the majority of his books to the description and analysis of the Mexican people and its relations with other nations. Reading his books we understand that he writes about his native country and people, which are dear to him. Whether he describes the characteristic traits of Mexican character or highlights the differences between the Mexican and other people, he always does it passionately and at the same time objectively. However, his own point of view is also evident. Reading the book The Labyrinth of Solitude we feel his love to his people and his anxiety about its problems and destiny. In this book the author gives his interpretation of the Mexican people and his view upon the character of the Mexicans and their history.
Octavio Paz compares the life of a nation to a life of a person. As a person grows and matures the same way a people develops. At a certain moment of life a person starts to question himself about the sense of his living and about the aims in his life. Every people finds itself at the same point of its development. Octavio Paz believes that the answer to these questions depends on the situation and on the stage of the development of the nation. These questions emerge at different stages of nation’s progress and different nations have different responses.
According to Paz, the Mexican people are also in front of such dilemmas and are also trying to find the solution. It is important to be aware of the history of one’s nation in order to be able to find the answer to all the questions that rise in the process of developing. Also, the author highlights that when people become aware of their history they begin to understand their difference from other nations and thus they arrive at the conclusion that they are unique. “To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity” (Paz 10).
The feeling of uniqueness in its turn engenders the feeling of solitude. Octavio Paz is preoccupied with the importance of the individuality of his people. In the book he pays much attention to the distinguishing features of the Mexicans and to their difference from the North Americans. He claims that in order to understand the culture and the essence of a people one should look at the heritage of the people, at what it has created. It is not enough just to describe it, it is necessary to know its actions and its works. “We could distinguish ourselves from other peoples by our creations rather than by the dubious originality of our character, which was the result, perhaps, of constantly changing circumstances. I believed that a work of art or a concrete action would do more to define the Mexican”¦than the most penetrating description” (Paz 10).
Describing the Mexican people, Octavio Paz speaks first of all of those people who feel Mexicans and who respect their roots. In order to give a full picture of the nation he speaks about the pachuco, the people who can find its place neither among the Mexicans, where it originated, nor among the North Americans, with who it has too many differences. Paz describes the pachuto as proud and independent people. They do not want to assimilate with the North Americans, moreover, they rebel against the norms of North American society and all the time try to provoke a scandal. They know that their behavior irritates the society but they search for this irritation as they find it the only way to have relations with the society they oppose. “As a victim he can occupy a place in the world that previously had ignored him; as a delinquent, he can become one of his wicked heroes” (Paz 16).
From the description of the pachuto’s traits of character, the author shifts to the description of the whole Mexican people and its character.
In Paz’s opinion Mexicans and North Americans are absolutely opposite peoples. Their difference manifests both in global facts and in particular details.
One of the most remarkable traits of the Mexicans is the willingness to accept horror as something essential and to live contemplating it.
The Mexicans have a cult of death and Paz believes that it goes from the religious beliefs. Quite the contrary, the Americans reject everything that is considered negative and repulsive. Besides, continuing to compare the Americans and the Mexicans, the author speaks about the love of his people to myths and legends, and to fairy tale, the ability to believe and not to be simply credulous, the wish to get drunk in order to confess and not to forget. He describes the Mexicans as regretful, sarcastic, quiet people with instinctive nihilism. The Americans are almost opposite ”“ they are optimistic and happy, active and trusting. Though the author does not single out the better one and the worse one among the compared nations, in his descriptions of the Mexicans it is impossible not to notice the love and admiration for his culture and his people.
Octavio Paz tries to find the reason for the difference between these nations. He does not believe in the influence of economic state on the dissimilarity between Mexico and America. He claims that mentality and history are the main foundations of the distinction between these peoples. “North Americans consider the world to be something that can be perfected and that we consider it to be something that can be redeemed” (Paz 24).
Speaking about the Mexicans the author pays attention to their deep religious feelings, their philosophical attention to the world. He says that “North Americans want to understand and we want to contemplate” (Paz 24). This phrase might be crucial in the two images of two different peoples. The Mexicans appear before us as quiet, reasonable deeply religious people, with their own philosophy, their view upon the world, which cannot be changed because of the influence of others, as it has been establishing for centuries of the history of the Mexican people.
As it has already been mentioned the history plays an essential role in the life of a particular person and in the development of a whole people. Such important historical event as Mexican Revolution is also regarded by Octavio Paz, considering the main features of Mexican character. The author speaks of the Revolution as of an attempt to get rid of rigid rules and forms, which on the one hand, oppress the Mexicans but on the other hand are needed by them. In other words, Octavio Paz states that the Mexicans love order in every sphere of his life. They like to live according to certain rules which arrange them and give them a sense of stability and security. There shouldn’t be any inventions or improvisation in order to express oneself. You should just adjust to the existing rules. However, claiming traditionalism and love for Form to be the characteristic traits of Mexican character, Paz insists that the personality of the Mexicans rebels against them.
Octavio Paz says, “”¦the history of Mexico, like that of every Mexican, is a struggle between the forms and formulas that have been imposed on us and the explosions with which our individuality avenges itself” (Paz 33). Thus, the author explains the Revolution of 1910 in Mexico. In spite of the love for conventionality and rigidness of rules, the Mexicans could not bear the limits set by the Constitution of 1857 and the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and rebelled against it. Speaking about the economic and political reasons of the revolution, Octavio Pay defines Mexico at the end of the nineteenth century as a country “of discord” (Paz 133). Life of the Mexicans was subjected to rigid rules whereas these rules were not suitable for them and their character. “Our national life was poisoned by lies and sterility” (Paz 133). By that time, Mexico in fact was as alone as never ”“ it had lost its ties with the past, it could not find common language with the USA, and other Spanish-speaking countries were of no help.
Another motivation that caused the Revolution was the search for the communion, which had always been the main principle of the Mexicans. The regime which was before the Revolution offered many ideas to the Mexicans but did not offer the communion which was so desired and wanted by the people. However, as Paz states, the attemt to create the communion did not succeed and though the Revolution had positive results, the Mexicans still remained in the labyrinth of solitude.
Describing the Mexican character Octavio Paz pays special attention to the role of women and the image of men in the society. Today the word “macho” became a symbol of a brave, courageous, and always ready to fight man, while “machismo” is often associated with male chauvinism. But what is understood by this word in Mexico? In general, the Mexicans regard their life as a constant battle. They fight for their independence, their views, their communion, principles and rules. Certainly, this feature does not differentiate the Mexicans from all other nations. All peoples fight for their liberty and dignity, but it is necessary to note that striving for the victory a Mexican might find the triumph in the defeat. The individuality of a Mexican is characterized by great stoicism. Moreover, the Mexicans see it as a precious virtue.Â A Mexican macho is a man who does not find pleasure in fighting, but who is ready to resist and repulse any attack of an enemy. Masculinity is associated with the ability to withstand any influence of the changing outside world and to be true to oneself. Paz mentions that one of the most prominent features of the Mexican is resignation, which results from stoicism. Mexican heroes are always brave but at the same time they are absolutely patient. Their firmness in the face of a danger impresses. “We admire fortitude in the face of adversity more than the most brilliant triumph” (Paz 31). Â Despite such strong image of masculinity, male homosexuality is not much oppressed in Mexico. The Mexicans are rather indulgent to this phenomenon. However, this is not the country where some time homosexuals could be equal with the rest of the people. They are not oppressed but they are humiliated. They are accepted as they are but they remain the objects of jokes and mockery. This kind of jibes is very popular with the Mexicans.
Concerning Mexican women, they are impassive and stoic to difficulties and sufferings. Speaking about the status of women in Mexican society, Octavio Paz manifests the signs of masculine chauvinism, as he speaks of a woman as of a symbol, an instrument or a person, who fulfill certain functions, but not as of a free and independent being. “In a world made in man’s image, woman is only a reflection of masculine will and desire” (Paz 35). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that women would like to be treated as self-sufficient members of the society. Still, the mentality of the society and the way of life, which have been forming for centuries, have already established such status of women and due to the stoicism characteristic of women, they do not fight for their equality. However, this social status of women does not mean disrespect of them. Women are considered to have certain functions that are essential for the society and for the men. Therefore, the significance of women is never understated. A woman is treated as a symbol, but as a symbol of the perpetuation of the race, the preservation of the domination of law, order, sympathy and piety in life. The Mexican men acknowledge the great influence of women on their life and never belittle their role. Still, such status of Mexican women makes them vulnerable and dependent. Her fragility is made her virtue and her sufferings make her stoic in the eyes of other peoples.
Other qualities that are appreciated in women are modesty and prudence. Octavio Paz claims that modesty is the way to defend one’s privacy in the conditions of the particular attitude to a person’s body. Unlike North American people, the Mexicans are not afraid of human nakedness. They are not ashamed of their bodies and in such attitude they differ much from the Puritans. The Mexicans accept their bodies as something natural and that cannot be separated from them. Such perspective conditions free attitude to nudity and the Mexican concept of modesty goes from the desire to hide their bodies from people not because they are afraid to appear naked but because “the body rather reveals than hides our private selves” (Paz 35). Thus, we again face the restraint which is so characteristic of Mexican men and women.
The passivity and mildness is so typical of a Mexican woman that any manifestation of activity is always regarded as aggression. Moreover, such woman is often considered a bad one. It is believed that an active woman, who does not afraid to make decisions, to look for a man and to choose a man, becomes more hard-hearted. She looses her tenderness and vulnerability, which are so appropriate for a good woman.
She starts to resemble a macho. The independence of a woman is regarded as something out of place. It is interesting to note that in the conditions of the feminization of women, their aspiration to being absolutely independent and equal to men, the Mexicans preserve the same ideals as earlier and endow good women with modesty and symbolism, while women do not struggle for different situation. The features that in European countries signify strength and power of women become pernicious in Mexico. A good woman is always a vulnerable and tender woman, whose strength is in her stoicism.
To make a conclusion, having analyzed the book The Labyrinth of Solitude written by Octavio Paz we have got acquainted with the Mexican people. In my opinion, this book is important due to its view on the people from the inside. Reading it we can see the Mexico, its nation, its culture and its history form the point of view of a native Mexican. The value of this book is in its objectiveness. Certainly, telling people about his nation, the author shows his admiration and love for the Mexicans; he tells us about their sufferings and their uniqueness.
However, at the same time he does not omit the shortcomings in the character of the Mexicans, their mistakes and failures. In the book, Octavio Paz describes in detail the national character of the Mexicans, pays attention to the status of women in the society and to their role; he defines machismo and states why the Mexicans differ much from the North Americans. The book is a poetic and impressive description if the Mexican people, which are so vulnerable and sorrowful, but powerful in their ability to withstand any difficulty and to preserve their own national character and culture.