Deep Rivers

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Rivers: A Reflection of History

Deep Rivers can be seen as an allegory for historical conflicts in South America. The novel can be seen as a symbolic narrative of not only the problems that Indians faced in Peruvian society, but also Jose Argueda’s childhood and his struggle to find his identity. Deep Rivers is beneficial to the reader because it is a first hand account of the problems that Indians faced in Peru, thus allowing the reader to make a deeper connection to the novel and understand what was going on at that date and time. Through the narrator of the novel one begins to truly understand the injustice that Native Americans faced and understand how the author (Arguedas) viewed this dilemma. The book intricately works in symbolism, and if the reader can grasp the symbolism, they can truly grasp the novel. Jose Maria Arguedas was born in 1911 in Peru’s south-central highlands, an area in which the culture of the Quechua Indians has remained vital despite the Spanish Conquest and exploitation of the native peoples. Though Arguedas’s family belonged to the white Hispanic upper class, they were poor. His mother died when Arguedas was two years old, and his father, an itinerant lawyer, whose clients were mostly Indians and mestizos, remarried shortly thereafter. According to Arguedas, his stepmother and her family hated him and often sent him to the Indian kitchen of the household, where he was welcomed and loved by the Indian servants and where he learned the Quechua language. For the rest of his life, Arguedas felt an attachment to the Quechua, and that helped shape his work. (Portocarrero)

Deep Rivers is a novel about a young man, Ernesto, in Peruvian Andean society in the 1920s. Apart from the pressures of growing up, Ernesto must come to terms with the antagonism between the dominant white society to which he belongs racially, and the Quechua society in which he was raised. Though it isn’t stated in the book, Ernesto is a character obviously based on Arguedas himself, so one could come to the reasonable conclusion that the story is a tale of Argueda’s childhood.

As stated previously, symbolism is a key literary device throughout the novel. The Firs form of symbolism is the title of the novel, and the word “river”. Arguedas starts the novel with a great example of the significance of rivers throughout the novel. As stated on page six,“I touched the stone with my hands, following the line, which was as undulating and unpredictable as a river…(Arguedas, 6).” You might not get the importance of the quote, but Ernesto does not fully understand at this moment exactly what the walls and other Andean symbols will come to mean for him, the experience however, reveals a key insight to Quechua thinking. Two apparently unrelated phenomena can be identified as a single process; In this case, the stillness associated with rocks and the movement associated with water. Basically, all things are related or share the same essence. Stillness allows us to notice movement, and without movement, the concept of stillness evaporates. This thought is then continued shortly after when Ernesto comments on his father’s dilemma. “When my father confronted his enemies, and even more when he stood contemplating the mountains from the town plazas and it seemed as if rivers of tears might flow from his blue eyes… (Page 7).” I believe the mountains are set to represent his fathers beliefs and morals, and that the river represents his emotions. My reason for this is that your beliefs and morals are like a mountain, sturdy and strong, and your emotions are like a river, something you cannot control nor change.

The “River” stands for more than just what you might think. It is a symbol to follow your beliefs and shy away from the crowd. Ernesto could choose to join his peers in their un-holly and disgusting deeds such as rape, but instead he visits the river and bridge to cleanse his sole. The river cannot be moved by man, it is on it’s...
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