27 February, 2011
Romanticism in El Matadero
Esteban Echeverría, who spent five years in Paris before returning to Buenos Aires in 1830 when he became a political agitator against the tyrant Juan Manuel de Rosas, is credited with bringing romanticism to Spanish America. As a poet, he is remember for his narrative ballad La cautiva, the story of a white girl’s escape from enslavemente by nomadic Indians. Echeverría inaugurated the theme of the pampas as an archetypal landscape – a place of barbarism; but also the crucible of national identity for Argentina. He also wrote El matadero (‘The Slaughterhouse’, 1838), a short satirical prose piece in which a slaughterhouse becomes a powerful symbol of Rosas’s oppression of liberals in Buenos Aires. In 1839, Echeverría helped to found the Asociación de Mayo, a group of young anti-Rosas activists, many of whom were to become important writers and future liberal leaders of Argentina. The gauchesque genre had its origins during the wars of independence in the River Plate area. It was influenced by the Spanish tradition of the cuadro de costumbres. Gaucho costumbrismo appealed to the romantics because it seemed to reflect a truly American way of life. By transforming the gaucho into an ambivalent national symbol, Echeverría crystallized the problem of national identity which all the Latin American republics would experience. Echeverría's renown as a writer rests largely on his powerful short story El matadero ("The Slaughterhouse," written in 1839 but not published until 1871), a landmark in the history of Latin American literature. It is mostly significant because it displays the perceived clash between "civilization and barbarism", that is, between the European and the "primitive and violent" American ways. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, another great Argentine writer and thinker, saw this clash as the core of Latin American culture. Read in this light, "The Slaughterhouse" is a...