American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell posed the question, “Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?” In Helena Maria Viramontes’ novel, Their Dogs Came With Them, she impetuously poses the same question through exploring the lives of four young female main characters. Similar to authors such as Steinbeck and Thoreau, Viramontes elaborates on how contemporary society views land as an economic commodity, all the while negating the crucial historical bond embedded in the land and the people. Viramontes chooses to set her story in the midst of profound social and political upheaval. Events such as the Vietnam War, Chicano Moratorium, and Civil Rights Movement dominated national attention in the 1960’s. From the opening of the novel, Viramontes vividly describes the physical and social forces of containment that encapsulate the Chicano community. As she chronicles the lives of these four characters, there is a looming, irrefutable call that young Chicanos must escape this colonized mentality, which is based on a scheme of domination from which an outside group benefits, thus, purveying this outside group from considering any cultural alternative. The narrative form chronicles the past and present lives of four main characters; Turtle, Ermilia, Tranquilina and Ana and despite each characters troubled circumstances there is a prevailing theme pushing each character towards rising above the meager success that serves as the status quo for what Chicano youth can attain. Purposefully, Viramontes negates the mass movement perspective as a means of obtaining political consciousness; instead, she demonstrates that true transcendent power and social awakening lies in the will of the individual and the individual’s ability to create prosperity from utter chaos. The narrative form is crucial in proving how each characters past...
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