5.5 "El hijo” – Horacio Quiroga

10 min readjune 15, 2023

Sylvia Rodriguez

Sylvia Rodriguez


Alejandra Ramos

AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
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“El hijo” was first published in 1928, a time of great political and social upheaval in Latin America. Many countries in the region were transitioning from colonial rule to independence, and this process was often marked by violence and political instability. At the same time, the region was experiencing rapid industrialization and urbanization, leading to significant changes in social and economic structures. Quiroga’s work reflects these larger historical trends, as well as the personal struggles and tragedies he experienced in his own life.

📖 Context Behind "El hijo"

Let's dig into the context behind this piece before we talk about it in more detail!

🧔🏽 Author's Background

Horacio Quiroga, a prominent Uruguayan-Argentine writer of the early 20th century, was a masterful storyteller whose literary works explored the intricate relationship between humans and nature. Influenced by his experiences living in the wild landscapes of Misiones, his writings vividly portrayed the dangers and wonders of the natural world. Quiroga's unique storytelling style often embraced themes of tragedy, the human psyche, and the power of emotions. Through his captivating narratives, readers were transported into the depths of the jungle, where the beauty of the environment intertwined with the complexities of the human condition.

Image Courtesy of Historia-Biografia

Time and Place

📜Historical: The story by Horacio Quiroga is set in the early 20th century, a time marked by significant changes in Latin American societies, as urbanization and industrialization began to shape the region's landscape. During this period, Misiones, where the narrative unfolds, was experiencing the consequences of modernization, with the expansion of settlements and infrastructure encroaching upon the once pristine wilderness. The historical context is crucial in understanding the characters' connection to the land and the challenges they face as they navigate the clash between tradition and progress.
🗺️Geographic: Misiones, a province in northeastern Argentina, offers a unique setting for the story, with its dense jungles, abundant wildlife, and tropical climate, influencing the characters' actions and experiences. The vast and rugged landscape of Misiones plays a significant role in shaping the characters' relationship with nature, as well as their reliance on hunting and survival skills to thrive in the wilderness. The geographic context also enhances the sense of isolation and remoteness, underscoring the protagonists' connection to the natural world and the unpredictability of their surroundings..

Societal Context

👑Political: The story does not explicitly delve into political themes, but the setting within early 20th-century Latin America suggests a time of political upheaval and social change across the region. At this time, Latin American countries were grappling with issues of governance, power struggles, and economic challenges, which could have influenced the characters' lives indirectly. The political context provides a broader backdrop to the story, adding depth to the characters' experiences, motivations, and interactions, even if politics themselves aren't the central focus.
🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏻Socio-economic: The socio-economic context of the story revolves around the characters' reliance on hunting and their intimate relationship with the land to sustain their livelihoods. Misiones' socio-economic landscape at the time likely involved a blend of traditional subsistence agriculture and the emerging influence of commercial ventures and industrialization. The economic struggles and hardships faced by the characters reflect the realities of rural life in Latin America during the early 20th century, where sustenance depended heavily on one's ability to navigate the natural environment.
🎭Cultural: The cultural context of the story is deeply intertwined with the characters' connections to their environment, as they embrace traditions, customs, and survival skills passed down through generations. The story's exploration of familial bonds and the respect for nature reflects the cultural values and beliefs prevalent in Latin American societies, especially in regions with strong indigenous influences. Quiroga's narrative also captures the essence of "criollismo," a literary movement in Latin America that celebrated regionalism and the cultural identity of rural communities, highlighting the cultural richness of the setting and characters in the story.

🧠 Need to Know About "El Hijo"

💫 Characters

Although there are only two characters in this story, there is a lot of development that takes place between these two characters and each one of them contributes a significant amount to the story.
The Father: The father is a central character in the story. He is depicted as a hardworking and caring individual who loves his son deeply. He is dedicated to providing for his family and ensuring their well-being. Throughout the narrative, the father's emotions and actions reflect his love for his son and his desire to protect him from harm.
El Hijo: The son is the other key character in the story. He is a young boy who is full of energy and curiosity. The son's innocence and adventurous spirit are evident in his interactions with nature and his eagerness to explore. Despite his young age, he displays a sense of responsibility and determination, as seen in his determination to hunt down animals, he took a gun with him in the story. The son's character represents youthful vitality and resilience.

🤔 Literary Terms and Devices

Some literary terms and devices you should be familiar with for this text include:
  • Metaficción: This text considers its status as a work of fiction while blending the lines between reality and fiction. Quiroga challenges readers to consider the essence of the narrative and the act of writing through self-referential components and the examination of storytelling itself. Through self-referential elements and the exploration of storytelling itself, Quiroga invites readers to reflect on the nature of narrative and the act of writing.
  • Desdoblamiento: The idea of doubling, or desdoblamiento, is discreetly depicted as the father and son represent opposing facets of the same character. The son signifies innocence and youthful vitality, while the father represents responsibility and maturity. Together, they reflect the duality of human existence.
  • Ambiente: The atmosphere of "El hijo" is shown as a rough and harsh natural setting, which serves as a representation of the trials and difficulties the protagonists experience internally. The narrative's emotional impact is heightened by the evocative descriptions of the forest and its perils that engender tension and discomfort. The vivid descriptions of the jungle and its dangers create a sense of tension and unease, heightening the narrative's emotional impact.
  • Prosopopeya: Personification is used to give nature's elements life and agency. This is done by giving emotion to the wilderness as well as by giving emotion to some of the actions of the characters.
  • Ambigüedad: Ambiguity is effectively employed to create an open-ended story that leaves room for various interpretations. Quiroga leaves several character traits and motivations open to interpretation, allowing readers to connect with the story more deeply. The ending itself also leaves the story open for interpretation.
  • Fluir de conciencia: The stream of consciousness writing approach is used to reveal the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The novel portrays the characters' subjective perspectives and gives their inner lives substance by utilizing internal monologues and fragmented narration. This is especially relevant with the father.
  • Narrador fidedigno o no fidedigno: The narrator is portrayed as a trustworthy source who provides an impartial account of the happenings. The omniscient narrator's perspective gives readers a thorough grasp of the characters' deeds, ideas, and emotions, strengthening the reader's bond with the narrative.

💡 Summary of "El Hijo"


Image Courtesy of Genius

The story is set in the scorching heat of a summer day in Misiones, a region known for its lush wilderness. The father and his thirteen-year-old son are about to embark on a hunting trip, enjoying the warmth and tranquility the season offers. The father is a mix of caution and pride as he observes his son, whom he has raised to be skillful and responsible in handling firearms and facing the dangers of the wild.
As the son sets off into the jungle, the father reflects on his son's youthfulness and the purity in his blue eyes that still hold the innocence of childhood. He recalls his own longing for a shotgun at the same age, contrasting it with the fact that his son now possesses one, thanks to his nurturing and guidance. However, the father's happiness and peace are clouded by his own physical afflictions and hallucinations. He has seen terrifying images, including memories of his son being fatally injured in the workshop while smoothing his hunting belt. Despite this, the father has worked hard to educate his son, emphasizing self-reliance and an awareness of the potential dangers in life.
As the day progresses, the father waits for his son's return, aware of the dangers that lurk in the jungle but confident in his son's abilities. The gunshot from the Saint-Etienne shotgun, the sound of which he recognizes, reassures him momentarily. He believes his son is hunting doves or toucans in the valley. However, as time passes and his son doesn't return, the father's worries escalate. He suppresses the dread building inside him and continues his work. Finally, he realizes that he hasn't heard anything after the gunshot and that his son is still missing. Fearing the worst, he rushes into the jungle to search for him.
The father's inner turmoil grows as he imagines the possible scenarios that could have unfolded. He knows that the wilderness can be unforgiving, and even a momentary distraction can lead to tragic consequences. As he searches frantically, the father's thoughts become a blur of hallucinations, seeing reflections of wires that could be responsible for his son's fate. The tension builds, and he finally calls out for his son, dreading the confirmation of his worst fears.
In a heart-wrenching twist, the father discovers his son's lifeless body caught in a wire trap. The grief-stricken father cradles his son and is comforted by the boy's attempt to console him. Despite the tragic loss, the bond between father and son remains unbroken, and they return home together through the father's hallucinations.
Throughout the story, the contrast between the serene, hot summer day and the heartache of losing a loved one emphasizes the unpredictability of life and the fragility of human existence. It showcases the complexities of parenthood, the struggle to balance protectiveness and independence, and the eternal connection between parent and child, even in the face of profound loss.

🔗 Themes in "El Hijo"

🫂 Las relaciones interpersonales

Horacio Quiroga's "El hijo" explores the issue of interpersonal relationships through the interactions between individuals, emphasizing the value of dialogue and empathy for understanding one another. The plot explores the complexity of interpersonal relationships and how our interactions with others affect our lives. Quiroga underlines the value of sincere connection and the effects of miscommunication or a lack of emotional understanding through the interactions between the characters.
The story highlights the deep bond between the father and his son, reflecting a nurturing and trusting relationship built on shared experiences and mutual understanding. Despite the son's independence and hunting skills, he values his father's guidance and responds respectfully to his instructions, showcasing a strong sense of trust and respect between them. The father's struggle with hallucinations and fear of losing his son exemplifies the complexities of interpersonal relationships, as it portrays how personal challenges can affect and shape interactions with loved ones.

💘 Las relaciones familiares

This story explores the bonds between parents and children and how they might impact family dynamics, placing a strong emphasis on family relationships. By highlighting both the unwavering affection that exists within families and the tensions and conflicts that might develop, Quiroga captures the complex nature of familial ties. The narrative digs into the difficulties of parent-child relationships while examining themes of accountability, selflessness, and the psychological effects of links to one's family.
The central theme of the story revolves around the father-son relationship, emphasizing the emotional depth and resilience within family bonds. The father's determination to educate and protect his son showcases the unconditional love and responsibility that family members feel towards one another. The contrasting emotions of happiness and sorrow in the face of tragedy underline the powerful impact that family dynamics can have on individual experiences. Despite the tragedy, the story portrays a family's ability to find solace and unity in their shared grief, highlighting the strength that familial ties can provide during challenging times.

🔍 La construcción de la realidad

Quiroga's short story also explores how individual experiences and perceptions impact the way we understand the world around us, addressing the issue of the construction of reality. The narrative explores the subjective aspect of reality and makes the argument that our individual backgrounds, feelings, and prejudices can affect how we view and comprehend the people and circumstances in our lives. In order to raise concerns about the validity of our perceptions and the malleability of the realities we create for ourselves, Quiroga highlights how our views of reality can influence our behaviors, decisions, and even our sense of identity.
The father's hallucinations and memories play a significant role in shaping his perception of the present, highlighting how past experiences can influence the construction of reality. The scorching summer day and the wilderness's imagery create an immersive atmosphere that contributes to the construction of the story's emotional reality. The father's concerns and fears for his son's safety illustrate how personal anxieties can influence one's interpretation of events, shaping their reality accordingly. The use of sensory descriptions, such as the buzzing heat and vivid imagery, adds layers to the story's construction of reality, creating a multi-dimensional experience for the reader.
Short Story Significance: “El hijo” is a powerful exploration of trauma, nature, and family relationships. It reflects Quiroga’s larger themes of human conflict with the natural world and the ways in which personal tragedies can shape a person’s worldview. The story’s use of symbolism, foreshadowing, and flashbacks make it a rich and complex work of literature, and it has been widely studied and analyzed by scholars of Latin American literature.
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