"La siesta del martes" is a poignant exploration of grief, resilience, and the complexities of family relations within the backdrop of a Latin American town. In this study guide, we will delve into the themes, literary techniques, and cultural context that make this story a captivating piece of literature.
Gabriel García Márquez was a Colombian writer born on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, Colombia. He is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and is known as the master of "magical realism," a literary style that combines elements of fantasy with realistic narrative. He is best known for his novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude," which was published in 1967 and is considered a masterpiece of Latin American literature.
García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 for his body of work, which has been translated into more than 30 languages and has been widely read and praised around the world. He died on April 17, 2014, but his legacy lives on as one of the most influential and innovative writers of the 20th century.
Author Gabriel García Márquez. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
"La siesta del martes" showcases the use of magical realism, a prominent feature of the literary movement known as "El Boom Latinoamericano." The story blends magical elements, such as the oppressive heat and the mysterious presence of the townspeople, with a realistic portrayal of the journey and emotions of the main characters.
The story also deals with social and political themes, another common aspect of the Boom literature. The narrative explores poverty, violence, and the consequences of societal inequalities in Colombia, reflecting the turbulent political landscape of Latin America during that era.
The Mother: The woman is a grieving mother who remains composed and resolute despite the loss of her son, Carlos Centeno. Her resilience and determination are evident as she embarks on the journey to visit his grave.
The Girl: The twelve-year-old girl is the woman's daughter and serves as a witness to the journey. Her first train ride introduces readers to the town and its surroundings, and her unemotional demeanor reflects the harsh reality of life in the region.
Some literary devices and techniques that are expressed within this passage are:
🖼️ Description/Descripción: Through García Márquez's use of descriptions, readers can almost feel the sweltering heat, visualize the banana plantations, and sense the deserted town during its siesta. He captures the stifling heat inside the train car as it crosses the "symmetrical, interminable banana plantations," creating a sense of discomfort and oppression. He also describes the town the woman and girl visit, conveying its emptiness and tranquility during the siesta. The description of the closed stores, locked houses, and people taking their naps out in the streets under the shade of almond trees evokes a sense of stillness and hushed existence.
A train going by a banana plantation. Image courtesy of Peakpx.
🌳 Environment/Ambiente: The environment in the story is characterized by a hot and stifling atmosphere. As the train travels through the banana plantations, the air becomes humid, and the breeze from the sea dissipates. The oppressive heat inside the train car, combined with the smoke from the locomotive, creates a sense of discomfort and confinement.
👈🏼 Flashback: There is a flashback when the story suddenly revisits the incident that caused Carlos' death. In the flashback, we learn he died due to a gunshot, and that his last words were "Ay, mi madre." These last words showed how much he cared for his mother because he knew his loss would upset her, and they lead the reader to think of Carlos as a gray character. Even though he was attempting to rob someone, he still thought of his mother.
🗣️ Dialogue/Diálogo: One important dialogue in "La siesta del martes" is "Cada bocado que me comía en ese tiempo me sabía a los porrazos que le daban a mi hijo los sábados a la noche." This dialogue shows, but doesn't tell, that Carlos had to box for survival, and the money the family received from Carlos' boxing put food on the table. Throughout the story, the dialogue reveals the hardships people face in poverty.
👀 Observer Narrator/Narrador Observador: This perspective adds depth to the story, offering insights into the characters' inner thoughts and the surrounding environment while maintaining a degree of detachment. The narrator's observations of the daughter's stoic behavior contribute to the overall atmosphere of somberness and highlight the harsh realities of life in the region.
🪄 Realism/Realismo: Realism in this text lies in its detailed and authentic portrayal of the setting, characters, and societal realities. The story's vivid descriptions and the characters' believable emotions and experiences provide a compelling depiction of life in Latin America during the Boom period, making it relatable for readers. The woman's descriptions of her son's struggles, boxing career, and the beatings he received, present a realistic view of the challenges faced by the marginalized in society.
🔎 Verisimilitude/Verosimilitud: Also known as credibility, the verisimilitude in "La siesta del martes" lies in its ability to create a sense of truth and authenticity, making the events and characters feel real and believable. The vivid descriptions of the train journey, the banana plantations, the scorching heat, and the deserted town during siesta time create a palpable sense of place and atmosphere. The reader can almost feel the stifling heat and envision the surroundings, making the story's setting feel genuine and lifelike.
The story "La siesta del martes" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez follows a woman and her twelve-year-old daughter who embark on a train journey to visit the grave of the woman's son, Carlos Centeno, who was killed in a burglary attempt. The train journey takes them through banana plantations in sweltering heat. The woman and her daughter are dressed in severe mourning attire and are carrying a bouquet of flowers wrapped in newspapers and some food in a plastic sack. As they travel, they share their meager food during the journey.
When they arrive at the town where Carlos Centeno is buried, they find the town in the midst of its siesta, with most places closed. They visit the parish house to get the keys to the cemetery to visit Carlos's grave. The priest, who is the brother of the woman who opened the door, learns that Carlos was a thief who was killed during a burglary attempt.
Siesta: a short nap or rest taken in the early afternoon, typically after lunch. The siesta is a cultural practice that is common in many Spanish-speaking countries and regions, especially those with warm climates. During the hottest hours of the day, which can be quite intense in some Hispanic countries, people often take a break from their daily activities to rest and escape the heat.
The woman paints Carlos as a good man, mentioning how she taught him not to steal anything that someone needed to eat, and she appreciates that he followed her advice. She also reveals that Carlos used to be a boxer and suffered severe beatings during fights.
The priest offers his condolences, but the woman remains composed, and the girl is unemotional as well. The priest gives them directions to find the grave, and they are about to leave with the flowers to visit Carlos's final resting place, when the priest notices a group of children watching them.
Image courtesy of Wallpaper Flare.
The priest and the woman realize that the people in the town know who they are and what they are there for. The townspeople are curious about the woman and her daughter and despite it being their siesta, the townspeople still came out to watch the mother of the thief.
Even though the priest suggests they should wait until sundown to go, the woman is firm in her decision. The mother and the girl leave the parish house to visit Carlos Centeno's grave under the oppressive heat and the watchful eyes of the townspeople.
The story highlights the division between the haves and have-nots in the town. The train journey takes the woman and her daughter from a rural area with banana plantations, where poverty is prevalent, to a larger town that appears to have more prosperity. Also, the priest's initial hesitancy in granting the keys and the townspeople's interest underline the difference in social status and the impact of a stranger's presence on the town's routine. The priest and the townspeople are curious to see this woman whose son is a thief.
As mentioned above, the train journey represents the movement from a marginalized and impoverished rural area to a more developed urban setting. The woman and girl are from a situation of poverty, as shown by the fact that they shared a single bollo de maíz between them. The woman's determination to visit her son's grave despite the heat and the societal norms reveals her resilience in the face of poverty and loss.
This story explores the dynamic between the woman and her daughter. Despite the loss of her son, the woman remains composed and shows a protective and nurturing attitude towards her daughter during their journey. The daughter, in turn, is observant and follows her mother's instructions without questioning. Their interactions reveal a strong bond and reliance on each other in the face of adversity. Additionally, the visit to Carlos's grave highlights the enduring impact of his loss on the family. The woman's determination to visit his grave and her stoicism reveal the depth of her love for her deceased son.
"La siesta del martes" presents traditional gender roles where the woman and her daughter are depicted in more passive roles compared to the male characters. Male characters, like the priest, hold positions of power and authority in the town. When the woman seeks the priest's permission to visit her son's grave, his initial reluctance and hesitancy to grant her request reflect the patriarchal norms of seeking male approval for important matters. Another example is that while the mother takes charge and makes decisions, the daughter remains passive and obedient, adhering to traditional expectations of women being submissive and reserved.
"La siesta del martes" is widely regarded as one of Gabriel García Márquez's most poignant and evocative works. It is an excellent example of his mastery of storytelling and his ability to convey complex emotions and themes through his writing. The story has been studied extensively in literature classes and has inspired many other writers and artists. García Márquez is one of the most celebrated writers of Latin America, and his works have had a significant impact on the region's cultural identity. "La siesta del martes" is a powerful representation of the struggles faced by the poor and marginalized in Latin American society, and has helped to raise awareness of these issues both within the region and around the world.