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The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Feast of the Goat is a novel written by Mario Vargas Llosa. This writer is a Nobel Prize winner in literature. The book is set in the Dominican Republic and portrays the assassination as well as the aftermaths of the killing of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator. The book is written from two points of view and therefore offers the differences between the generations involved. These two opinions emerge at the time of the assassination and the immediate period after the assassination of the dictator in 1961 as well as thirty-five years after the killing in 1996 (Llosa, 2012). The writer also provides an extensive reflection as far as the heyday of Trujillo in the 1950s is concerned and its implications for the inhabitants of the island and the island itself. The writer creates an epic tone when describing the events of the book, hence making the whole story unique and interesting for any reader. Accordingly, the historical approach to critical analysis will be employed for the explication of the various elements of the book. Historically, The Feast of the Goat provides the reader with an impeccable understanding of the totalitarian regime in the Dominican Republic as a reflection of the state of affairs in the real dictatorial system of government.
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The language used in the novel is historical and effectively facilitates the process of gaining an understanding of Trujillo’s dictatorial government and its subsequent fall after his assassination. Llosa (2012) uses simplified language that is able to effectively put an emphasis on the fictional and historical elements of the story. For instance, Llosa helps the readers to experience the conflicting emotions of the members of Trujillo’s inner circles. The simple language that accommodates both fictional and historical elements provides the readers with the opportunity to easily understand the attitude of people toward Trujillo: some of them have viewed him as a godlike figure while others, as a greedy leader who has been gradually destroying the country. Llosa (2012) states that irrespective of the feelings toward Trujillo, everyone was forcefully made part of the regime as captured in the assertion, “In this country, in one way or another, everyone had been, was, or would be part of the regime” (p. 175). More importantly, in the novel, Llosa (2012) depicts historical incidents that are actually real. These historical phenomena include brutality and oppression. Therefore, it helps to further illuminate the dictatorial regime’s nature apart from its provoked responses. The writer of the novel uses purely fictional language for presenting his characters and themes, at the same time, portraying what usually happens in any dictatorial regime: the incidents of oppression. Therefore, he makes the novel very persuasive rather than exaggerated.
The Plot of the The “Feast of the Goat” Novel
The novel incorporates three intersecting storylines that effectively give the reader a historical understanding of dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The first storyline regards Urania Cabral, a dictator’s daughter, who has been absent from the Dominican Republic for a long time and later comes back with the aim of visiting her sick father. Llosa (2012) explains that on her way to the Dominican Republic, she recalls her childhood experiences and also recounts a secret that has been shared with her cousins and aunt. Another storyline puts an emphasis on the final day of Trujillo’s life. The storyline also demonstrates the readers the inner circle of the regime, to which the father of Urania once belonged. The last storyline is a depiction of the assassins of Trujillo who were loyalists, in fact. Moreover, it depicts the persecutions of these assassins. Every aspect of the plot of the novel presents a different point of view of the political environment as well as the social environment of the Dominican Republic both in the past and in the present.
The novel presents the readers with the downward spiral of the regime, the assassination of Trujillo, and the aftermaths of this assassination through the eyes of insiders, conspirators as well as a middle-aged woman. Llosa (2012) asserts that the novel acts as a kaleidoscopic portrait regarding the dictatorial power: the psychological effects of the dictatorial regime and the long-term effects of the rule.
The title of the novel is derived from the phrase “Mataron al Archivo”, a well-known Dominican merengue which translates as “they killed the goat.” Llosa (2012) indicates that this refers to the assassination of Trujillo in 1961. The novel provides the examination of the dictatorial regime of the Dominican Republic’s dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. He had a profound influence on the history of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. In fact, Trujillo was in control for the longest period of time before his assassination.
The novel commences by Urania’s return to Santo Domingo, her hometown. The story is introspective as it deals with the memories of Urania including her inner turmoil regarding the events following her departure. Llosa (2012) indicates that Urania managed to escape the crumbling regime of Trujillo claiming that she had to pursue her studies as a nun in Michigan. In the following years, she returns to the Dominican Republic and faces her father as well as the past which she has previously ignored. There is the intersection of the storylines that have been already mentioned in the last chapters of the novel. The tone of the final chapters is basically dark as these chapters mainly deal with the terrifying torture of the assassins and their death. These final chapters also highlight Urania’s rape. The novel ends with the preparations of Urania to return home being determined to constantly communicate with the members of her family on the island.
Major Themes in the Novel
The novel presents various themes, such as corruption, machismo, the nature of power, as well as memory and the remembering process. As far as the theme of corruption is concerned, the novel focuses on the political one, which is historically associated with dictatorial regimes. Llosa (2012) stresses that historically, the Dominican society is hierarchical in nature with defined gender roles.
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The ruler of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo was associated with the evident implementation of dictatorship, which considerably influenced the Dominicans after his assassination. On the whole, his rule was related to much brutality and corruption. Trujillo is also connected to a personality cult that has encouraged decadence during his regime. Before being promoted to a high position, every officer ought to successfully complete “the test of loyalty” (Llosa, 2012). The people of this regime were supposed to be loyal, and any sigh of disloyalty was punished by censure in addition to public humiliation. Llosa (2012) illustrates the level of loyalty with the assertion, “The worst thing that could happen to a Dominican is to be intelligent and competent because sooner or later Trujillo will call upon him to serve in the regime, or his person, and when he calls, one is not permitted to say no” (p. 176). It is unfortunate that even churches and military institutions supported corruption as they were employed to offer women to the ruler. Thus, it prompted his supporters to assassinate Trujillo upon the realization that their loyalty was vain as it was met with cruelty.
Furthermore, the theme of machismo is depicted in the novel. On the whole, machismo includes two crucial components, aggressive behavior, and hypersexuality, which are vividly portrayed in the novel. Llosa (2012) opines that the ruler of the regime exhibits aggressive behavior through his power and strength display. Additionally, the author portrays hypersexuality through sexual activity with various partners. At some point, Trujillo demands the regime’s aides and cabinets to offer him sexual access to their biological daughters and their wives. In fact, he did so only to test their loyalty.
Another major theme in the novel is memory and the process of recalling. Llosa (2012) affirms that Urania Cabral clearly illustrates this theme in “The Feast of the Goat” when she returns to the Dominican Republic after 30 years of being away. She confronts her father as she remembers the trauma that has forced her to leave the country at the tender age of fourteen. Moreover, Urania also recalls the secret that she has shared with her aunt and cousins over a long period of time. In addition, the writer employs the theme of memory for explaining the reasons that led the assassins to kill the dictatorial ruler. Urania is unable to forget all the atrocities that have been committed by the regime and is constantly recalling them.
Furthermore, the nature of power as a major theme can be explored in the novel. Power can lure one into such unfairness as imposing total prohibitions. The actions of the regime in The Feast of the Goat openly depict the discourse as regards prohibitions. Foreign magazines and newspapers were not allowed to enter the country of Trujillo as they were regarded as threats to the ideas of the government. For instance, Llosa (2012) confirms this with the assertion, “Until a few years ago the news bulletins had begun at five. But when his brother Petan, the owner of the Dominican Voice, found out that he woke up at four, he moved the newscasts up an hour. The other stations followed suit. They knew he listened to the radio while he shaved, bathed, and dressed, and they were painstakingly careful” (p. 4). This is typical of the dictatorial regime where the leader is obsessed with power and views media as a threat hence muzzling it as Trujillo does in this case.
The Characters in the Novel
Characters of the novel The Feast of the Goat can be grouped in accordance with the roles they play in the novel: conspirators, modern-day characters, and the supporters of Trujillo’s regime. Llosa (2012) notes that in the modern-day part, Urania Cabral and her father Agustin Cabral are depicted. Urania’s role in the modern world is to portray her transformation after she has left her country. These transformations include being a prominent individual and a successful lawyer. Her father, on the other hand, is weak because of his age and has a stroke becoming unable to speak afterward.
There are four conspirators who directly took part in assassinating Trujillo. Antonio Imbert Barrera is the first conspirator. He is a politician disillusioned by the Trujillo regime’s cruelty and deception. His initial plan of assassinating Trujillo resulted from his unsuccessful attempt of overthrowing the regime. Therefore, Barrera joins the other three conspirators in the assassination of the dictator. Then, there is Antonio de la Maza, Trujillo’s personal guard, and the second conspirator. He exacts revenge for his brother’s death caused by the regime by plotting to kill the leader of this regime. Llosa (2012) informs that the third direct conspirator has been Salvador Estrella Sadhala who has participated in the assassination of Trujillo upon being tortured by the regime. Thus, he swears an oath to fight against the regime leader, Trujillo. The fourth conspirator is Amada Garcia Guerrero who has been forced to kill his blood brother by Trujillo. The conspirators who later survived like Antonio de la Maza opted to die while fighting rather than be captured and consequently tortured.
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There are various supporters of the regime in the novel beginning with the main character, Trujillo himself. He is also referred to as “the goat.” He is a fictional character representing the Dominican Republic’s real dictator. Llosa (2012) affirms that Johnny Abbes Garcia, heading the Military Intelligence Service (SIM), has supported the regime of Trujillo. Another loyal supporter of the regime is “the goat’s” son, Ramfis Trujillo (Llosa, 2012). He fails in his education and therefore returns to the Dominican Republic to work in the military serving his father. Another supporter of the regime is Joaquin Balaguer who takes part in numerous actions towards the end of the novel.
The Writer’s Experience and Background
Mario Vargas Llosa, the author of the novel titled The Feast of the Goat, was born on the 28th of March, 1936 in Peru, Spain (Llosa, 2012). His life was connected with a broken marriage since childhood as his mother and father separated when he was young. Then, he married Julia Urquidi in 1955 and later divorced her in 1964 (Llosa, 2012). Llosa remarried afterward and had three children. He graduated from the National University of San Marcos in 1957. Llosa is also an active participant in politics and identifies himself with liberalism as far as political ideologies are concerned. On the whole, he is a writer, an essayist, a politician, a journalist, and a college professor. Llosa won the Nobel Prize winner in literature in 2010. As far as the political experience is concerned, Llosa has a rich historical experience of authoritarian regimes, and it considerably facilitates for him the process of writing clearly about the dictatorial regime of Trujillo and his ultimate assassination. Therefore, the writer employs various historical material and his own individual experiences as well as the clear explanation of events that have taken place during the dictatorial regime (Llosa, 2012). Vargas Llosa takes advantage of his experience in liberation to condemn some undesirable acts, such as oppression during the dictatorial regimes, and subsequently calls for the need to allow people to be free.
Culture and History of Cuba
Historically, the nation of Cuba has risen from the history of both colonial and imperial domination. This country experienced the dictatorial type of leadership as it was once led by one of the most notable dictators of the world, Fidel Alejandro Castro. Similar events have been clearly depicted in the book offering a realistic portrayal of the dictatorial regime and their approach toward the management of their country (Llosa, 2012). Concerning the cultural aspect, Cuba has a complex mixture of various influences and factors. The culture of Cuba has been influenced by the Africans, the Europeans, and the Native Americans. In addition, Catholicism as depicted in the novel is also the key element of the culture of Cuba, and it is also instrumental in fighting for the wellbeing of the people and the end of oppression.
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My Background, History, Experience, and Culture
I was born and raised in (Insert). I have enjoyed been a citizen of (Insert) as my country upholds the dignity of human beings. Therefore, I have hardly witnessed the actions of violating human rights as those in the novel. As far as the history and culture of the United States are concerned, democracy is highly valued thus eliminating the chances of dictatorship in the United States. The Americans are free to choose the leaders in accordance with their preferences; thus, there is no chance for an imposed leader. In the USA, the leaders are elected through independent and fair elections. The United States also respects human rights, and it is a serious offense to violate any of them as the individuals committing the crime are usually arrested. On the whole, the United States views respecting human rights as a key element and therefore provides me with the best life experiences, which makes it difficult for me to relate to the novel.
Conclusively, Mario Vargas Llosa in his novel titled The Feast of the Goat uses fiction to portray the dictatorial regime that once existed in Cuba. Together with the historical view adopted as a critical mechanism, it is clear that the writer has sufficient experience in writing about the nature of dictatorial regimes while, at the same time, advocates for the rights of the people. He discusses various themes in the novel, such as political corruption, machismo, memory, and the nature of power. The characters portrayed in the novel actively play their roles in showing the nature of the dictatorial regime as some of them have been the conspirators against the regime while others supported it. The events in the novel can be linked to the history of Cuba as the country has had one of the most notable dictatorial regimes under Fidel Castro.
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