Fictions of the Mexican Revolution

SPN 373: Fictions of the Mexican Revolution

Wake Forest University

Spring 2010



Instructor:         Dr. Brian L. Price


Course Info:     T Th 9:30 AM – 10:45 AM

Office:              550 Greene Hall

Phone:              758-4572

Office Hours:    T Th 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM




Class Description

It may be most appropriate to begin with a description of what this course is not. This is not a history class even though we are dealing with concrete historical events. Nor is it a political science course, despite the fact that we will discuss some of the ideas of political organization that informed the consolidation of the new revolutionary state. Rather, this is a course that examines the impact of significant historical events on cultural production and the narratives that create a sense of national identity. Understanding contemporary Mexico begins with understanding the 1910 Revolution and its aftermath. Or maybe more specifically, understanding the way the Revolution has been become a central part of the Mexican ethos through mediums of communication, especially in this year of centennial and bi centennial celebration. The Mexican Revolution has spawned 100 years of cultural production and continues to occupy political, historical, and cultural discourse. As such, our primary texts are novels, short stories, poems, essays, and films. Secondary readings will include historiographic and critical articles. 


Our course begins with developing what one critic has recently termed “historical competence”, that is, the basic understanding of who, what, when, where, and why that authors of the Revolution expect their readers to know. Once we understand—or begin to understand—what the Revolution was, we will discuss how it came to occupy its place of prominence in cultural life as intellectuals vied to define what constituted national literature and what were to be the guiding principles. We will then read the “first” novel of the Revolution, Mariano Azuela’s Los de abajo, considered by critics in 1925 to be the paradigmatic novel of Mexican letters. Critics have traditionally given much attention to la novela de la revolución, oftentimes to the detriment of the cuento de la revolución. We will offset that trend by spending a significant amount of time with short story authors like Rafael F. Muñoz, Martín Luis Guzmán, and Nellie Campobello. After our discussion of short stories, we see that the genesis of the Mexican film industry began with Revolution texts and was sponsored by the Revolutionary government, which leads us to think about the relationship between state and art. We will continue this topic after a well-deserved Spring Break when we discuss the Muralists of the 1920s. Later poetry in the form of corridos will occupy our attention, specifically their treatment of major heroes like Zapata and Villa, as well as women. In the final weeks of the class, we will consider two more authors: Juan Rulfo and Jorge Ibargüengoitia. Rulfo initìates what we can term the second wave of revolution writers, and Ibargüengoitia offers us a scintillating parody of the consolidation of governmental power in the late 1920s. Another parody, the film La ley de Herodes will round out discussion of the past before we transition to the present.


Some of the questions that will guide our discussions are: How is the Revolution written? And who writes it? What are the politics that determine representation? How do these representations of the Revolution change over time and under different circumstances? What distinctions exist between writers who were directly participated in the conflict and those who must reconstruct the events from historical records? What do these reconstructions say about the time and place in which they are written? How do literary reconstructions reflect, challenge, promote, or create national guiding fictions? How does the Revolution inform contemporary debates political and cultural debates? Has Mexico exorcised the Revolution’s ghost or does it need exorcising?


Course Objectives:

  1. 1.       Develop a critical thinking about literary texts: Critical thinking is a skill that can be applied to any and all disciplines. It is a process whereby individuals learn to question assumptions (another’s and their own) and constructively engage a set of ideas. To provide a quick example: I think literature is the greatest expression of man’s intellectual search for beauty and self. Do you agree with me? If so, why? On what grounds do you agree? How do your reasons for supporting this axiom differ from mine?  Can you explain your agreement? If you disagree, are you prepared to back up your dissent with a logical argument? Can you propose and justify an alternative to literature that serves a similar purpose? In short, critical thinking and reading, for the purposes of this course, require you to engage a text, question it, build upon it, and create something unique. Literature is the preferred tool for this process in SPN 373.
  2. 2.       Improve logical organization in writing, thinking, and speaking: Great ideas live and die with writing. They thrive when we express them in a manner that others can readily understand; they die when they get lost in muddled logic, sloppy grammar, and slipshod organization. Throughout the semester, you will collaborate with classmates on a blogshare your ideas with classmates through writing on a weekly basis. Take blog entries and comments as an opportunity to really express your thoughts about the texts we read. Let it all hang out.
  3. 3.       Be able to recognize the fictional constructs of national discourse. From an early age, we learn a series of stories that inform the way we think about national identity. Morgan argues that the success of government and society “requires the acceptance of fictions, requires the willing suspension of disbelief, requires us to believe that the emperor is clothed even though we can see that he is not” (Inventing the People 13). These fictions take the form of national myths (i.e. George Washington’s cherry tree) or sweeping declarations about who we are supposed to be (i.e. “We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal”) even though historical reality might show them to be partially or completely untrue. You will be required to confront some of Mexico’s most important national narratives in an analytical manner. In so doing, I hope you will also become aware of the fictional constructs that bolster our own concept of who, what, and why we are.
  4. 4.       Gain a broader appreciation for our closest Latin American neighbor. For all we think we know about Mexico, citizens of the United States are fairly illiterate when it comes to our closest Latin American neighbor. Our vision is split between paradisiacal visions of the Yucatán and apocalyptic nightmares about Mexico City and Ciudad Juárez. These images are fostered, on the one hand, by travel agencies hoping to sell vacation packages and, on the other, by news media hawking the juiciest story they can find or by popular media providing a prepackaged bad guy for the all-American hero to blow away. The truth, as in most cases, lies somewhere between these two poles. Throughout this semester we will consider the event that generated some of these images and see what Mexicans have to say about their society, culture, politics, and government. As we go through these texts, it is my hope that we can walk away with a more well-rounded view of Mexico. 




Azuela, Mariano. Los de abajo. Mexico: FCE, 2006.

Ibargüengoitia, Jorge. Los relámpagos de agosto. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz.

Anonymous. Corridos mexicanos. (.pdf to be sent by professor)

Anonymous. Corridos zapatistas. (.pdf to be sent by professor)

Course Packet. (CP) Available at Benson Copy Center.

Leal, Luis. Cuentos de la revolución. Mexico: UNAM, 1993. (Included in CP, referred to as Leal)




Reading Schedule


14 Jan.


  • Revolution as  a paradigm for understanding contemporary Mexico
  • Flores Magón. “Dos revolucionarios.” (CP)



19 Jan.

The Mexican Revolution in 70 minutes.

  • Hart. “The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920.” (CP)
  • Riding. “From Revolution to Institution.” (CP)
  • Córdova. “La mitología de la Revolución Mexicana.” (CP)

Secondary Reading

  • Flores Magón. “El apóstol.” (Leal)

Blog Notes: Group 1


21 Jan.

1925 – Loading the Revolutionary Canon

  • Jiménez Rueda. “El afeminamiento en la literatura mexicana.” (CP)
  • Fernández Perera. “El macho y el machismo.” (CP)
  • Torri. “De fusilamientos.” (CP)

Secondary Readings

  • Sánchez Prado. “El debate de 1925 y los orígenes de la literatura nacional.” (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 2



26 Jan.

The “First Novel” of the Revolution: What’s in a Name?

  • Azuela. Los de abajo, 1-40

Blog Notes: Group 3


28 Jan.

Social Mobility in Los de abajo

  • Azuela. Los de abajo, 40-80

Blog Notes: Group 4



2 Feb.


Snow Day


4 Feb.

The Moral and Ethical Spoils of War

  • Azuela. Los de abajo, 81-120

Blog Notes: Group 5



9 Feb.

The Return to Juchipila

  • Azuela. Los de abajo, 121-151

Blog Notes: Group 6


11 Feb.

Revolution and the Notion of Fiesta

  • Guzmán. “La fiesta de las balas.” (Leal)

Secondary Reading

  • Paz. “Todos Santos, día de muertos.” El laberinto de la soledad. (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 1



16 Feb.


Baby Day – Independent Research


18 Feb.

Relative Values in the Revolution

  • Muñoz. “Oro, caballo y hombre.” (Leal)

Secondary Reading

  • Leal. “Prólogo.” Cuentos de la revolución. (Leal)

Blog Notes: Group 2



23 Feb.

From the Feminine Perspective

  • Campobello. Selections from Cartucho. (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 3


25 Feb.

Collaborative Short Story Reading

  • Instructions will be emailed by professor



2 Mar.

Discussion of ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!

  • Ayala Blanco. La aventura del cine mexicano (1931-1967). (CP)
  • García Tsao. “El espejismo sobre el espejo: La mitología del cine mexicano.” (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 4


4 Mar.


Midterm Exam



9-11 Mar.

Spring Break


16 Mar.

Muralism and Public Education: Soviet Propaganda Art and Rivera

  • PowerPoint with murals to be sent by email

Additional Murals


18 Mar.

Muralism and Public Education: Orozco and Siqueiros

  • PowerPoint with murals to be sent by email

Additional Murals

José Clemente Orozco

David Alfaro Siqueiros



23 Mar.

Popular Poetry: Corridos de valientes



Secondary Reading

  • Gilbert. “Emiliano Zapata: Textbook Hero.” (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 5


25 Mar.@

Popular Poetry: Corridos de mujeres

Corridos mexicanos (.pdf)

  • “La Adelita”, “La Valentina”, “La rielera”, “Corrido de Rosita Álvarez”, “La soldadera”, “La Jesusita”, “La Güera”, “La chinita (1910)”

Secondary Reading

  • Sobek-Herrera. “The Soldier Archetype”. The Mexican Corrido. (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 6



30 Mar.

Second Generation Revolution Writers

Rulfo. “Nos han dado la tierra.” (CP)

Blog Notes: Group 1



1 Apr.

“Mataron a la perra…”

Rulfo. “El llano en llamas.” (Leal)

Blog Notes: Group 2



6 Apr.

Spoofing the Revolutionary State (I)

Ibargüengoitia. Los relámpagos de agosto. (Prólogo, Caps. 1-4)

Blog Notes: Group 3


8 Apr.

Spoofing the Revolutionary State (II)

Ibargüengoitia. Los relámpagos de agosto. (Caps. 5-9)

Blog Notes: Group 4

Annotated Bibliography & Preliminary Thesis Due



13 Apr.

Spoofing the Revolutionary State (III)

Ibargüengoitia. Los relámpagos de agosto. (Caps. 10-15)

Blog Notes: Group 5


15 Apr.

Spoofing the Revolutionary State (IV)

Ibargüengoitia. Los relámpagos de agosto. (Caps. 16-20, Nota explicativa)

Blog Notes: Group 6

Revised Thesis with Paper Outline Due



20 Apr.

Censorship in the Present

  • Discussion of La ley de Herodes (ZSR Reserve)


22 Apr.

Zapata Rides Again: NAFTA and the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional


Class cancelled due to conference travel…



27 Apr.

Last Day of Class: Has the Revolution Ended? 

  • Readings TBA


29 Apr.


Reading Day



4 May


Research Paper due @ midnight by email.


6 May

Final Exam @ 9 A.M.


Class Policies and Grading

Participation (5%):  This is a discussion-based course. Accordingly, it is imperative that you read and come to class prepared to share ideas and insights with your colleagues. Active, informed participation is expected. Expectations for upper-level seminars are much greater than the 317/318 level. Reading assignments are approximately 20-30 pages per class session. It is expected that you cover all the materials assigned at least once before class. Allow yourself enough time to read and reflect. Last-minute cramming will not suffice.


Expert Reader Groups (10%). In addition to your active daily participation, for one day during the semester your group will direct the class discussion. Your grade – all members of the group receive the same grade – will be based on evidence of comprehension of the text and your ability to involve your classmates in the conversation about the text. A sign-up sheet will be passed around during the 2nd week of classes. All members of the group are expected to participate in leading the discussion. Prior to your assigned day, each group will meet with me in my office hours to prepare. This meeting is not optional.


Blog Entries (5%): Throughout the semester, you will work in groups of three to prepare reading notes for your classmates and post them to a website that I have created as a database for information on Mexican literature ( Each group will be responsible for three postings.


Blog Comments (5%): Once a week students will login to the MexLit website and comment on their classmates’ entries. This is intended 1) to give you an opportunity to practice writing in Spanish, 2) to participate in a discussion before and after class, and 3) to continue developing ideas about the texts we’re reading. Comments can deal with ideas that appear in the reading notes, topics that come up in class, or anything related to the text that you think may have been overlooked. Do not be afraid to engage your colleagues: if you disagree, do so but respectfully; if you agree, do not simply say “ditto” but expand upon their ideas.


Midterm Exam (20%): The midterm exam will cover the historical context of the revolution as outlined in the critical articles (CP) as well as all texts assigned for the first half of the course.


Final Exam (25%): The most frequent question students ask about the final exam is: “Is it comprehensive?” What they really ask is, “Do I have to worry about retaining all the stuff we read from the first half of the semester?” The answer for this course is a qualified “yes”. The qualification is this: the final exam will not specifically cover Los de abajo or other literary texts that we read before the midterm, but you will need to keep in mind the historical data, guiding fictions, and relevant information that set the parameters for our discussion during the second half of the semester. A word to the wise: all knowledge is in play for the final exam. Do not do yourself the disservice of dumping all your hard-earned information during Spring Break. The Final Exam will take place on Thursday, May 6th, at 9 AM.





Annotated Bibliography and Preliminary Thesis Statement (5%): Monday, April 8, is the latest date to turn in VIA EMAIL your proposal and list of at least 5 preliminary secondary sources you have used or plan to use in preparation of your research paper. I will email you feedback ASAP. Secondary sources may include articles, book chapters, historiographic essays, web pages, etc. Annotated means bibliographic citation PLUS commentaries on content and how you think this secondary source will contribute to your topic or argument. I recommend that you start with the research tutorial for Smith Reynolds Library on this path already set in your computer: Start à WFU library research tools à ZSR library research resources à Research Tutorial. Grades will be assigned in the following manner: 9-10 sobresaliente/excepcional; 6-8 notable/superior; 4-5 aprobado/satisfactorio; 0-3 suspenso.


Revised Thesis with Paper Outline and/or Introductory Paragraph (5%): April 16 is the latest date to turn in VIA EMAIL the second version of your thesis statement, outline and/or introduction for grade and further feedback/comments emailed back on April 17th. You may alter your topic, theme, primary text, etc., up to this date without previous consultation with me. After April 15, however, the only things that can change without consultation with me are your thesis statement, secondary sources, argument approach, etc. At this point, if you want to totally change your research paper text/topic, you will need to meet with me personally.


Final Research Paper (20%): By midnight on Monday, May 5, VIA EMAIL no less than 6 and no more than 10 pages (2000-3400 words). Text and topic must have been approved by Professor Price during the stages of development.


Attendance and Timeliness Policy. My philosophy for attendance and timeliness is fairly straightforward. You demonstrate respect and consideration for your professor and classmates by being in class and being in class on time. As such, the absence policy is simple. You are allowed two “freebies” and after that each absence will lower your final grade by 2 percentage points. The tardy policy is similar. You are allowed two “freebies” and after that each tardy (or early departure from class) will lower your participation grade by 1 percentage point.


Grading Policy According to the WFU Bulletin:


A’s are reserved only for exceptionally high achievement

A-/B+/B are all superior

B-/C+/C are satisfactory and

C-/D+/D/D- are passing but unsatisfactory


The grading scale:    

93-100=A, 90-92=A-, 88-9=B+, 83-87=B, 80-82=B-, 78-9=C+, 73-77=C, 70-72=C-, 68-9=D+, 60-67=D, 0-60=F.