October 19, 1994
Fuentes: The Death of Artemio Cruz
Carlos Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz is made up of relationships. Some of these relations are of more importance in Artemio Cruz’s life than are others which are eventually forsaken. The women that have influenced his life have had a direct effect on his betrayal of the ideals of the Mexican Revolution, and Mexico “herself.” At the outset of the novel, very near the end of Cruz’s life, we see him make a deal with the Americans that he will, basically, help them ravage Mexico’s natural resources for a profit. This action marks the final betrayal of the women in Cruz’s life. For this essay, I will start from the beginning of Cruz’s life, though that is the last event in the novel, and proceed linearly through Cruz’s life.
Cruz never knew his real mother, Isabel, she having been “run off the property” shortly after giving birth to Cruz, but was raised by the mulatto, Lunero, his uncle. His paternal grandmother, Ludivinia, a noble woman who has remained in a room for the last thirty years of her life amongst her collection of stuff, was unsuccessful in stopping the removal of Lunero, precipitating Cruz’s accidental killing of Pedrito and teaching him separation (296). The first women in Cruz’s life were ineffectual, though, as is evident by this time, were an influence on him, especially Ludivinia. Now Cruz is forced to leave Cocuya and he joins the revolutionaries.
Within his struggle in the revolution, Cruz meets his first love, Regina, after he rapes her. So that they (really, she) can forget the inauspicious circumstances of their “meeting,” Regina invents the story which romanticizes an all to real circumstance of war: they met by the sea and fell in love. His relationship develops with her to the point that he decides to betray the ideals of the revolution to be with Regina. He does, but he is hailed as a hero and forced to deal with the retaliation of the federales, i.e. the hanged, tumid body of Regina. While this eventually strengthens his will to prevail, it, more importantly, augments his callousness and presages the man he will become. This also allows the reader to realize that Cruz is capable of decisive betrayal, almost instantly wrought.
Cruz meets Catalina when he visits Don Gamaliel Bernal with the intention of taking over his land. He says about Catalina that he “could love her as he had loved once before, the first time” with Regina, but Catalina would only embrace Cruz so that she could avenge the death of her brother, Gonzolo, which she blamed him for, by “denying him the the tenderness he would seek in her” (49, 47). Cruz, we find out later, did love Catalina, but they both lacked the ability because of pride to show each other that desperately-needed tenderness that would end their mutual isolation and solitude (85-6). There is created an “endless tower that does not reach heaven but splits the abyss, cleaves the earth” between them that will not allow a reconciliation between Cruz and his wife (86). They are both aware of this crevice, but neither will offer the other the means to cross: “God. God, tell me if I am destroying my own happiness,” Catalina prays unable to let the past go and embrace Cruz as her husband (100). Then Cruz: “‘I lack whatever it is, the gestures, the way of showing things, that can extend the night’s love into everyday life.’ ¶ He could have told her” (95). Yet, he did not, and separated forever, Cruz secures one of his peons to live with him, becoming bored with her eventually. Catalina remains the star that Cruz can not touch: “We’ve got to stay [sic] no to the things we can’t touch with our hands,” he explains to the girl that he can touch, “come on; you’re going to live with me in the big house (108).
Ten years later Cruz is involved with Catalina’s friend Laura. Cruz will not leave Catalina, something Laura wishes him to do; this causes Laura to say: “‘I can’t go on this way, sweetheart. You have to make up your mind’” (210). Yet, by this time Cruz is a successful businessman/politician who must keep up his appearances; therefore, leaving Catalina would not be expedient. This decision marks the end of Cruz’s feelings for women as he walks away leaving Laura clutching a pillow. The feelings that Cruz might have been, at one time, able to feel for women are gone. The next time Cruz is with a woman, Lilia, she is paid to accompany him to the coast. Lilia only succeeds in confirming Cruz’s age and, perhaps, symbolizes the final renunciation of the women in his life.
Finally, Cruz’s relationship with is daughter is volatile at best. Teresa is, or is becoming, a product of her class; her mother tells her: “you just have to learn something about social differences, so can’t shake hands with everyone you meet” (22). She, along with her mother, are accused of living a façade by Cruz on his death bed. Yet, she doesn’t pretend, accusing Cruz of faking his illness, yet keeping her face behind a newspaper; perhaps that is why Cruz holds her in contempt. The newspaper, the symbol of all of Cruz’s accrued power, and Teresa, his daughter whom he cannot control, paired together, both cursing at him augment his suffering and impotence. But he can still frighten little girls. His granddaughter, Gloria, is frightened of the old, dying man, yet this man likes his granddaughter. Perhaps because he has some influence over her?
All of the women that Cruz cared about in his life were taken from him. At first violently, Regina, then psychologically, Catalina, then as social barriers, Laura, and finally by age, Lilia. Perhaps, in retaliation, he could fuck his own mother, i.e. Mexico, to prove that he is not impotent. Finally a woman, aside from the peasants, that he could control and fuck until she was drained dry. It was easy for him to betray the ideals of the revolution, and just as easy for him, at the end of his life surrounded by his hermetic stuff, to betray Mother Mexico.
After reliving the memory of his time with Gongolo, Tobías, and Zagal, Artemio Cruz, in the second person states: “You will choose, in order to survive you will choose among the infinite mirrors one only, one only, one that will reflect you irrevocably, that will fill other mirrors with a dark shadow, kill them before offering you, once again, those infinite roads of choice” (200-1). The themes of choice and survival run throughout The Death of Artemio Cruz, and have poignant meaning in Cruz’s life and death.
One of the central aims in Artemio Cruz’s live is survival. The text echoes the statement “You will survive.” Concomitant with that statement are sundry reasons: “because you will expose yourself to the risk of freedom” (86); because “you will discover that virtue may well be desirable but only pride is necessary” (86); because “you’re the son of a fucked mother … of the outrage you washed clean by outraging other people” (139); “because of the dark luck of an even colder universe” (199); because “I survived. You died. Thank you very much” (236); because you will choose (200).
Survival is thus linked with choice and the “dark luck” of the universe; however, the latter, although present and deserving of attention, is not as prevalent as the former in the novel. Cruz is a survivor because of the choices he has made which, in turn, make up the man, Artemio Cruz. Reminiscent of Borges forking paths, Cruz was presented with many roads in his life only one of which he can take at a time. These choices irrevocably made the man that is painfully dying, the man that has survived. But, Cruz begins asking himself, was survival enough?
During the chingar section, Cruz begins to realize that the choices he has made were perhaps the wrong ones: “you will look at yourself in the mirror and will see, at last, that you’ve left something behind” (139). And later, toward the end: “You will read and you will choose again: you will choose another life” (237). Cruz (probably not unlike most dying humans) is filled with doubts that his life has been lived as well as it could have been. Yet, Cruz paradoxically wants to choose again, which is impossible. Cruz desires to be judged for the things he wanted to have done, not the things he did do. “You will not be Artemio Cruz” would be an accurate statement if he could amend his choices. Artemio Cruz chose those paths, and he is Artemio Cruz, the survivor.
So ostensibly, survival is not enough; survival is not life, nor a good surrogate for it. Cruz’s Nietzscheian will to power stepped on his wife, his son, Bernal, Tobias, Mexico. “Of what use are treasures, vassals, servants … gold-and-stucco moldings, the vestry dresser of bone … the metal plates and door handles” when what really matters has fallen by the wayside (240-1)? All of the opulence that Cruz has collected during his life does not equal the sacrifices he has made for it. These possessions cannot help when one is suffering his final hours, isolated and alone, ostracized from all those that should be giving him comfort and piece. Cruz has survived—survived to die alone, a victim of his own ill-conceived choice.