As a result of the Salvadoran Civil War, many family members disappeared leaving behind others who had to take on the role of being “breadwinners” and family leaders. This began to cause a power shift in families and a new matriarchal style of family leadership emerged. This was the case for Adolfina, who, like many women, stopped being submissive and took on leadership roles in the family. The novel One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, showcases the horrendous results of El Salvador’s civil war and it gave the audience insight on social changes. However, social changes take time and patience. In order to speed the process, everyone needs to begin with changing initiatives. Ultimately, Argueta allows readers to visualize how the power of social change rests within one's hands.
In the novel, One Day of Life, Manlio Argueta analyses the endless social struggles of the bourgeoisie during the Salvadoran Civil War. Through the point of view of the Guardado family, One Day of Life demonstrates the transformation of one family as they attempt to survive the civil war. The story is told through the point of view of Guadalupe known as “Lupe” in the story. Lupe is the family’s matriarch and she witnesses many acts of violence on her family. When the male family members disappear, the women in the family must take on the leadership roles to ensure their family’s survival. Throughout many generations, men and women have had specific roles within a household, which were thought to have kept an ordered and tidy family. However, as with the Guardado family, these gender roles began to shift as a result of mindset changes during the Salvadoran Civil War. Furthermore, these traditions have evolved and began to topple their sexist boundaries by demonstrating that a person’s characteristics do not define their capabilities and their duties. Therefore, Argueta showcases through the matriarchal point of view the suffering and violence that propelled the leadership roles of the Guardado women.
As a child, Lupe has relatively no option other than helping her mother take care of her home and her family. The financial standing of Lupe’s family contributes to the adoption of ideas within Marianismo. In the novel, she states, “My parents could send me only to the first grade. Not because they didn’t want to but because we were so many at home and I was the only girl, in charge of grinding corn and cooking it and then taking tortillas to my brothers in the cornfields” (Argueta 13). Life circumstances force Lupe into following the expected gender roles of women, which includes household chores and accommodating to the men’s lifestyle. Her chores are all stereotypical of what a woman is expected to do. Marianismo is part of the female gender roles established by Machismo, which expects women to be pure, to have a domestic role, and to be submissive to men. Lupe's experience exemplifies many women who are forced into the reoccurring traditions of gender roles. Unfortunately, this is not the only situation in which Lupe is pressured to follow the cycle of Marianismo.
However, gender role expectations in El Salvador may have changed after the civil war.
Arranged marriages are an issue that results in teens not living their lives to the fullest. Many families arrange marriages for women so they can start with their responsibility of raising a family, sometimes at a very young age. According to Lupe, her marriage with Jose was arranged by her parents. She was only fifteen years old and was already married to Jose, who was much older than her. Lupe never gets to experience life to the fullest because she has to give all her attention to Jose (Argueta 87). She is forced into the female expectation of forming a family at a young age. Lupe’s arranged marriage is an example of female expectations in a society that imposes gender roles. The situation is critical, and that is why Argueta makes a critique against the dark image of Marianismo. Gender roles can alter someone’s life completely, just like they did to Lupe’s life. However, gender role expectations in El Salvador may have changed after the civil war.
The armed conflict was a time of socio-political divisions that caused violence and resistance; Lupe's family tries to survive during this violent period. As the “Truth Commission Report on the Salvadoran Civil War” explains, “All the complaints indicate that this violence originated in a political mindset that viewed political opponents as subversives and enemies…This situation is epitomized by the extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and murders of political opponents" (United Nations 26). Political violence caused trauma among those who opposed the government. Retaliation and revolution were central to the leftist ideology of the Guardado family. For example, there is a scene where Jose was taken out of his home by the guards; he was brutally tortured for being part of the leftist movement. Lupe, on the other hand, was psychologically affected since she had to deny Jose as a security precaution for the family (Argueta 191). Tired of living under oppression and poverty, the Guardados joined a liberation group whose goals were oriented to social equity. The Civil War was a period of political expression, a time where the nation’s armed forces oppressed the population in grotesque ways. In order to understand the book completely, one must get a feeling of the its ambiance. During the Civil War, El Salvador’s citizens had conflicting socio-political views, yet, many, like the Guardado family, continued with traditional practices while they had liberal political views. The novel has an opposing view on gender roles and critiques the probability of changing through generations.
Furthermore, as the women in the novel attempt to undermine female expectations, the male characters experience Machismo spurred on by the scarring of a person’s emotional status. The violence of the war can cause a shift in personality, which was the case of young William, the gardener’s boy. William performs machismo to survive the civil war. As Robert Mesle analyzes in, “What Shall We Say to the Torturer? Moral Realism, Conscience, and Human Nature,” “But clearly he now lives with the voices of the tortures in his head, teaching him to be tough, not to be a stupid peasant, to earn respect by strength” (Mesle 141). William experienced the terror of the civil war, the fear instilled by the guardsmen, and the difficulty of surviving from the government. William followed the watchman for survival, and his personality changed during this chaotic time. Through his interactions with Maria Pia, it shows that he developed a machista mindset. To demonstrate his authority, he was condescending to Pia. In one scene, William and members of the National Guard went to Maria Pia’s home and mocked her by saying “pío pío” as if she was a helpless bird about to be ravaged by the guardsmen (Argueta 72). This shows the reality of the environment people endured during the war. In addition, the citizens' mindsets were polarized; their only political options were to be supportive of the government or be a revolutionary. Revolutionaries though, had to face the wrath of the military.
...Adolfina shows no fear towards the guards and responds to them by telling them the harsh realities that they made her family go through (Argueta 164).
The Guardsmen are described as a bloodthirsty group that also had machista ideals. As a result, the guardsmen belittled women. For instance, the novel describes the condescending conversation the guards had about women being “whores” and not wasting time in having children; they conclude by arguing that all El Salvador’s misery is caused solely by women having children (Argueta 131). This conversation shows the machista ideology of men as being superior to women. These ideals create an oppressive environment in El Salvador, which is related to traditional views in many Latin American countries where gender roles become a part of basically everything. As a result, women are discriminated against and classified as incapable.
Lupe’s husband, Jose, also contributes to reinforce machismo. As seen during his encounter with the Siguanaba, his behavior tried to preserve his macho image. During this encounter, Jose sees a chance to seduce the beautiful Siguanaba, a mythological evil spirit that preys on men. Jose reflects and concludes that a man could not turn down such an opportunity because people would speak ill of him or would call him a “faggot” (Argueta 188) In addition, this type of experience is also shown in James Knight’s article, “Trauma, Myth and Imagination in Two Novels by Manlio Argueta.” Knight writes, “Jose’s story is valued… for the insight it gives into powerful emotions and their complex interplay with subjective perception, as well as suggesting the therapeutic potential of myth and imagination” (654). Jose then experiences what Knight calls “post-traumatic amnesia” (653). This evidence shows the machista environment during the Salvadoran Civil War where violence became the norm. In El Salvador, being deemed anything other than a macho was clearly wrong, it caused foolish actions to happen like Jose's encounter with the Siguanaba. Men were afraid of not preserving their macho aspect and being excluded by society because they were not manly enough. Although Jose’s encounter with the Siguanaba symbolizes his post-traumatic stress, it is telling that subjective to his own perspective, he thought about conserving his manly image.
Towards the end of the novel, after the death of the men in the Guardado family, women’s roles shift because they need to become the breadwinners. For instance, Lupe must be the leader and take on –by herself– the foundation of her family. As Lupe expresses, the family’s handicap of having men missing were not going stop them from continuing life; they were not going to drown in the pitfalls with their absences (Argueta 201). With the power shift, the new leading women must confront the problems left behind by men. This is significant because women had little to no experience on leading the family and being the breadwinners. Gender roles deprived them from exploring the experiences and situations that were thought to be only for men. However, during the civil war, many women realized that they did not have to abide society’s gender roles. Adolfina, for example, is one of those women who experiences an awakened personality and starts perceiving gender barriers as invisible.
Adolfina’s personality shows characteristics traditionally thought of as male. Marianismo includes being submissive to men, but Adolfina shows the exact opposite of submissiveness. As Lupe recounts a tense conversation between Adolfina and a guard, Adolfina shows no fear towards the guards and responds to them by telling them the harsh realities that they made her family go through (Argueta 164). This scene portrays an example of both submissive and revolutionary people. Lupe is submissive to the guards while Adolfina is rebellious and fearless. Adolfina’s actions illustrate the mindsets that topple the boundaries of gender roles. For a moment, she shows a character traits that are not expected to be seen from a woman. Adolfina is only a child during the war and it can be deduced that after the armed conflict, she contributes greatly to the toppling of gender roles.
As a result of the Salvadoran Civil War, many family members disappeared leaving behind others who had to take on the role of being “breadwinners” and family leaders. This began to cause a power shift in families and a new matriarchal style of family leadership emerged. This was the case for Lupe and Adolfina, who, like many women, stop being submissive and took on leadership roles in the family. The novel One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, showcases the horrendous results of El Salvador’s civil war and it gives the audience insight on social changes. However, social changes take time and patience. In order to speed the process, everyone needs to begin with changing initiatives. Ultimately, Argueta allows readers to visualize how the power of social change rests within one's hands.
Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. Vintage Books, 1991.
Knight, James. "Trauma, Myth, and Imagination in Two Novels by Manlio Argueta.” Bulletin of
Hispanic Studies, vol. 88, no. 6, 2011, pp. 651–664.
Mesle, C. Robert. “What Shall We Say to the Torturer? Moral Realism, Conscience, and Human
Nature.” American Journal of Theology & Philosophy, vol. 26, no. 1/2, 2005, pp. 129–145. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27944343.
United Nations. Commission on the Truth for El Salvador. From Madness to Hope: The 12-year
War In El Salvador: Report of The Commission on The Truth for El Salvador (1992-1993). San Salvador, El Salvador: Editorial Arcoiris, 1993, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/file/ElSalvador-Report.pdf