This paper analysis of the book One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta showcases the social hierarchy present in El Salvador and allows those in power to create oppression and commit human rights violations against the people. The government used many tactics, such as violence, religion and fear, as a way to stop people from revolting. These tactics were used as a way to force civilians to conform and accept the lower position in hierarchy that they were given.I will explore the negative role the United States played in assisting the government of El Salvador during the Civil War. The U.S. enabled the government to commit horrific war crimes and human rights violations against its civilians. A close look at many details in, One Day of Life, reveals how there is a social hierarchy and an imbalance of power, which in turn impacts the problems people face in El Salvador; consequently, leading to the oppression that took place during the Civil War.
People alone cannot shape their lives nor have total control of it. The novel One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta showcases the negative effects the Civil War had on the community of El Salvador. It follows the life of Lupe and her family, who live in poverty and are struggling daily to survive. The population of El Salvador faces exploitation, horrific brutality, and oppression. The social imbalance between the people of El Salvador causes problems to arise as the population wants to fight for their rights. A close look at many details in One Day of Life reveals how there is a social hierarchy and imbalance of power, which in turn impacts the problems people face in El Salvador; consequently, leading to the oppression that took place during the Civil War.
Those in a position of power used tactics to force the population to conform and accept their position in life. The military and government of El Salvador wanted to force people to accept their position in the social hierarchy by trying to keep them under conformity in order for them to not revolt. According to One Day of Live by Manlio Argueta, Lupe, a resident of Chalate and the central figure of the novel, says that the community of El Salvador didn’t care or think about being poor. It was something they had grown accustomed to and they didn’t question in it (19). This shows that the people of El Salvador living in poverty accepted the idea that they were always going to be poor. They seemed indifferent to this notion. They had gotten used to the idea that the poor belonged to the bottom of the social hierarchy. In One day of Life, Lupe says that, “…the way I look at it, that’s the only right we should ask of the government: to be able to live in this world” (Argueta 41). It is evident that due to fear the civilians in El Salvador only wanted the right to live instead of demanding their rights. They saw that their choices were between death or fighting against the government. The government and military of El Salvador used many tactics to force people to conform, such as religion.
Religion was used to create fear amongst people in order to prevent them from revolting. According to Country Data, “As a Hispanic country, El Salvador has always had a strong Roman Catholic identity. The majority of Salvadorans in the late 1980s were at least nominal Roman Catholics, and church rituals permeated the nation's culture and society.” Religion both played a key role in the way people in El Salvador lived their lives and the way they behaved. Knowing this, the government and military of El Salvador used the fear of religion to prevent people from revolting against the government and trying to change the social hierarchy. In One Day of Life, Lupe says that the previous priests, who were very traditional, used to create fear within people and made them believe that they had the power to destroy them whenever they wanted (Argueta 23). People were terrified of these priests, which prevented them from questioning why they were poor. The priests forced them to believe that life in Heaven was more important than their current social status. This ideology prevented them from challenging those in power for living in poor conditions. The authority of El Salvador favored these priests because their ideas favored the rich and furthered their agenda of keeping the social hierarchy the way it was. According to One Day of Life, Lupe states that, “We always wanted to be good. We believed to be good was to bow one’s head, not to protest, not to demand anything, not to get angry” (Argueta 53). This demonstrates how the beliefs of Christianity were used against the people. Religion was taken out of proportion and was used for all the wrong reasons. People endured poverty, violence, and exploitation because they believed that’s what they had to do based on the religious teaching they had received.
The authority used violence as a way to stop people from trying to revolt. Once the government of El Salvador realized that people were no longer accepting their position in the social hierarchy and instead wanted to revolt they turned to violence. According to Country Data, “In the late 1960s, the social attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador… were deeply influenced by Vatican Council II …which advocated activist programs to improve the living conditions of the lower class." Due to this change in the Roman Catholic Church, the new priests in El Salvador thought people about their rights. As a result, people no longer accepted their position in the social hierarchy, which encouraged them to try to revolt. They started to demand better wages, treatment, and to form federations and groups, which demonstrated and went against the government. The military turned to violence to stop people from revolting. In One Day of Life, Lupe, talks about the brutal beating of one of the newer priests who was left to die (Argueta 30). This beating was done in order to send a message to the community of El Salvador. This message was that if the people of El Salvador didn’t stop believing in these new priests and continued to demand rights then they will be killed and beaten as well. The new priests represented hope and change and those in power wanted to demolish them. The military of El Salvador went to the extremity of using war crimes to stop people from revolting. They were capable of committing these atrocities and human rights violations to ensure that they stayed in power. According to the Truth Commission: El Salvador, “among over 22,000 complaints documented, 60% involved extrajudicial killings, 25% involved disappearances, 20% involved torture, and some alleging more than one form of violence.” These statistics show the huge amount of people that have died or have been hurt and tortured during the Civil War. In One Day of Life, William states that, “They stuck them in a tub of water and chili peppers. Imagine how their wounds must have burned… (Argueta 70). Argueta added this detail to show the war crimes that were committed by the military of El Salvador. The military was not allowed to perform these acts of torture; however, they used many horrific torture methods in order to force people to reveal the names of people who were involved in the revolt. In One Day of Life Argueta mentions how Justino’s body was found in one place and his head was found stuck on a road marker to show how the military tried to dehumanize people. The military and those in power showed that they didn’t care for human rights or weren’t afraid of committing war crimes. They sent the message that to them the civilians of El Salvador were not human and they will always be at the top while the poor will be at the bottom.
"Knowing this, the government and military of El Salvador used the fear of religion to prevent people from revolting against the government and trying to change the social hierarchy."
There is a clear distinction between who has power and who doesn’t. In El Salvador, there was a huge social imbalance and hierarchy set in place. The social hierarchy placed the government and the military on the very top because they had all the power and money. Below them were the landowners, who were also very rich, and the guards or soldiers, who were made to believe that they had power, but they were just being controlled by the government. At the very bottom were the majority of the population, who lived in poverty and were exploited. In One Day of Life Lupe says that the landowners drive very expensive cars as they drive by without noticing or caring about their workers, who work on their land (Argueta 53). The plantation workers of these landowners get paid very little money. Consequently, the plantation owners got rich because of the hard work done by the people; however, they didn’t pay them enough money. They continued to get rich by exploiting their workers, while the majority of the population continued to struggle to survive. In One Day of Life Lupe states that, “The plantations around here are large; one never knows how far they extend. If one stops atop a wall or a cliff, everything the eye can see belongs to one owner” (Argueta 63). The landowners own the majority of the land and don’t allow the poor to have their own land. They do this to eliminate competition and to be the ones who profit and stay in power. This prevents the poor from trying to better their situation. According to One Day of Life, William says, “Open up Pia, open up little chickadee, pio, pio, pio” (Argueta 72). This shows the difference between the social hierarchy. The guards represent the government and those in power because they are trained by them. The reference of the chickadee, which is a small bird, is meant to suggest that the poor are weaker and lesser than the rich and those in power. The fact that William who is about 12 years old calls Maria Pia this, suggests that even a child is of higher status then the poor. This put the poor people of El Salvador at the very bottom of the social hierarchy.
Those who are in power can brainwash others into joining them. The government and military of El Salvador used their power to brainwash civilians into joining the guard, who kill innocent people. In One Day of Life, one member of the authorities says that, “One must be ready to defend the country against its enemies even at the expense of our own brothers… even at the expense of our mother” (Argueta 92). The military brainwashed these men who are in the guard to turn against their own people. Additionally, the military turned these men into emotionless killing machines by making them believe that they are doing the right thing. They took out their humanity and used them as a tactic to stay in power. According to One Day of Life, one of the authorities states that, “It’s not that we’re stupid but that we’re a country of illiterates, lugs, as they say; well, because we were born lazy” (Argueta 93). The government falsely made these men believe that the people who lived in poverty were to blame for their situation. This idea made it seem as if those in power were not to blame for what had happened to the people who live in poverty. In One Day of Life, one of the authorities once again says that, “Because what’s important, the gringo tells us, is not for you to be here for the money or for the good food you get, but out of conviction; you are the soldiers of God, the saviors of the damned country that loves communism so much” (Argueta 129). Once again it is evident how those in power used religion as a way to brainwash and control people. Using religion, allowed them to get these men to start killing without any emotion or remorse.
Those in power used democracy as an excuse to carry out their wrongdoings and to stay in power. The government of El Salvador pretended to be fighting for democracy; however, this was far from the truth.. According to mtholyoke.edu, “The United States saw the spread of communism as a threat to the nation and invested heavily in El Salvador’s Civil War.” The United States aided the government of El Salvador by providing them with money and military supplies. The United States claimed that El Salvador was fighting for democracy but they were wrong. Democracy stands for equality not the killing of innocent people. The people of El Salvador just wanted their human rights. They were not threatening democracy instead they were fighting for democracy. The government of El Salvador pretended to be a democracy to get aid from the United States, which will help them keep their power. In One Day of Life, one of the soldiers said, “The trainer shout, … ‘Who is the worst enemy of democracy?’ and we shout with all our might, ‘The people, the people, the people.” (Argueta 92) The trainers claimed that the worst enemies of democracy are the people; however, democracy was created to protect the people.. If the government of El Salvador really supported democracy, they wouldn’t have killed innocent people and would provide people with their human rights.
Social imbalance and hierarchy cause many problems in society. It gives those in power absolute power. This leads to many problems, such as people being oppressed, exploited, and killed. Manlio Argueta through his novel One Day of Life, allowed people to witness the war crimes the government committed, how they killed innocent people, and the negative impacts of the Civil War. Through the family Argueta created, people were able to actually witness and feel the horrors people of El Salvador went through during the Civil War. This novel not only applies to El Salvador but many other countries all over the world, which have faced the same situations. We still face the problems of social hierarchy and poverty till this day. This very second people are being oppressed, killed, and tortured because they want basic human rights. One Day of Life brings to live something people can’t dare to forget or repeat.
Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. Vintage Books, 1980. Gustave Courbet
“Truth Commission: El Salvador.” United States Institute of Peace, 2 Oct. 2014,
Turkey - Government Population Policies, 1992
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