During the 20th century, there was a tremendous conflict between the rich and the poor in El Salvador, which led to the Civil War in the 1970s. The poor protesting and fighting for their rights resulted in great violence by the forces of the military. Throughout the war, villages were destroyed and thousands of people were targeted. One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, depicts the various struggles peasants went through during this tragedy. The writer does this through the voice of Guadalupe Fuentes (Lupe), one of the main characters of the novel. Lupe is a strong and hardworking woman. She is married to Jose, also known as Chepe, and does her best to support her family with enough resources. This paper analyzes the ways Argueta showcases the everyday struggle of the poor through the eyes of Lupe.
During the 20th century, there was a tremendous conflict between the rich and the poor. According to Commission on the Truth: El Salvador, in 1932, the Salvadoran military –ruled under Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez– carried out La Matanza, known as the slaughter. This tragedy involved the slaughter of 30,000 indigenous people in El Salvador. These Salvadorans were coffee farmers who protested harsh working conditions. La Matanza eventually led to the Civil War, which started in the 1970s and ended until 1992. The poor protesting and fighting for their rights resulted in great violence by the forces of the military. Throughout the Salvadoran Civil War, villages were destroyed and thousands of people were targeted. One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, depicts the various struggles peasants went through during this tragedy. The writer does this through the voice of Guadalupe Fuentes (Lupe), one of the main characters of the novel. Lupe is a strong and hardworking woman. She is married to Jose, also known as Chepe, and does her best to support her family with enough resources. The novel is written in different time segments representing a different chapter. However, this gives significance to the title since the novel depicts what a day is like in El Salvador for the poor people. Argueta’s One Day of Life uses the themes of fear, corruption, and malnutrition to highlight the destruction of the Salvadoran Civil War, allowing the readers to understand how Salvadorans’ lives were negatively impacted through the eyes of Lupe.
To begin with, the novel One Day of Life demonstrates that Salvadoran people were filled with fear every day of their lives due to what was happening during the Civil War. In the novel, men were being taken away and were forced to live in the hills. Women were no longer with their husbands and were left only with their children. Adolfina, the granddaughter of Lupe, states: “the one who suffers more is Mama Lupe. She has to be alone--Papa Chepe sleeps in the hills ever since they threatened him. We, women, are being left alone,” (Argueta 44). This piece of evidence demonstrates that since men were being taken away, women were being left alone. Many of them lived in fear not knowing what could happen to them or to their children; for the most part, woman had to do what they can to provide their children with what they needed. Most women feared what could happen, thinking that they could be the ones who would be targeted next. Another example in relation to fear would be the way in which Maria Romelia explains the bus massacre as she was going back home from the bank. Maria Romelia states that she and other victims were forced to get inside the bus. Once they were all in, they shot the bus driver. As the authorities were shooting at some people, she got shot in her right hand and she decided to run off to look for help (Argueta 38). As a result, both, the massacre and the way in which men were being forced to leave their home depicts the way in which Salvadorans had to live in fear until the end of the Civil War. For the novel, one of the most common themes described would be fear due to everything that Salvadorans experienced, such as massacres, killings, and abandonment. The title of the novel is significant because it provides an understanding of how people constantly lived in fear every day of their lives because of what was happening during the Civil War.
For instance, according to “The Ellacuria Tapes: A Martyr at Loyola,” members of the Catholic Church became important leaders for social justice.
Additionally, another important theme that is highlighted in the novel is corruption. This theme is important because since the novel focuses on one day of what Salvadorans experienced, a lot of massacres and killings take places throughout the novel. For instance, according to “The Ellacuria Tapes: A Martyr at Loyola,” members of the Catholic Church became important leaders for social justice. In the novel, it explains how the priests were educating the Salvadorans about their rights since most of them were unaware that rights existed. For the people in the government, however, they feared that what the church was doing would threaten their power, so they decided to teach the people a lesson. Lupe mentions, “Knowing that something called rights existed. If it hadn’t been for the priests, we wouldn’t have found out about those things in our interest ... the young priest who had been wounded in the anus didn’t come back” (Argueta 32). In other words, since the government didn’t want the priests to educate the Salvadorans, they decided to beat them in order to scare them and stop their efforts for social justice. Having the military beating up the priests was an example of the corruption that people went through. Lupe on the other hand, experienced corruption through the loss of her son Justino. At one point in the novel, authorities arrived at Justino’s house and took him by force. Adolfina states, “One night, four members of the civil authority, those who were armed, went to his house, dragged his wife and children out, and set fire to the house,” (Argueta 146). This evidence shows an example of corruption since people from El Salvador were experiencing and witnessing massacres and the killings of others. As a result, corruption was also an important issue that happened throughout the civil war. Therefore, the title of the novel also reflects the corruption experienced by the Salvadorans throughout the years of the Civil War.
Another important topic that is portrayed throughout the novel is malnutrition. Since the novel took place during the Civil War, Salvadoran people didn’t have enough money to buy food or even medicine. Most of them were living in fear, as a result, many Salvadorans decided to seek refuge or even flee out of the country and. In this chapter, Adolfina converses in the Cathedral, she describes what she had gone through as she was seeking for refuge along with other Salvadorans. They decided to seek refuge in a Catholic Church since they believed that authorities wouldn’t search for them in there. The novel states, “Since the food ran out they’re already making arrangements to get more through the Red Cross,” (Argueta 155). As the evidence demonstrates, the people who were seeking refuge in the Catholic Church didn’t have enough food to eat, so the Red Cross decided to help them. Even though they were receiving help from the Red Cross, they still had to be careful and make sure that the authorities guarding against them outside of the church would not see them or suspect anything. Although they were provided with food, it was not enough for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, the author wrote that due to malnutrition children were getting worms inside their stomachs and many of them died as a result. At the beginning of the novel, Lupe states, “and when we’d tell the priests that our children were dying from worms, they’d recommend resignation or claim that we hadn't given their yearly purge. But despite any purges we have them, they’d die,” (Argueta 20). This evidence demonstrates that since children were not eating well, they began to get worms in their stomachs. They would be taken to get cured by the priests, but many ended up dying. In One Day of Life, malnutrition was also an important topic since it was one of the consequences of the Salvadoran Civil War.
In conclusion, the importance of this novel is marked in the everyday experiences Argueta allows readers to experience with Lupe. Her chapters are marked with a different time of the day, slowly counting down the narrative arc. Furthermore, the danger continues to grow with each turn of the page, from malnutrition to the forces of armed men. Most importantly, through the time given in the novel, readers are able to determine that the novel starts off at five thirty in the morning and ends at five o’clock in the afternoon. For the many Salvadorans who suffered the Civil War, all of these struggles give weight to surviving loss at every turn. Even though the novel focuses on only the life of Guadalupe Fuentes and her family, it can be inferred that thousands of other Salvadorans were also experiencing similar challenges in their everyday lives.
Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. Vintage Books, 1991.
“The Ellacuria Tapes: A Matyr at Loyola.” Omeka RSS, http://www.lib.luc.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/show/ellacuria-tapes
Milian Arias, Claudia. “An Interview with Manlio Argueta.” The Noigandres Poets and Concrete Art, www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v08/arias.html
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.