The Feast of the Goat is novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, who gives a compelling encounter on Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorial regime and eventual death. The book is a blend of fictional writing and historical inscription. The author tells the story from three storylines – Urania’s viewpoint, Trujillo’s perspective, and the conspirator’s standpoint. The novel’s timeline jumps back and forth between 1961 and 1996 when Urania comes back to visit the Dominican Republic. Although some of the mentioned events are factual, the characters are fictional. The plot is fictional too.
The author’s style of writing is not unique, but it also offers effects of sensationalism, thus provoking excitement on its readers (Torch et al., 2002 p.342). Therefore, this paper aims at examining, discussing and analyzing Mario Varga’s style while taking into account the depiction of violence and sexual misconducts by the character of Trujillo. The paper also answers the question if the author’s style is enough to categorize the novel as the literature of resistance.
Summary – The Three Storylines
The first storyline is that of Urania Cabral, who happens to be the novel’s main protagonist. After leaving her country at 14 years of age, Urania has come back after 35 years living in the United States where she is an accomplished lawyer. Although she is visiting her home after all these years, she is still unsure of the main reason why she is back. She stays in one of the hotels at Santo Domingo, which is her original hometown. While taking a walk down the street, Urania notices the changes in the town. She is disturbed and bothered by the looks she receives from the local men. None of the memories she experiences are positive, and she is particularly surprised by the increased number of Haitian immigrants. Urania then finally visits her childhood home, only to find her father is weak and sick.
The storyline switches back to 1961, whereby Trujillo confesses to being plagued by issues surrounding the country’s relationship with the United States. He is also stressed by the conflict his government has with the Catholic Church. The author gives us graphic imagery of Trujillo’s past when he was in the army. We also realize he has been suffering from symptoms of impotence and incontinence. During that time, he remembers a “skinny” girl he might have slept with but he could not, but then he left to seek another girl. His memory also goes back to a time when he ordered a massacre of Haitian immigrants. The memories are to make connections with the readers, who might remember real-life events when Trujillo acted as a lethal dictator.
The third and final viewpoint is that of the assassins, all of whom were members of Trujillo’s government. The author gives explicitly an account of Lieutenant Garcia Guerrera, who felt betrayed by Trujillo, and is no longer impressed by his leadership style. He argues that Trujillo’s death is necessary for a better Dominican Republic. The other assassin is Antonio la Maza, who was Trujillo’s bodyguard and had a brother who was killed under Trujillo’s orders. The third assassin is Salvador Estrella, who did not like the manner at which Trujillo treated the Catholic Church.
The main themes include machismo, revenge, memory, and political corruption. Regarding machismo, Torch et al. (2002 p.345) describe two components involving aggression and hyper-sexuality, which is evidenced in Trujillo’s behaviors. For instance, Trujillo tries to have sex with a “skinny” girl, but his lack of performance leads him to seek another girl at the town center. The “skinny” is later revealed to be Urania, who was only 14 years of age at the time. Worse, her father, Agustin Cabral, was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which means Urania’s father had allowed this kind of act on her. In the book, the author explains that Trujillo slept with his minister’s wives and daughters as a way of testing their loyalty. Besides, he applied aggression to anyone who opposed his ideas of governance, which resulted in fear and dread amongst the ministers.
The second theme is revenge, which is portrayed through the viewpoint of the conspirators, most of whom were loyal members of Trujillo’s team. An example is Lieutenant Garcia Guerrero who regretfully laments how he used to serve for the Goat himself, and how their relationship was a very close one (Castro-Klarén, 2016 p.536). Garcia’s closeness with Trujillo came to a halt when he felt betrayed after the Goat had ordered him to break his engagement with a sister of a communist activist. As a loyal soldier, he obeyed the orders and broke off the engagement. However, this action was the beginning of Trujillo’s eroding behavior, which led him to become a cruel dictator. For that reason, Lieutenant Garcia Guerrero decided to join in the plot to assassinate Trujillo.
Political corruption is the third theme, whereby Trujillo openly steals from the public throughout his regime. Trujillo took from the government with the intentions of enriching himself and his ministers. Such behaviors depict his anti-communistic tendencies because he does not strive to serve the lower class people of the Dominican Republic yet exhibit extravagance. He also practices dominance through the power and public humiliation of conspirators. In this stance, the author entails the true nature of the real Trujillo, thus cementing actual events in the story, through which most Dominicans can relate.
The fourth and final theme is a memory, whereby the author takes readers through historical events. Through the conspirators’ viewpoints and Urania’s painful memories, readers are re-living the events that took place 35 years prior. The theme of memory is particularly significant when Urania comes back to visit her mother country, Dominican Republic. For example, while walking down the street, Urania notices “Casino de Güibia, converted into a nightclub, and the bathing beach that reeks now of sewage.” She also reminds her father of the bitter memories she has held all these years. Her memories are so compelling such that readers feel the pain she is still staying in her heart.
The author gets to the mind of the characters and tells us precisely what they think. For instance, through Urania’s bitter memories, we realize that the effects of the violence were torturous to citizens, and this is evidenced through Urania, who says to her father, “I’ve become an expert on Trujillo. Instead of playing bridge or golf, or riding horses, or going to the opera, my hobby has been finding out what happened during those years.” Such a statement and confession is a clear indication of the bitterness Urania had to go through for the past 35 years of her life.
The lack of chronology is the book is deemed confusing and less useful to the reader’s comfort. However, this is very effective for the story’s plot (Palencia-Roth, 1990 p.352). One only appreciates this style at the end of the book, when the author finally reveals the connection between Urania and Trujillo. The constant back and forth movements make the new fall into sensationalism and thus provoke public interest while generating excitement. For instance, the final revelation of Trujillo’s rape on Urania causes some emotion to the readers, who ponder on Trujillo’s great brutality and the kinds of scars he put on his citizens.
Although a fictional story, this literary work is also considered a historical novel whereby main events are familiar to Dominicans and interested historians. While reading the book, we know of Trujillo’s eventual assassination; however, readers are still interested because the author tries to make connections with Urania’s storyline. At the same time, this writing style incites feelings of nostalgia, which is precisely what the author wants, which is to take readers down the memory lane. The intentions are to remind readers of Trujillo’s brutality, corruption, abuse of power, and how these deeds had lasting negative impacts on his victims.
Mario Vargas Llosa’s style is not characteristic of subtlety. As noted by Castro-Klarén (2016 p.537), he prefers to leave no stone unturned, which is precisely what he did with this novel. Through Urania’s contemplations, the author ponders how highly intelligent people like reputable lawyers, ministers, doctors, and other graduates would eventually fall to Trujillo’s charms and tolerate his regime for the 31 years he was in power.
He further gives Trujillo’s perspective on why he applied force on his people. He argued that it was for the good of the citizens, who would later appreciate his tough leadership. At the same time, the author takes us through Urania’s point of view, whereby she finds Trujillo’s leadership a bitter memory she would want to forget. The author then leaves it to the readers to make their conclusions, although he completes the story with Urania’s painful past.
In analyzing The Feast of the Goat, it is worth mentioning the author’s unique style of writing, which jumps back and forth between two timelines – 1961 and 1996. The method offers a provocation of excitement such that readers are thrilled by the turning of events, whereby Urania’s storyline connects with Trujillo’s dictatorial rule (Torch et al., 2002 p.344). Through the theme of memory, readers notice Urania’s bitter past, which still lingers in her mind 35 years later. She is not sure why she traveled back home to Santo Domingo, but she hesitantly visits her birth home to meet her family.
In an intelligent, yet subtle manner, the author illustrates the three different storylines into one encounter. In the process, the author makes the novel looks like a historical tale, but then, Urania’s story is fictitious, thus making it a fictional book. Due to various aspects of political corruption, the book can be categorized literature of resistance. The author not only excites readers, but he reminds them via Urania’s memories, where we learn about Trujillo’s brutality and his lifelong effects on his victims. As a political figure himself, Mario Vargas Llosa might have intended for the novel to act as a cautionary to current leaders to think twice of their dictatorial tendencies (Castro-Klarén, 2016 p.539).
The author style of writing is enjoyable to the readers mainly because it combines both fictional and real-life events. He successfully intertwines the three storylines yet maintaining a chronological flow in terms of historical events. The author keeps readers guessing on the connection between Urania and Trujillo, which is eventually revealed at the end. The Feast of the Goat is an exciting novel, which acts as a meditation on Dominican history. It also excites readers to be cautious of dictatorial leadership, which, as evidenced through Urania, can leave a lasting and bitter memory on its victims.
Castro-Klarén, Sara. “Mario Vargas Llosa: A Retrospective Look.” MLN, vol 131, no. 2, 2016, pp. 536-550. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/mln.2016.0021. Accessed at https://bit.ly/2EDUuxt
Palencia-Roth, Michael. “The Art Of Memory In Garcia Marquez And Vargas Llosa.” MLN, vol 105, no. 2, 1990, p. 351. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/2905298. Accessed at https://bit.ly/2TksI3h
Torch, Rafael et al. “The Feast Of The Goat.” The Antioch Review, vol 60, no. 2, 2002, p. 342. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/4614333. Accessed at https://bit.ly/2ThywKF
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