Symbolism and Choice in Latin American Literature

This week’s readings are full of examples of symbolism and choice. The works we will be studying this week are the following. The first is a set of two poems by Octavio Paz, called ‘I Speak of The City’ and ‘Central Park’. These two poems use symbolism to make even mundane objects seem magical and strange. The second is the story “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges, about a spy whose cover has been blown, and the choices he makes as he tries to deliver his final message. The third is ‘Walking Around’ by Pablo Neruda, a poem about the hopelessness the writer feels about modern life, and how he no longer wishes to be a man and be forced to work and live. The fourth is “Death Constant Beyond Love,” by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, a story about a man trying to avoid loneliness and obscurity by putting his energy into lying to gain political fame. Finally, the fifth is the story “And of Clay Are We Created,” by Isabel Allende, a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a reporter trying and failing to save the life of a girl trapped in mud after a natural disaster. 


I think the story that best shows the theme of choice is “And of Clay Are We Created”. In the story, the reporter tries everything he possibly can to save the trapped child, but in the end, fails. The child dies trapped in the mud. Even if he had made different choices, the outcome would have been the same. No matter what he tried, the child’s fate was the same. The theme around choice in this story is that sometimes we can’t choose what will happen, we can only choose how we will respond to it. The reporter responded by choosing to stay with the girl until the end, trying everything he could to save her, and eventually coming to peace with her fate and dying with her. 

The work that best shows the theme of symbolism is in my opinion, “Death Constant Beyond Love” by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. In the story, one of the big uses of symbolism is paper butterflies and birds, representing the main character’s desire to not be alone, and to connect with others. Like the butterflies, his connections are fragile, and eventually disappear and leave him alone and empty handed. 


For teaching these ideas to students, here are a few example activities. 

Ask each student to come up with a scenario in which they didn’t have a choice in the final outcome, and one in which they did. Ask them how they responded to each one, and how reading the story has changed or not changed how they engage with such choices. 

Ask each student to think of one example of symbolism in popular media and to find one example in one of the texts. Have them explain what they think the symbolism means and why. 

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