Patricia Lapolla Swier’s Hybrid Nations offers an original reading of some key novels of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Swier closely examines the ways in which authors including Rómulo Gallegos, José Martí, and Miguel Ángel Asturias use what she calls “gender troping” to illustrate unequal power relations in national politics. Although Swier mentions some black-and-white binary oppositions, her main objective is to draw attention to the grey areas (the areas of gender ambiguity) found in the nation-building novel. The aggressive femme fatale in Martí’s Amistad Funesta, the intimidating and very masculine Doña Bárbara of Gallegos’ novel by the same name, and the fragmented “feminine” narrative style of El señor presidente by Asturias all figure prominently in Swier’s investigation of bi-gendered national fictions.
In the introduction, Swier defines “gender troping” as “the utilization of gender codes in order to persuade the reader of the (political) objectives of the author” and “a manipulative strategy utilized by many writers in the formation or exclusion of a desired subject” (20). Because she sees gender troping as a tradition rooted in Western patriarchal culture, Swier provides her readers with a history of theories of gender in Europe and Latin America along with a discussion of recent scholarship related to gender and sexuality. This involves a review of the often misogynist and racist works of major turn-of-the-century thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Sander L. Gilman, and Jean-Martin Charcot. It also includes a discussion of contemporary progressive theories by Elaine Showalter, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Hélène Cixous among others. Swier explains how Charcot’s study of female hysteria and Gilman’s theories of prostitution and female pathology attempted to categorize and control any feminine behavior that deviated from the socially-defined norm. This history provides a rich context for Swier’s interdisciplinary analysis of the effects of gender troping and the peculiar blurring of binaries she finds in Latin American national fictions.
Two chapters highlighting the work of Cuban author José Martí comprise Part I of Hybrid Nations. The first chapter contains an account of US-Cuba relations in the 1880s as well as a detailed analysis of Martí’s essays and chronicles (beyond his celebrated treatise “Nuestra América”), many of which depict the United States in a negative light. Swier argues that Martí employs gender troping in his essays in order to figuratively emasculate the United States, thus weakening its international reputation and strengthening Cuba’s image: “Martí builds up the virile qualities of the United States only so that he can subvert this commonly perceived power, which thereby opens up a space for the construction of the Latin American masculine subject” (67). In Chapter 2, Swier identifies Juan Jerez, the male protagonist of Amistad Funesta, as the embodiment [End Page 153] of the new masculine subject in Latin America. Swier maintains that Martí depicts Cuban national identity in the gentle, feminine, character of Juan while the hysterical, pathological, and masculine Lucía Jerez represents the United States. Martí, according to Swier, uses the novel to warn readers not only about the dangers of aberrant female behavior but also about the dangers of excessive materialism and ambition (excessive masculinity) and to advocate for a kinder, more nurturing (more “feminine”) state.
Chapters 3 and 4 (in Part II) treat two twentieth-century novels, Doña Bárbara and El señor presidente, which, like Amistad funesta, reverse gender roles and eschew extreme masculinity. Swier suggests that each author uses gender ambiguity to challenge political hegemony. The female protagonist, in the case of Doña Bárbara, characterizes the savagery of the plains, female pathology, brujería, and the “hegemonic masculinity” of the Gomez dictatorship in Venezuela while the male hero, Santos Luzardo, embodies righteousness, order, tenderness, and urban civility (120). Swier discusses Luzardo’s feminine qualities as well as Doña Bárbara’s masculine traits in the context of Gallegos’s political objectives. She also explains the political implications of each character’s...