The Literatures of the U.S.-Mexican War
Narrative, Time, and Identity
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Texas Press
Title page, Copyright, Dedication
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I began reading the literatures of the U.S.-Mexican War in hopes of finding new ways to understand the intersections of narrative, history, and identity as they converged along the geographic and cultural boundaries between the United States and Mexico. The novelettes, dime novels, poems, and other writings from Mexico and Mexican American literature displayed their desires and anxieties with such force and clarity that they seemed to be nearly transparent windows through which one could see origins and fundamental themes and revelations. ...
Introduction. Narratives, Borders, Dreams
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I begin with three observations: first, the U.S.-Mexican War remains largely, and infamously, unknown by most citizens of the United States1; second, Mexican Americans in the United States dwell for the most part on the margins of the national imaginary; and third, Mexican Americans in their literature and other arts emphasize forms of identity that value hybridity, or mestizaje, over essentialist notions of the nation-state. ...
One. U.S.-Mexican War Novelettes and Dime Novels: Cousins, Seducers, Bandits
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With a shooting war flaring along the northern banks of the Rio Grande in the spring of 1846, novelette writers in the rapidly growing eastern centers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia must have congratulated themselves on their rising fortunes. Here was an exciting national adventure providing a new rich vein from which to mine the ore of mass-market fantasy. ...
Act One: Tales of Chivalry
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I consolidate and structure my discussion of chivalric tales by focusing primarily on two paradigmatic novelettes, one used to exemplify what this mode proffers as the axial conflict, the other to scrutinize how the form comes to a resolution. Along the way I reference other novelettes with similar chivalric qualities. They all share two distinguishing features...
Act Two: Encounter on the Frontier
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Chivalric novelettes stand out in part because they imagine a nationally equivalent Mexico, an empathic cast of mind resisted by a broad strand of U.S. American cultural rhetoric. Frontier novelettes, on the other hand, cast a Mexican villain more familiar today across much of U.S. American society—the sexually menacing, morally corrupt, and at times suspiciously Catholic male. But this more archetypal, moustache-twirling Mexican enemy goes only so far. ...
Act Three: Fictive Facts
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Whether as patriotic freedom fighter or as nefarious would-be seducer, the charismatic Mexican renegade chief drives the action in practically all U.S.-Mexican War fictions, but he remains most familiar as the terrorist bandit criminal who takes center stage in western dime novels, the category perhaps best known and understood by the wider U.S. American public. These bandido figures are complex amalgamations of desire and repulsion, often blending together a mode of nostalgia and criminality, comedy and violence. ...
Two. Antinarratives of the U.S.-Mexican War
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The Mexican bandit dime novels in Act Three remind us how the U.S.-Mexican War remains a contradictory event, a military aggression that undermines its own propaganda and results in narratives that conspicuously mention and strictly avoid the war. In themselves, however the novelettes and dime novels do not fully articulate the narratological problem of the U.S.-Mexican War, the way the Mexican space can be construed as corrosive of meaning ...
Three. Nation and Lamentation: The Catalysis of Mexicanidad
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Angry and traumatized by a staggering military defeat, many Mexicans poured their recriminations, self-criticisms, and apologias into personal histories and essays about the U.S. American invasion. They blamed the United States, they blamed opposing Mexican factions, and they blamed themselves as they struggled to explain a profound challenge to their nation and to their own identities. Few, however, wrote war fiction or poetry. ...
Four. Mexican Self-Consciousness: El monedero and the Quest to Reform Mexico
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Just as the war catalyzed a sense of Mexican moral superiority in opposition to the hypocrisy of its northern neighbor, it also led to an intense self-criticism among liberal observers, but these writers often accompanied their inward excoriations with a call for a reformed, utopian, liberal solution. Such sentiments circulated widely in much the same way that protestations of democratic superiority wove through agonistic editorials, but while Prieto’s...
Five. Mexican American Visions: Grief and Liberation in Global Time-Space
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Mexican American writing about the U.S.-Mexican War embodies the violence between the United States and Mexico. It emerges from the sorrows of destruction and voices the yearning for meaning generated by the terrors of war. Yet these texts also drive toward singularity within paradigms of multipolarity. The result brings together the seductions, definitions, and disillusionments that circulate in many U.S. American texts discussed in previous chapters...
Epilogue. Narrative Arcs, Arrows of Time
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The U.S.-Mexican War constitutes a moment of temporal dissipation. The border that runs from the Pacific down to the Gulf of Mexico Coast attempts to hold back mutability, but like all such attempts it fails—but fails with narrative implications. One result is a highly charged confluence of war, Mexican American identity, and the dynamics of narrative itself. ...
Appendix. Novelette Titles
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Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010