Places: El Zarco, the Bandit

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: El zarco: Episodios de la vida mexicana en 1861-1863, 1901 (English translation, 1957)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1861-1863

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*<i>Tierra caliente</i>

*Tierra calienteEl Zarco, the Bandit. Hot rural lowland region to the west and south of Mexico City where the novel is set. Because the primarily agricultural area is lightly populated and separated from urban areas by mountains, banditry is rampant.


*Yautepec (yow-teh-PEK). Pleasant and peaceful Mexican village with hard-working and honest people in the tierra caliente that is home to Doña Antonia, her daughter Manuela, and her goddaughter Pilar. Strongly traditional in its social conventions, the village is a symbol of that which is orderly and good in society. The villagers rightly fear the political disorganization, social unrest, and criminal activity that are beginning to encroach on their lives.

The novel’s leading characters, Doña Antonia and her family, live in a typical Mexican home, in which the mother attempts to protect and appropriately socialize her resistant daughter. However, Manuela longs for the freedom and excitement that lie beyond the village. Her romantic fantasies about bandits combined with her lack of life experience eventually moves her to run off with the bandit. Her mother dies of grief.

The Indian blacksmith Nicolas and Pilar believe that they, as symbols of righteous convention, are meant for each other and plan to marry. At their wedding at the end of the novel, the village is the site of righteous retribution and the restoration of social order. Martin Sanchez, a prior victim of the bandits from a nearby ranch, gains official approval of his continued pursuit of the bandits, whom he recaptures at Yautepec during their attempt to murder Nicolas and kidnap Pilar. Sanchez executes the bandits, and Manuela dies of grief and shame on the spot.


Atlihuayan (ah-tlee-WAH-yan). Nearby sugar plantation that symbolizes stability and order in society. It is somewhat more secure from the bandits than the village because of the large number of able-bodied men it has to resist criminal forays. The plantation is home to Nicolas, Manuela’s suitor. Nicolas symbolizes personal stability, order, and social equality, just as Atlihuayan itself does. Doña Antonia’s delight that Nicolas is courting her daughter contrasts with Manuela’s own immature distaste for her Indian suitor, and with Pilar’s secret passion for him.


*Xochimancas (soh-chee-MAHN-kahs). Stronghold of El Zarco; a hacienda with rich soil, abundant water, and ideal climate for growing crops that has fallen into ruin during the occupation of El Zarco and, apparently, more than five hundred bandits. El Zarco takes Manuela to the place, which proves to be little better than a prison for her. There, she is forced to live with drunken, ragged women and unscrupulous bandits. Manuela’s first experience of life outside conventions horrifies her, but she is trapped.

BibliographyCastagnaro, Anthony R. The Early Spanish American Novel. New York: Las Américas, 1971. Focuses on the development of the Latin American novel since the nineteenth century. Establishes Altamirano as a precursor of the genre in Mexico.Duncan, Cynthia. “Altamirano, Ignacio Manuel.” In Dictionary of Mexican Literature, edited by Eladio Cortés. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. A survey of Altamirano’s works; a good introduction to this author.Nacci, Chris. Ignacio Manuel Altamirano. New York: Twayne, 1970. Good introduction to Altamirano’s life and works. Presents an overview of his works, with strong biographical and historical background.Reyes, Lisa. “The Nineteenth-Century Latin American National Romance and the Role of Women.” Ariel 8 (1992): 33-44. Provides a comparative study of major nineteenth century novelists’ treatment of women in their works. Stresses the influence of the strong Latin American patriarchal social structure on the emerging novel.
Categories: Places