Places: The Death of Artemio Cruz

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La muerte de Artemio Cruz, 1962 (English translation, 1964)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1889-1959

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mexico City hospital

*Mexico Death of Artemio Cruz, TheCity hospital. Mexico’s capital and largest city, where Cruz is dying in a hospital bed. Fuentes confines his main character to this restrictive place to illustrate Cruz’s descent into near madness from the powerful, aggressive but tragic personality he once exhibited. Due to the limitation of the hospitalization, readers understand the conflict of a man brought face to face with his own mortality. Cruz’s decline contrasts with the character who earlier seemed to embody the spirit of Mexican nationalism. His suffering parallels the uncertain outcomes and failed idealism of the Mexican Revolution.

Cruz’s seclusion allows Fuentes to focus on his suffering protagonist’s interior life. Cruz’s memory functions as a very real place in the novel. In stark contrast to his decaying body, his memory is active, and through it readers see a number of poignant binaries: past and present, heroism and cowardice, loyalty and betrayal, love and lust, poverty and wealth, cynicism and opportunism, isolation and socialization.


Cocuya. Large estate in Mexico’s province of Veracruz with cultural ties to the nineteenth century dictator Antonio López de Santa Ana. Cruz’s mother (of African descent) was driven from this place after giving birth to her illegitimate son. This place reveals the humble origins of Artemio Cruz and may then help to explain his later drive for power and his own betrayal of the revolutionaries. Cocuya metaphorically represents the author’s view of the unfortunate, even adulterous, relationship of Mexican aristocracy with imperial forces. That relationship failed to appreciate and respect the attempted land reforms of the revolution.


*Veracruz. Mexican port city on the Caribbean coast and the place where Cruz is educated by Sebastian, who teaches him the ideals of social reform. Cruz recalls on several occasions his teacher and his ideals that seem to have become unraveled in the reality of warfare and class conflict.


*Mexico. Cruz’s flashbacks fill the novel with constant references to landscape, with such vivid images as red deserts, hills of prickly pears and magueys, dry cactuses, lava belts, limestone and sandstone cities, adobe pueblos, reed-grass hamlets, and so on. Such passages reinforce a powerful underlying motif found throughout the novel. The land that has been hoarded and fought over and promised and betrayed endures, despite the manipulative destruction of man. The landscape of Mexico functions for the author as a character-like force that stands in eternal mockery to the short-sighted and ego-driven possessiveness of man. The landscape connects mythic Mexico to the revolutionary period of the early twentieth century and finally to the modern-day society governed by growing technology and industrialization. The soul of Mexico is found in its natural order, and Cruz’s fluctuating relationship with the natural environment of his country tragically seems to become appreciative of her eternal quality only when his own life has passed its opportunity to protect and venerate the places so poignant in his mind.

BibliographyFaris, Wendy B. Carlos Fuentes. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Fine overview of Fuentes’ works with considerable detailed analysis. Includes a twenty-two-page chapter that focuses solely on The Death of Artemio Cruz, discussing the novel’s plot, theme, and presentation.Guzmán, Daniel de. Carlos Fuentes. New York: Twayne, 1972. Excellent overview of Fuentes’ life and career through the 1960’s. Discusses initial critical reception of The Death of Artemio Cruz, presents a description of the narrative and a plot summary, and considers the significance of the novel in Fuentes’ evolution as a writer.Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin American Writers. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Includes a chapter entitled “Carlos Fuentes, or the New Heresy,” which provides an interview-based discussion of Fuentes and his works and includes considerable background on post-revolutionary Mexican society and literature.Sommers, Joseph. After the Storm: Landmarks of the Modern Mexican Novel. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968. A twelve-page discussion of The Death of Artemio Cruz treats the novel’s tone, structure, point of view, and treatment of time, followed by more detailed consideration of the work’s theme and its literary quality. Includes some comparison to Fuentes’ earlier novel Where the Air Is Clear.Vázquez Amaral, José. The Contemporary Latin American Narrative. New York: Las Américas, 1970. A brief chapter on The Death of Artemio Cruz, part overview and part review, compares Fuentes’ novel and Mariano Azuela’s The Underdogs (1915) as novels of the Mexican Revolution.
Categories: Places