Places: Where the Air Is Clear

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La región más transparente, 1958 (English translation, 1960)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Mythic

Time of work: Early to mid-1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mexico City

*Mexico Where the Air Is ClearCity. Mexico’s capital city is the central location of the novel, providing a modern urban setting that contrasts with the country’s primarily rural history. Carlos Fuentes uses the city as a protagonist to which the characters must react as much as they interact with one another. Against this emerging modern backdrop, the characters struggle to understand their individual destinies, and in a collective sense, they embody the new, rising, modern Mexico coming to terms with the fallout of its early twentieth century revolution. The urban setting poignantly displays Fuentes’s cynical irony. The modern, postrevolutionary era does not provide equality nor justice. Remnants of classicism and political corruption abound.

The novel is framed with the question: “Here we abide. And what are we going to do about it? Where the air is clear.” Only in an ironic sense is Mexico City a place where the air is, in fact, clear. The phrase suggests a fatalistic alliance with a place that is changing but whose inhabitants have not yet figured out their role in the changes. There is no optimistic assertion that a movement toward capitalism and a middle class will satisfy the needs of the populace. Instead, the phrase suggests the betrayal of the ideals of the revolution that now finds itself played out in the dramas of citizens caught up in the cultural shift taking place.

Historically, Mexico City was the center of the indigenous Aztec culture and thus signified mythical and spiritual values of the land. The novel plays off this mythical association to suggest a spiritual decline of the citizenry. It calls into question whether a people living in modern urban settings can remain true to historical and mythological roots that have created them.

*Rural Mexico

*Rural Mexico. In contrast to the urban setting of Mexico City, the novel implies a connection to several less urban settings. Many of the characters have roots in outlying areas, but have since migrated to the metropolitan area. The rural landscape is not simplistically viewed as an Eden, but it is associated with the mythical origins stemming from the Aztec culture. This culture, brutally interrupted by the Spanish Conquest, has been lost, but modern Mexicans seem almost subconsciously to act out some of the principal tenets of its system. For example, blood sacrifice and sun worship are ironically continued in modern urban settings in the forms of murder, rape, and sunbathing, suggesting a mythical connection to indigenous origins.


*Acapulco. Port city on Mexico’s Pacific coast where both American and Mexican tourists intermingle in rituals of sunbathing. In these scenes, characters try to avoid the stresses of urban life, and references to these settings show the few times when people gather in collective rituals of celebration. These moments contrast with the individual struggles prominent elsewhere in the novel.


*Europe. Frequent references to the Old World continent are used collectively to suggest that Mexico is still struggling with the class issues of the Old World feudal system that presumed a romantic idealization of society. One character, for example, says that it makes him laugh to live in a “culture Europe had its fill of more than a century ago.” Aristocrats in Mexico still try to live out the values and privileges of a dying culture assumed to be alive in France and other European countries.

The novel also contains allusions to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia whose attempted land and political reforms seem to parallel the ideals of the Mexican Revolution.

*United States

*United States. The large and prosperous country to the north of Mexico is referred to collectively and usually negatively. The use of this place suggests a counter system in which capitalism is assumed to be thriving and whose economic benefits lure Mexicans north across the border. Frequently characters discuss the choice of leaving home for economic advancement at the cost of national identity and pride. Finally, the economic concerns squelch the true need of spiritual awareness that Fuentes’s work demands. To play off the title phrase, the air is never clear in any place where materialism dominates.

BibliographyBrody, Robert, and Charles Rossman, eds. Carlos Fuentes: A Critical View. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982. Good and varied collection of essays on the stories and novels.Duran, Gloria. The Archetypes of Carlos Fuentes. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1980. Discusses female archetypes in Fuentes’ major works of fiction.Faris, Wendy B. Carlos Fuentes. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Excellent introduction to Fuentes’ works. Focuses upon Fuentes’ capacity to absorb, transform, and transmit multiple voices.Foster, David W. “La región más transparente and the Limits of Prophetic Art.” Hispania 56, no. 1 (March, 1973): 35-42. Insightful discussion of Fuentes’ use of myth and archetype in the novel. Describes myth as a unifying principle between the present and the past in Mexican history.Guzman, Daniel de. Carlos Fuentes. Boston: Twayne, 1972. Overview of Fuentes’ work in a historical, social, psychological, economic, and cultural context. Bibliography.
Categories: Places