The Old Gringo

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The Old Gringo (Spanish: Gringo Viejo) is a novel by Carlos Fuentes, written from 1964 to 1984 and first published in 1985. Inspired by the historical disappearance of American writer Ambrose Bierce amidst the chaos of the Mexican Revolution, the novel addresses themes of death, cultural exchange, and Mexican identity, among others. Its English-language translation became the first novel by a Mexican author to become a U.S. bestseller.[1]


An elderly American writer and journalist for the Hearst media empire decides to leave his old life behind and seek a glorious death in the midst of the Mexican revolution. A widower whose two sons had both committed suicide, this unnamed old man eventually comes across part of the army of Pancho Villa. This particular group, led by General Arroyo, has just liberated a massive land holding from the wealthy Miranda family. Arroyo is mestizo, the product of the rape of his Indian mother by his Miranda father.

At that same hacienda, the old man meets Harriet Winslow, a woman from Washington D.C. hired to tutor the young Miranda children. However, by the time she arrived there, they had long since fled with their parents from Arroyo's army. At first, she has a patronizing view about the revolutionary army and the Mexican people, saying,

"What these people need is education, not rifles. A good scrubbing, followed by a few lessons on how we do things in the United States, and you'd see an end to this chaos." "You're going to civilize them?" the old man asked dryly. "Precisely." [2]

As the novel progresses, Winslow begins to learn to accept the truth of her past, as well as to appreciate the Mexican culture she finds all around her. By the close of the novel, she decides that instead of attempting to change Mexico, as she had wanted to earlier, she wants "to learn to live with Mexico".[3]

The novel ends with the deaths of both the old man and General Arroyo. When the 'old gringo' burns some historical documents as a means of encouraging Arroyo to leave the Miranda household and continue with the revolution, Arroyo responds by murdering him. Later, when Arroyo finally meets up with Pancho Villa's army, he is executed for this crime as a means of preventing any American response.

Like many of Fuentes' works, The Old Gringo explores the way in which revolutionary ideals become corrupted, as Arroyo chooses to pursue the deed to an estate where he once worked as a servant rather than follow the true goals of the revolution.[4]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Old Gringo

In 1989, the novel was adapted into a film called Old Gringo starring Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda, and Jimmy Smits.[5] The film received mixed to negative reviews, with a 45% "Freshness" rating at the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,[6] and was a box-office failure.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anahi Rama and Lizbeth Diaz (May 15, 2012). "Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes dies at 83". Chicago Tribune. Reuters. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ Fuentes, Carlos, The Old Gringo, p.41, translated by Peden, Margaret Sayers. Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1985, ISBN 0-374-53052-1
  3. ^ Fuentes, Carlos, The Old Gringo, p.187, translated by Peden, Margaret Sayers. Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1985, ISBN 0-374-53052-1
  4. ^ Bernadette Flynn Low (November 2010). "The Old Gringo". Masterplots. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Anthony DePalma (May 15, 2012). "Carlos Fuentes, Mexican Man of Letters, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Old Gringo". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  7. ^ James M. Welsh (January 2000). "The Old Gringo". Masterplots II: American Fiction Series. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 

External links[edit]