The Underdogs (novel)
|Original title||Los de abajo|
The Underdogs (Spanish: Los de abajo) is a novelistic treatment of the Mexican Revolution by Mariano Azuela, based in part on its author's experiences as a medical officer during the conflict. In the view of its translator, Sergio Waisman, the book is quite simply "the most important novel of the Mexican revolution." It was originally published in serial form in the newspaper El Paso del Norte in 1915.
The book tells us the story of peasant Demetrio Macías, who becomes the enemy of a local cacique (leader, or important person) in his town, and so has to abandon his family when the government soldiers (Federales) come looking for him. He escapes to the mountains, and forms a group of rebels who support the Mexican Revolution.
Some of them are prototypes of the sort of people that would be attracted by a revolution, like Luis Cervantes, who is an educated man mistreated by the Federales and therefore turning on them, or Güero Margarito, a cruel man who finds justification for his deeds in the tumultuousness of the times. Also Camila, a young peasant who is in love with Cervantes, who cheats her into becoming Macías' lover, and whose kind and stoic nature gives her a tragic uniqueness among the rest.
With a concise, unsympathetic tone, Azuela takes us along with this band of outcasts as they move along the hills of the country, seemingly struggling for a cause whose leader changes from day to night. The rebels, not very certain of what or whom they are fighting for, practice themselves the abuse and injustice they used to suffer in the hands of the old leaders. So the Mexican people, as the title of the book hints, are always the “ones below”, no matter who runs the country.
In the end, Macías has lost his lover and most of his men, and reunites with his family with no real desire or hope for redemption or peace. He has forebodings of his destiny, and the last scene of the book leaves him firing his rifle with deathly accuracy, alone and extremely outnumbered by his enemies.
- Demetrio Macías: He is a tall and well-built man with a sanguine face and beardless chin. He wore a shirt and trouser of white cloth, broad Mexican hat, and leather sandals. He leads a group of men fighting against the federal forces of Victoriano Huerta. He is famous for his marksmanship and his ability to lead men in battle. Many poor peasants he meets throughout his journey protest against the Federales because they burn their houses, take their wives, their stock, and their animals. His dog was murdered, one of the most iconic and melodramatic scenes in the novel. It depicted a moment of helplessness a recurring theme throughout the book. Macias and his band of men traveled great lengths and looted and sacked villages throughout their journey in order to stay alive. They raped many Mexican women and hung dozens of men. Macias also had a semi-sexual encounter with another man that changed the essence of his character throughout the rest of the novel. Demetrio Macías and his men were not much better though. After conquering a town he would loot many houses. Still many of these poor men joined Macías in the fight against Huerta’s troops. At the beginning of the novel he fights to change his country, when at the end he does not know why he continues to fight, comparing his actions to that of a pebble he throws into a canyon. Many of Macías' men forget what they are fighting for and as time goes by start to concentrate more on their own needs. While at the beginning of his journey, Macías is fighting against various injustices at the end he seems to lose sight of the purpose. Mariano Azuela shows that while the Revolution improved various conditions and got rid of certain inequalities, it also created new ones.
- Luis Cervantes: The newest member of Demetrio's band of rebels. He was conscripted to fight in the Federale army but deserted when he was offended. Different to the rest of the band, Cervantes was educated and well'mannered as he is a medical student and journalist. Towards the end of the novel he flees the country to go to the United States. His story is said to be similar to the author's, however, in many interviews Azuela has stated his voice is not represented by the life of Cervantes but rather Solis.
The book has been translated various times into English. Sergio Waisman has published one translation. A centenary translation was done by Ilan Stavans and Anna Moore for The Underdogs: A Norton Critical Edition. The Hackett Publishing Company edition, The Underdogs: with Related Texts, translated by Gustavo Pellón, also includes contemporary reviews of Azuela's book, an excerpt from Anita Brenner's Idols Behind Altars (1929), and selections from John Reed's Insurgent Mexico (1914).
- Waisman, "Introduction." 1
- Azuela, Mariano (1992),Los de Abajo, Adaptation by Marta Portal
- Azuela, Mariano (2008), The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution, translated by Sergio Waisman, New York: Penguin.
- Azuela, Mariano (2006), The Underdogs: with Related Texts, translated by Gustavo Pellón, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
- The Underdogs at Project Gutenberg