Below: Maria Felix as Dona Barbara in the film of the same name (1943):
One of the best sources for a thumbnail sketch of the history of Latin America from the post-Independence struggle to the present is probably the Encyclopedia Britannica. For students who are interested in pursuing such a study in greater depth the books listed on the course information page– Chasteen, Williamson, Galleano– are very useful. Chasteen’s is a standard textbook now in its third edition and as such the most expensive of these three histories. Williamson’s, published by Penguin, probably contains more detail though its relationship to the matters discussed is also more conservative. Galleano’s text, The Open Veins of Latin America, is a classic of “committed” historiography written in a poetic mode– notably from a Latin American perspective. As a Uruguayan, Galleano was witness to one of the most destructive periods in Latin American history– the era of military dictatorships which throttled democracy during the late 60s through the late 90s. This is the book that Hugo Chavez gave to Barack Obama as a gift, though given the Obama administration’s foreign policies he seems not to have read it.
We’ve already discussed at some length the key themes and developments of Latin American history from the 19th century to the mid-20th century such as civilization versus barbarism, oligarchy, caudillismo, Progress, los cientificos, neocolonialism, and ISI (import substitute industrialization). There’s more to it, of course, but this short list can help us to understand the social context of Gallegos’s Dona Barbara.
We should also consider the geographical imaginary of Dona Barbara. The excerpt from Sarmiento’s Facundo proves useful here, as does Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The Historical Significance of the Frontier.” There are also several pdf files on the course information page such as “Dona Barbara” which are not included in the reader.
Below: Esther Goris in the 1998 version (Argentina) of Dona Barbara:
Below: A still from a significantly revisionist 2008 telenovela version of Dona Barbara starring Edith Gonzalez. This image gives new visual intensity to the phrase “the phallic mother”: