Nationality: Puerto Rican. Born: Arecibo, 4 October 1919. Education: College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, degree in agronomy 1942; University of Madrid, 1946; studied drama, Columbia University, New York, 1949. Family: Married Serena Velasco in 1942 (divorced 1957); two sons and one daughter. Career: Writer; agronomist for Department of Agriculture, 1943-46; manager of department store, 1946-49; journalist, Diario de Puerto Rico, San Juan, 1949-50; chief of editorial section of Division of Community Education for Puerto Rico, 1950-69; established the Experimental Theater of the Atheneum, 1951; visiting instructor, University of Puerto Rico, 1969-76. Awards: Grant from Rockefeller Foundation, 1949; prize from Puerto Rican Atheneum, for story The Fear, 1952; first prize, Puerto Rican Atheneum short story contest, for "There Is a Body Reclined on the Stern," 1956. Died: 2 March 1979.
Otro día nuestro, 1955.
En una ciudad llamada San Juan. 1960.
"Purificación en la Calle del Cristo" y "Los soles truncos." 1963.
Inmersos en el silencio. 1976.
Tres cuentistas, with Antonio Skármeta and Luis Britto. 1979.
Uncollected Short Stories
"La Sala." n.d.
La víspera del hombre. 1959.
La mirada. 1975; as The Look, 1983.
El hombre y sus sueños. 1948.
La carreta. 1951-52.
Palm Sunday. 1956.
Juan Bobo y la dama de occidente: Pantomima puertorriquena para un ballet occidental. 1956.
El sol y los MacDonald. 1957.
Los soles truncos. 1958.
La casa sin reloj. 1962.
Mariana; o El alba. 1966.
El apartamiento. 1966.
Sacrificio en el Monte Moriah. 1969.
David y Jonatán, Tito y Berenice: Dos dramas de amor, poder y desamor. 1970.
Un niño azul para esa sombre. 1970.
La muerta no entrará en palacio. 1970.
Carnaval afuera, carnaval adentro. 1971.
Via Crucis del hombre puertorriqueño. 1971.
Pesimismo literaria y optimismo político: Su coexistencia en el Puerto Rico actual. 1959.
Ensayos, 1953-1966. 1966.
El puertorriqueño dócil: Literatura realidad psicológica. 1967.
Ese mosaico fresco sobre aquel mosaico antiguo. 1975.
Editor, Los derechos del hombre. 1957.
Editor, Ma mujer y sus derechos. 1957.
Editor, Juventud. 1958.
Editor, Cuatro cuentos de mujeres. 1959.
Editor, El cooperativismo y tu. 1960.
Editor, Las manos y el ingenio del hombre. 1966.*
"New Plays by René Marqués" by Frank Dauster, in Hispania, September 1960, pp. 451-52; "The Theater of René Marqués: In Search of Identity and Form" by Tamara Holzapfel, in Dramatists in Revolt: The New Latin American Theater, 1976, pp.146-66; René Marqués: A Study of His Fiction by C. R. Pilditch, 1977; "Exorcisms" by Oscar Giner, in Theater, Summer 1978, pp.75-81; René Marqués by Eleanor J. Martin, 1979; "Woman's Triumph over Man in René Marqués's Theater" by Thomas Feeny in Hispania, May 1982; "The Puerto Rican Woman in René Marqués's Drama" by Julia Ortiz Griffin, in Revista Chicano-Riqueña, Fall-Winter 1983, pp.169-76; Space, Time, and Crisis: The Theatre of René Marqués by Bonnie Hildebrand Reynolds, 1988.* * *
Since his death in 1979, much has been done to reevaluate the position held by René Marqués in the canon of Puerto Rican writers. If during his lifetime he was considered one of the island's most important literary figures—besides the short story, he explored a variety of forms, including drama, essays, poetry, and novels—today his fame hardly survives the classroom and the textbook. This eclipse, however, only hides the fact that his production was a crucial element in the process that transformed Puerto Rican literature from a vivid marginal force into a strong, original Latin American voice. The fact that so many later authors have made a point of not writing like him shows to what extent Marqués is subliminally accepted as a father figure, a classic.
In a time when Luis Rafael Sánchez aspires to emphasize the Caribbean accent of Puerto Rico's culture and history, Marqués's existential mannerisms may sound too European. The evident machista outlook of some of his texts is equally alienating to writers like Ana Lydia Vega, whose work includes a serious exploration of women's roles and conflicts. Marqués's tragic sense of life often lacks the ironic stance that Manuel Ramos Otero provides in his darkest tales. Nonetheless, these three writers show in their short stories traits that Marqués pioneered in his own work: the mix of colloquial diction with poetic syntax; a formal dexterity that expands short story writing by introducing techniques conventionally associated with novels, plays, and films; the preference for an urban setting; and a frank—not to say aggressive—confrontation with issues of sex and desire.
Marqués published four short story collections: Otro día nuestro (Another Common Day; 1955); En una ciudad llamada San Juan (In a City Named San Juan; 1960); a recombination of his first two books with new material added and also titled En una ciudad llamada San Juan (1970); and Inmersos en el silencio (Immersed in Silence; 1976). He also edited an epoch-making anthology, Cuentos puertorriqueños de hoy (Contemporary Puerto Rican Short Stories; 1959). The short story "Purification in Cristo Street" ("Purificación en la calle de Cristo") was published separately in 1963 with the play it inspired. In 1962 another story—"The Child on the Tree" ("El niño en el árbol")—was also developed into a play—Un niño azul para esa sombra (A Blue Child for That Shadow). Many of his stories were published in journals and magazines before the collections were assembled. Marqués was a frequent first-or second-prize winner in the annual Puerto Rican Atheneum short story contest, which was prestigious at the time.
Marqués's narrative vision centers in Old San Juan's symbolic potential as a city surrounded by Spanish defensive walls, a city besieged by its colonial history. San Juan is deployed as a space in which the individual lives of his characters refract, like a pocketsize mirror, the political condition of Puerto Rico as a territorial possession of the United States. In Marqués's eyes the commonwealth established in 1952 was a subtle trap designed to control his nation's fight for an independent status. The increasing industrialization of the island's economy during the 1960s forced many Puerto Ricans to leave the countryside, and Marqués felt that, as a result, their sense of identity was abruptly disconnected from the protective cycles of nature. Agriculture was displaced by technology. For Marqués working the land resembles lovemaking (penetration, care, reproduction), while the factory line represents an impersonal process that ends by eating up both body and mind. Migration to the United States is also conceptualized by Marqués as a traumatic experience that erodes the Puerto Rican soul.
Marqués's tendency to think in terms of Manichaean oppositions is one of the most serious limitations of his work; neither politics nor fiction survives for long this extreme oversimplification. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the visceral impact of some of his stories comes precisely from his talent to illustrate dichotomies and tensions effectively. His short stories reveal an allegorical drive that reminds us of medieval mysteries and religious homilies. The male protagonist of "Fear," a story originally written in 1949, is unable to understand his anxiety; neither alcohol nor sex is an antidote to a deeply rooted sensation of being inadequate. A political discussion in a bar serves only to underline the character's impotence, introducing a parallel between his passivity and the colonial prostration of Puerto Rican society. The story strikes us today as a thinly fictionalized sermon, but the urgent, dramatic description of the character's state of mind is still powerful. Marqués shares with the Mexican Juan Rulfo a pessimistic interpretation of history and life. Rulfo, however, was able to defer judgment to the reader, allowing his characters to contradict themselves without excessive authorial intervention. "Fear" walks a tightrope by calling attention too explicitly to its indecision between essay and short story.
"Another Common Day" is a tribute to the leader of Puerto Rico's nationalist revolt, Pedro Albizu Campos. The story presents a poignant portrait of a political prisoner. Isolated by being confined to his room in one of Old San Juan's colonial buildings, the man tries to stay in touch with the world outside. Sounds, the street below his balcony, even family memories slowly filter into his consciousness, making him painfully aware of his claustrophobic situation. He tries to escape, but even a martyr's death is denied him. We find here a pattern shared by many of Marqués's stories. An omniscient narrator frames the fragmented development of an interior monologue; actions are internal more than external; from the present a character revisits his or her past. The resolution may be an unexpected act of violence or the resigned acceptance of life's futility. Marqués's stories are not driven by surprise; the plot tends to be more metaphorical than factual. In "Another Common Day" the prisoner is a Christ figure, but the comparison is left incomplete, for the crucifixion we expect does not happen. The ironic twist at the end of the story is that, against his will, the revolutionary man ends by being a defective messiah.
In "Two Locks and One Archangel" a 13-year-old girl moves to the city after being raped by a married man. Once there, she starts a relationship with a handsome chulo who sells her as a prostitute. When she tries to leave, he cuts her skin with a razor and, later, makes love to her again. Blurring the boundaries between reality and religious imagery, the girl convinces herself that her abusive lover is the archangel Gabriel. "Two Locks and One Archangel" is without doubt one of Marqués's best stories. Divided into 11 sections and moving pendularly from reality to fantasy until they merge into a single image (sex, wings), the story is the closest Marqués ever got to the oneiric ambiguity associated with García Márquez, Borges, and Cortázar. Alternating flashbacks with objective descriptions, Marqués places us inside the girl's mind. Certain sounds—a razor, door locks, the bracelets of a pimp, mambo songs—are reinterpreted by the girl as magical incantantions, aural signs that slowly hypnotize her into denial and illusion. The naïveté of the girl's point of view is all the more disturbing when we realize how sordid her life is becoming and that, sooner or later, her lover may kill her. Crafting a contrast between poetry and cruelty, Marqués creates his own version of magic realism.
All of these stories share certain structural similarities. At the beginning of each a character reacts to a source of light: an electric bulb ("Two Locks and One Archangel"), a streetlight ("Fear"), or the morning sun ("Another Common Day"). The need to face the light—that transitional second in which we open our eyes to reality—is an essential feature of Marqués's art. In all three stories the protagonist is also an agonist, someone trapped in the net of life's choices, limitations, and responsibilities. Something more powerful than they—the government, a lover, emotional confusion—is pushing them into passivity, madness, or useless heroism. With a few exceptions Marqués's imagination is a dark one, and its undeniable vigor resides in the writer's awareness of the perils faced by our dignity if we intend to go on living in a fragile world. In that sense Marqués is closer than any other Puerto Rican writer to the gray pages of Juan Carlos Onetti.
See the essay on "There is a Body Reclined on the Stern."