Tuesday Siesta (La Siesta del Martes) by Gabriel García Márquez, 1962

views updated

TUESDAY SIESTA (La siesta del Martes)
by Gabriel García Márquez, 1962

Some of the best short stories of Gabriel García Márquez are found in the collection Big Mama's Funeral, first published in 1962 in Mexico as Los funerales de la mamá grande. Several have been judged the most perfect examples of the genre ever written in Latin America. Most of them were written during the difficult late 1950s when García Márquez was living frugally in Europe and Venezuela. He submitted one of the stories, "Tuesday Siesta" ("La siesta del Martes"), to a short story context sponsored by the Caracas newspaper El Nacional, but it failed to receive even an honorable mention. Several years later his close friend Alvaro Mutis sent him a note from a Mexican prison where he was serving time, asking for something to read. García Márquez sent him the manuscript of eight short stories, and Mutis in turn lent them to the budding young Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, who misplaced them. When they subsequently were found, Mutis was able to have them published by the University of Veracruz Press under the general title of the longest story, "Big Mama's Funeral." García Márquez received an advance of a thousand pesos, about a hundred dollars at the time, but the volume attracted little attention until after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) in 1967.

García Márquez considers "Tuesday Siesta" his best short story. It was inspired by the childhood memory of a woman and her daughter, both dressed in black with a black umbrella and a bouquet of flowers in their hands. They were walking down a dusty street in his native Aracataca in the hot afternoon sun. Someone told the young García Márquez that the woman was the mother of "that thief." The memory served as a model for "Tuesday Siesta," the tale of a proud woman and her daughter who visit a small, dusty town during the intense heat of a Tuesday afternoon. They have come for the express purpose of visiting the town's cemetery, where a week earlier the woman's son had been buried after being shot during a robbery attempt.

The heart of the story is an interview between the mother and the village priest, who controls the keys to the cemetery. The woman's daughter and the priest's sister, who serves as his housekeeper, are also present. The choice of Tuesday as the day of the action is no doubt based on the well-known Spanish proverb "martes, ni te cases ni te embarques, ni de tu familia te apartes" ("Tuesday, don't get married or take a trip, or leave your family"). The central idea, the dignity and pride of a poor woman in the face of ecclesiastical authority, is evident in the sparse dialogue between the mother and the housekeeper:

"I need the priest," she said.
"He's sleeping now."
"It's an emergency," the woman insisted.

When the priest finally appears, he suggests that they wait until sundown. But the mother is firm and determined; the return train leaves at 3:30. The woman's son is nothing more than a petty thief in the eyes of the priest. The mother, however, sees the matter differently; he had promised her that he would never steal anything that someone else might need to survive, and he had kept his word. There is a clear delineation of the struggle between stealing in order to survive and dying of hunger. "He was a very good man," the mother concludes. "God's will is inscrutable," says the priest.

The conclusion is effectively stated in dramatic fashion. The priest and his sister, aware that groups of curious people have filled the streets, realize that the woman and her daughter will have to face a hostile crowd on their way to the cemetery. "Wait until the sun goes down," says the priest. "Wait and I'll lend you a parasol," adds his sister. "Thank you … we're all right this way," the woman replies in a confident voice. Sure of herself and of the propriety of her actions, the mother and her daughter boldly face the ominous challenge of a hot Tuesday afternoon in the streets of an unfriendly town.

In a long interview with Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, García Márquez recognized his debt to Ernest Hemingway for certain "technical" aspects of this story. The most obvious technical aspect is García Márquez's use of Hemingway's "iceberg technique." Hemingway asserted that there is always seven-eighths of an iceberg under water for every part that shows; likewise, the short story should expose one-eighth of its totality, thereby leaving a large portion of the action unstated or understated. "Tuesday Siesta" is a prime example of this theory. No proper names are given to the four protagonists; the town's name is not given although there is abundant evidence that it is the author's legendary Macondo. García Márquez uses concise delineation of character and plot. Details of the son's past activities slowly emerge. Before becoming a thief he was a boxer who tried to eke out a living for his family despite frequent severe injuries; in the process all his teeth had to be extracted. As the story develops, it affirms the social and economic disparity between the mother and daughter and the priest and his sister.

The heaviness of the oppressive afternoon heat stands in contrast to the inner courage the mother demonstrates in the face of both the church and the unfriendly town. Her deep-seated strength and conviction make her a prototype of the strong female characters that García Márquez would evoke in future writings. It is essentially these strong female characters who hold Macondo together until its ultimate destruction at the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It should be noted that this destruction occurs only after the death of the principal matriarchal characters in the novel.

There is an important link between "Tuesday Siesta" and García Márquez's first novella, Leafstorm (La hojarasca; 1955). The novel's epigraph, taken from Sophocles' Antigone, speaks to the point of Antigone's struggle to give her brother a decent burial despite the edict of Creon, the tyrannical king, that anyone who attempts to do so "will die by public stoning." The defiance of a character who seeks to bury a person who has been harshly repudiated by the community is the gist of Leafstorm. The dauntless mother in "Tuesday Siesta" is a modern Antigone who fearlessly faces the hostility of all of Macondo in order to pay her respects to her late son. Antigone, Leafstorm, and "Tuesday Siesta" all end at the moment when the protagonists go out to confront a belligerent crowd. Their valor conveys a feeling of quiet dignity and moral authority.

This story outlines the theme of confrontation in a stagnant setting in which change occurs slowly, if at all. Its protracted tension makes it a classic example of the best in Latin American fiction. At the same time it is important for its introduction of the themes and ideas that García Márquez would develop more fully in his later fiction.

—Harley D. Oberhelman