Prison Literature in the Andes: Indigeneity and Nationalisms in Peru and Bolivia




Arguedas, indigeneity, prison literature


This essay develops a comparative analysis between two prison texts produced in Peru and Bolivia. In my reading hypothesis, the novel El sexto (1961), by José María Arguedas, and the autobiographical account Bolivia: cemetery of freedom (1955), by René López Murillo, establish, starting from the prison as the setting and the indigenous figure as a character, alternatives and criticisms of the authoritarian nationalist discourses mobilized in Peru  and Bolivia in the mid-twentieth century. These same anti-establishment practices, however, are not exempt from contradictions. As this essay demonstrates, whether out of admiration and respect in El Sexto, or with the absolute distance posed by the autobiographical narrator in López Murillo's story, the representation of the indigenous subject and, consequently, the assessment of his difference, are subjected to parameters that, if not fully equated with authoritarian discourses of integration and acculturation, do minimize indigenous agency on the horizon of the national community. Instead of that agency, these narratives reinforce the exceptionality of the indigenous subject in the prison setting and in the nation itself. In El Sexto, the construction of the political wisdom of the character Cámac elevates his representation to the condition of ideal model for nationality. In Bolivia, the disingenuous presence of Kenta, the indigenous character, among the political  prisoners  constitutes  a  remarkable  deviation  from expectations. I propose that both, idealization and caricature seem to inform the limitation that the narrators of these texts confront when trying to include or reject the representation of the indigenous within the codes shared by a presumably non-Indian audience of readers.


Author Biography

Marcus Vinicius Salinas, Northwestern University

Marcus Vinicius Salinas

PhD Student

Department of Spanish & Portuguese

Northwestern University