Mariano Azuela González (January 1, 1873 – March 1, 1952) was a Mexican author and physician, best known for his fictional stories of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. He wrote novels, works for theatre and literary criticism.
Known as the "first of the novelists of the Revolution," Azuela wrote many pieces including the newspaper piece "Impressions of a Student" in 1896, the novel Andrés Pérez, maderista in 1911, and Los de abajo, (or The Underdogs), in 1915.
During his days in the Mexican Revolution, Azuela wrote about the war and its impact on Mexico. He served under president Francisco I. Madero as chief of political affairs in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco - his home town. After Madero's death, he joined the military forces of Julián Medina, a follower of Pancho Villa, where he served as a field doctor. He later was forced for a time to emigrate to El Paso, Texas. There he wrote Los de abajo, a first-hand description of combat during the Mexican revolution, based on his experiences in the field. In 1917 he moved to Mexico City where for the rest of his life he continued his writing and worked as a doctor among the poor.
In 1942 he received the Mexican national prize for literature. On April 8, 1943 he became a founding member of Mexico's National College. In 1949 he received the Mexican national prize for Arts and Sciences. He died in Mexico City March 1, 1952 and was placed in a sepulchre of the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres.
Azuela's impact on Latin American letters revolves around Los de abajo (1915) which remains essential reading for a fuller understanding of Mexican society in the first decades of the 20th century. Written in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, the novel, although brief, points to the deeply rooted causes of the rebellion against the regime of Porfirio Díaz and foreshadows the eventual betrayal of the revolutionary impetus in the following decades.
As in any society, there were the affluent and the poor, but in Mexico this distinction was very acute. Mariano Azuela depicts the Mexican Revolution of 1910 in a way that explains the country's social and political divide. Azuela points to two main main causes of the social and political turbulence between the popular classes and the economic elites. The first was the 1913 betrayal, overthrow, and murder of Mexican President Francisco Madero, an attempt by Porfirio Díaz to resume his forty-year dictatorship known as the Porfiriato. The second issue was land reform. 1 percent of the landowners controlled 97 percent of all agricultural land, and 92 percent of the rural population was landless. The people of Mexico wanted reform to improve their economic wellbeing, and were not going to allow the dictatorship of Díaz any longer.
The Mexican Revolution directly affects the social atmosphere in The Underdogs, and individualism and the struggle for subsistence guide most of the characters’ actions; however, a sense of community exists, and the characters are initially unified by a common ideal. This ambiguity reflects the chaos created by the war. The lack of an absolute reality is one reason why critics consider the novel postmodern.
Social dynamics change throughout the course of the novel. Most of the characters are poor peasants, and they become revolutionaries in part because of social stigmas; this helps creates a bond between them. As a community they try to change the corrupted structure of the government, but their individual wants ultimately conflict with their goal; some critics argue, however, that they never had a plan. The drive for personal gain and recognition causes the group to fail, and Azuela implies that their individual interest becomes similar to the government’s.
Throughout Los de Abajo the reader sees a steady decline in social order. What starts as a lower class uprising against the cruel Federales, becomes a free for all anarchy in which martial strength rules. This descent into chaos also highlights the class tensions between the ruling and peasant class. Those of the peasant class, like Demetrio, are frustrated from years of oppression at the hands of those in power. He and his men rose up against the injustices committed by those in government against the poor. The poor had no government representation and consequently there was nothing to stop others from taking advantage of them. The ruling elite class, represented by Cervantes, is largely ignorant and arrogant towards the lower classes. They see them as a lower species removed from their sophistication. It is only when the lower classes revolt and the former elite lose control that social conditions improve for those fighting. Yet, at the end the same people who were abused by the government now abuse their power, making themselves rich and damaging others. It is no longer an issue of equality but of greed.
There are three major language levels in The Underdogs. The lowest in hierarchical order is a language strongly influenced by the indigenous culture. The majority of these words are modified by non-standard orthography, writing words phonetically and indicating that the speaker is not pronouncing words in their entirety; a tone of submission is also present. Camila and Doña Remigia are good representative of this stratum. Demetrio Macias and his men represent the next level, prosaic language roughly understood to be that of the Mexican macho. Every word seems to be elongated, which causes everything they say to sound more dramatic. The last and highest level in hierarchy is the highly sophisticated upper class language of Luis Cervantes. All three levels are dialectic derivatives of Spanish; as a result of these language differences, the characters sometimes experience difficulty when trying to communicate across the social hierarchy.
In Los de Abajo the main character, Demetrio Macias, becomes the leader of a revolutionary band. The narrator, who utilizes various animal attributes to describe the revolutionaries, constantly dehumanizes their members. The names, actions, and behaviors of the members of the band are those of animals. Their behavior leads to the unnecessary abuse of the females within the troop. The female solely functions to procreate and serve the male, which is presented as the norm between animals. This same animal irrationality adopted by the troop explains the lack of a communal ideal, a goal. Once political disillusion sets in, these characters wonder around fighting with no purpose, only for the privilege of survival. These behaviors and irrationality explain the fall of the troop at the end of the book.