Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 13. Nr. September 2005

Interdisciplinary Approach to Latin American Narrative: Aves sin nido/Torn from the Nest as Hypertext

Marina Herbst (The University of Georgia)


Text and context are closely related. The purpose of this project is to exemplify how hypertext - both a method and a tool - facilitates approaching the multiple contexts in which a text was produced. This article shows, through the title and the Proemio/Prologue of Aves sin nido, by Clorinda Matto de Turner, the dimension a literary piece acquires when reading it in relation to its context. Since a distinguishing characteristic of Latin American Literature is contextual dialogue, this kind of reading entails a closer approximation to the ideas presented in the text. Moreover, Latin American Literature is frequently viewed as a response to the context in which it was conceived. This becomes especially evident in the case of narrative, through its dialogue with other ideas and texts - either from its own or other contexts, literary or not. In fact, this dialogue points to the multiplicity of contexts, thus connecting the ideas in the text with other disciplines. In turn, these contextualization processes emphasize the different levels in reading the text.

All this presents the need of approaching the text while taking into consideration a wide variety of contexts and texts. Aves sin nido (1889), by Clorinda Matto de Turner offers an abundance of contextual references, and they acquire greater meaning in relation to the context in which the novel was written. A close, contextualized reading of the novel will take into account its (social, cultural, historical, political, ideological, economic) context. These elements not only stress the power of the work, but also allow the reader a better approximation of the ideas presented in the narrative.

The multiplicity of contextual levels at play in Aves sin nido is evident from the beginning, with the title itself. With aves sin nido Matto alludes to two sets of characters: first, to Marcela and Juan Yupanqui; then, to Margarita and Manuel. These are the aves sin nido, the ones who are "torn from the nest," and defenseless. The term is charged with signification: Matto brings into the novel elements of two cultures, namely, Western/Christian and Pre-Columbian/Quechua. These were not only familiar, but meaningful both to Matto and her audience as well. Aves sin nido first directs the reader to Jesus’ words in Matthew 8, 20 about birds of heaven and their roosts/nests. In this way Matto points out to her audience - which in XIXth-century Peruvian society, would have been Christian/Catholic - that the thesis she advances has moral and religious implications. In this way, even if the novel itself does not touch the innermost feelings of her audience, they will still be moved to action due to the Christian/religious/moral connotation. Aves sin nido also makes reference to the defenseless, those who have no protection, the "huacho." In this context, aves sin nido are then the huairapamushcas, the vulnerable, the abandoned, those who need protection, who nobody claims as their own. These are the huairapamushcas, a term that in Quechua has a strong negative connotation. Matto’s use of "aves sin nido" signifies that defenselessness. However, she softens the pejorative connotation, thus expressing the superior, pater/maternalistic attitude of her discourse. Matto’s audience would have easily recognized the above- mentioned references to both cultural codes. The sophisticated present day reader, also familiar with the Indigenist canon, quickly and easily associates Matto’s novel with Icaza’s - of a significantly different tone. The contextual references, which would be meaningful to Matto’s audience, familiar with the Scriptures and Quechua culture, are also significant to the savvy present-day reader.

The text of the novel, starting with the Proemio/Prologue itself, also offers an abundance of elements which simply emphasize Matto’s privileged position and the characteristics and composition of the select audience she addresses. The importance of the issue is evident in the first paragraph of the Proemio. Matto writes

Si la historia es el espejo donde las generaciones por venir han de contemplar la imagen de las generaciones que fueron, la novela tiene que ser la fotografía que estereotipe los vicios y las virtudes de un pueblo, con la consiguiente moraleja correctiva para aquéllos y el homenaje de admiración para éstas. (Matto, Aves 37.)

[If history is the mirror where future generations are to contemplate the image of generations past, the task of the novel is to be the photograph that captures the vices and virtues of a people, censuring the former with the appropriate moral lesson and paying its homage of admiration to the latter. (Matto, Torn from the Nest 3.)]

Matto thus advances what she will then develop in her novel. She presents three historical approaches that establish dialogue. First, the legacy the former Spanish rule has left in Latin America and its mark in history and practice in XIXth-century Peruvian society; second, the role of Matto’s audience as protagonists in their own national outcome; and last but not least, posterity. Significantly, Matto does not leave matters there. She also adds that her novel is, in the spirit of Naturalism, the fotografía que estereotipa la realidad/ the photograph that captures the vices and virtues of a people.

The fact that Matto views these issues as important helps point out not only her position, but the ideology she advances in her discourse as well. Matto belongs to the elite. She is part of a socially, culturally, politically and economically privileged group, one that does not have the weight of economic worries on its shoulders (work as a necessity in order to survive.) Her financial position overrides any kind of racial and/or social objection. Moreover, her financial position gives her voice in her context. She is heard. This position also points to Matto’s own cultural situation and that of her audience - i.e., her peers, who exhibit similar characteristics. Matto’s reference to photography/fotografía indicates that she is familiar with the technique. Even though photography is something ordinary for the present-day reader, in XIXth-century Peru it was both a "technological innovation" and a luxury, a commodity restricted to the wealthy. One of the most important photography studios at the time was Estudio Courret, where Clorinda Matto (as well as Piérola, the dictator who exiled her) had pictures taken.

All this indicates Matto’s position and the audience she had in mind when writing Torn from the Nest. Her focus is her own context, and she addresses her economic, ideological, social, and cultural peers; men and women like her. Peruvian Flowers/ Flores Peruanas, the composition from Estudio Courret, shows this clearly. These are women like Torn from the Nest’s character of Lucía Marín, like Clorinda Matto herself. The composition dialogues with the image of Fernando Marín and the Yupanquis the reader creates. Matto and her audience were well aware of their own position and of the socio-economic hierarchy prevailing in Peru at the end of the XIXth century. This hierarchy was unquestioned, and widely accepted. It established the difference between the "whites" and the "creoles/mestizos" as well as between the Indians/indios and the cholos. Matto’s audience must have had a well-defined social, cultural, economic, and racial concept of the type of person the descriptions of Lucía Marín, Marcela Yupanqui and her (mestiza) daughter, Margarita, suggest. "Flores Peruanas" points both to the character of Lucía Marín and to the author herself. Both women belong to a socio-economic elite. This is evident in the dialogue between the composition and Matto de Turner’s portrait from Estudio Courret, and the description of Lucía Marín in the novel. All three allow the reader to identify the woman Matto has in mind, i.e. herself, those who are her audience. This image also presents a striking contrast with the Indian characters in the novel, especially the Yupanquis: poor peasants who must work hard in order to survive, people whose living conditions (clothing, food, housing, education) are miserable. These people, in the above-mentioned context have neither rights nor voice. Both Matto and her audience were aware of their own situation and of the inequality that the image of Marcela Yupanqui (campesinas/peasants) expresses.

Nicolás de Piérola’s photograph could easily represent Fernando Marín in Aves sin nido. Just like the dictator, Fernando is a prosperous, educated gentleman. He is not oppressed, but someone who is in a position of authority, who is confident that his orders will be obeyed. His attire, as well as his general appearance agrees with his socio-economic standing. This is reinforced by the setting of the photograph - a sumptuous office, as the carpet and furniture demonstrate - and his occupation - intellectual work, not manual, as the paperwork on the desk reveal. This is, in every aspect, the image that both Matto and her audience had in mind concerning Fernando Marín, and that establishes dialogue with that of Lucía and offers a remarkable contrast with that of Juanand Marcela Yupanqui. Matto draws elements from her own context and uses them in order to present her ideas, aware that her audience will be familiar with them, demanding that her readers reflect on what surrounds them.

The description of the little village of Kíllac, in the first chapter of the novel, works in a similar fashion. The image each reader creates is different, however, Matto’s own concept is clear, well developed and in harmony with the context. Even a contemporary image of a Peruvian caserío/hamlet helps bring Matto’s text to life, allowing the reader to apprehend the ideas Matto advances and the situation she questions. The huts, made of adobe and thatched roofs (paja brava), are small, usually with only one opening, the door. This hut serves both as bedroom and kitchen to the entire family, and its main purpose is to serve as shelter. The houses/casas where the "notables" live present a striking contrast. The house is colonial style/ estilo colonial, with (Spanish) tiled roof. The plants, lamps, the overall appearance of the residence indicate the presence of its inhabitants, thus humanizing the image. This last aspect is completely absent in the case of the hamlet huts. The image, which only illustrates a part of the house, allows the reader to visualize and apprehend the size and style of the residence, emphasizing the contrast with the shabby huts.

These are merely some examples of the dimension the text acquires with the help of hypertext. Even though it would still be possible to read the novel without these elements, hypertext breaches the contextual gap, facilitating a closer reading of the text in question. This allows for a contextualized reading of the novel, apprehending elements that the author and her audience had at hand and incorporated in her discourse.

© Marina Herbst (The Univ ersity of Georgia)

TRANSINST       table of contents: No.13


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Marina Herbst (The University of Georgia): Interdisciplinary Approach to Latin American Narrative: Aves sin nido/Torn from the Nest as Hypertext. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 13/2002. WWW:

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