I, The Supreme - Themes - Power


The novel's format, its various multiple sources, its manipulation of linear time and its inclusion of supernatural elements (talking dogs and meteor rifles, for example) all serve to deconstruct the idea of absolute power, by creating an ambiguity between fact and myth, between Dr Francia and the Supreme, and between Roa Bastos and the Compiler. Francia places himself above all power and history: "I don't write history. I make it. I can remake it as I please, adjusting, stressing, enriching its meaning and truth." Yet in the Compiler's notes and retelling of events, the novel is presented as a genuine version of history, one that contradicts and questions the Supreme's. In their collectivity, they deny the illusion of absolute power, whether the power is that of Francia the dictator or Roa Bastos the writer. This ambiguity between myth and fact is elaborated on at the end of the novel in the fictional debate over the Supreme's remains; it questions the nature of national political myth, and how heroes and villains are created in it and where the Supreme falls into those categories after being portrayed as both by Roa Bastos. As Deiner poses the question raised by the novel, "Is he to be portrayed as a valiant leader who held the country together in the face of enormous external aggression, or as a despot who laid the basis for almost two centuries of exploitation of Paraguay’s peoples by its leaders?" The answer is not so much of importance to the novel, so much as the fact that the question itself exists, thereby confirming the power of writing over so called "absolute" power.

On a more basic level, the novel also has political themes to it. As John Deiner writes, "I, The Supreme is a surprisingly political novel. It is a commentary on Paraguay's first great political leader and a condemnation of the country's last, General Alfredo Stroessner." Deiner contends that the political system and occurrences in I, the Supreme are symbolic of those of other Paraguayan leaders. Suggesting the book is connected to more recent leaders of Paraguay, Deiner writes "although ostensibly a fictionalized account of the life of El Supremo, the novel is also a thinly disguised attack on the politics and rule of Alfredo Stroessner, ruling Paraguay at the time I, the Supreme was published (in exile) in 1974." In summary, Deiner suggest that the novel "serves as the quintessential example of the personalist dictator model of Latin American political systems. Francia's was one of the earliest versions of this model, and Stroessner's was one of the last personalist dictator regimes."

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Famous quotes containing the word power:

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    I hate this shallow Americanism which hopes to get rich by credit, to get knowledge by raps on midnight tables, to learn the economy of the mind by phrenology, or skill without study, or mastery without apprenticeship, or the sale of goods through pretending that they sell, or power through making believe you are powerful, or through a packed jury or caucus, bribery and “repeating” votes, or wealth by fraud.
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