Each character portrayed in “The Challenge” is loyal to either Justo or the Gimp. The battle lines are clearly drawn throughout the story, as no characters attempt to stop the fight or arbitrate the tension between the two sides. Although Briceno and Moses express doubt about Justo’s ability to win the fight, they remain loyal to their friend. Loyalty is presented as something that is grounded in friendship and personal relationships rather than in a self-serving need to be on the winner’s side. When Briceno sees Justo before the fight, he never shows his uncertainty to Justo but expresses nonchalance and confidence in his friend’s ability to win the fight. He knows that Justo will not back down from fighting the Gimp, and his loyalty prompts him to be supportive in words and actions. Similarly, Moses offers to help in any way he can, despite his belief that Justo may not win.
The type of loyalty portrayed in ‘ “The Challenge’ ‘ is loyalty within the parameters of fairness and honor. The fighters and their supporters adhere to an agreed-upon set of rules, and they do not interfere in the fight. This shows that they are loyal to their friends (Justo and the Gimp) to the extent that they will respect their decision to fight to the end, even if it means death; to do otherwise would be to compromise their friends’ dignity.
According to Sara Castro-Klaren in Latin-American Writers, the word machismo refers to exaggerated masculinity; American Heritage Dictionary adds that machismo is characterized by aggressiveness, virility, and emphasis on physical courage. Vargas Llosa came face to face with machismo during his years in the military academy, and in ‘ ‘The Challenge,” the characters depict this quality.
In the story, machismo is portrayed in a variety of ways. The challenge issued by the Gimp to Justo to meet him at the raft to fight comes when Justo finds himself surrounded by the Gimp’s group at a bar called the Sunken Cart. A fight immediately breaks out, but a priest stops it. This indicates that Justo finds himself alone on the Gimp’s “turf,” and he is punished for this. The tough talk by everyone involved in the fight is also an example of machismo. Each fighter and his friends try to intimidate the others by saying things that are snide and/or threatening. Their comments have nothing to do with actually warning the other men but are attempts at posturing for a superior position. That the fight is carried out in an up-close, hand-to-hand manner also reflects machismo. Justo and the Gimp are skilled knife fighters, showing that they are not afraid to get physically close to their opponents despite the obvious danger.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Mario Vargas Llosa – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.