Juan is the main character in Valenzuela’s ‘‘The Censors.’’ He enthusiastically writes a letter to Mariana, a woman with whom, it appears, he has been romantically involved. Juan is convinced that Mariana is still interested in him, and having received her address (the reader is not informed of the source of this information), he proceeds to write to her. The narrator describes his composition as not only a letter but ‘‘the letter’’ (emphasis in original). Having sent the letter, Juan considers what he has done, what the implications may be of having sent this letter to Mariana. Juan is aware of two things: first, that his letter is utterly innocent, and second, that the government’s censors have a reputation for overzealousness in the performance of their job duties. When Juan considers that it may take years before his letter is deemed acceptable to send on to its intended recipient and that, despite the harmless nature of his missive to Mariana, she might be placed in danger by it— might even be kidnapped by the ‘‘Censor’s Secret Command’’—Juan is compelled to act to protect her. Once he has secured a position at the censorship office, Juan begins to undergo a significant transformation. Prior to his employment at the censorship office, when Juan notes that the censors do not leave any comma unchecked, his reflections suggest that he possesses some disdain for the actions of the censors. He seems to find their examination of the mail unnecessarily thorough and the censors themselves dangerous, as their opinions regarding the content of the mail could result in harm coming to senders and receivers of letters. For some time, Juan works hard and is promoted as a result of his attentiveness in censoring letters and because he informs his superiors of a plot by workers to go on strike. However, he seems to still have Mariana and her safety in mind; he still hopes to find his letter to her. Before long, however, Juan begins to see things differently. As he continues to examine people’s letters, his experience is described in terms that suggest that he is becoming more concerned with the possible deceptive intentions of the people sending letters than he is with Mariana’s safety. ‘‘These were horrible days,’’ the narrator says, ‘‘when he was shocked by the subtle and conniving ways employed by people to pass on subversive messages.’’ This sense of shock changes Juan. He grows suspicious of the most innocent-sounding phrases in letters, convinced that many people are attempting to plot against their own government. By the time Juan finally comes across his own letter to Mariana, he is convinced of the deceptive intentions of the letter writer, even though that person is himself. Through his fanatical censorship of his own letter, Juan seals his own fate. His censoring of his own letter convinces his superiors that he poses a threat to the government, and Juan is executed. By the end of the story, Juan has been psychologically transformed. He becomes the very thing he feared at the story’s beginning—an overzealous censor—and through this change he endangers his own life.
Juan’s mother does not appear in the story but is mentioned near the end, after Juan has been promoted and appears to be wholly dedicated to his job. The narrator informs the reader that Juan’s mother is the only person who notices the changes in Juan’s behavior. She frets over him, leaving him wine and messages that young women want to meet him at the bar. Her efforts are in vain, as she is unable to distract Juan from his sense of purpose at the censorship office.
Mariana is the woman in whom it is presumed that Juan is romantically interested. She has moved to Paris and does not appear in the story, but Juan has somehow come into possession of her address and is convinced ‘‘that she hadn’t forgotten him.’’ Juan’s concern for Mariana’s safety is what motivates him to get a job at the censorship office and to try and retrieve his letter. Juan expresses his fears that the censors often interpret even innocent letters as threatening. The implication is that the censorship office might use the censored letters to punish individuals for subversive intentions. Juan fears that Mariana could even be kidnapped as a result of his writing to her. By the end of the story, Juan has all but forgotten about Mariana. He censors his own letter to her without regard for his safety or hers.
The narrator is the unnamed persona relating Juan’s story to the reader. In this story, the narrator offers commentary on Juan and his decisions and foreshadows events to come. For example, in the opening paragraph, the narrator discusses Juan’s carelessness and reminds the reader that happiness is ‘‘a feeling you can’t trust,’’ suggesting that Juan’s happiness at receiving Mariana’s address will have negative effects. Juan’s happiness, the reader is warned, will ‘‘get the better of him.’’ The reader does not learn how this comes to pass until the story nears completion. The narrator also informs the reader of things about which Juan has no knowledge. For example, the reader is told that Juan’s mother would tell him that young women had called looking for him, ‘‘though it wasn’t always true.’’
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Luisa Valenzuela, Published by Gale Group, 2001.