This novel takes place in Tabasco, a state in Mexico, during the 1930s. Tabasco was the state where the most extreme ideas of the Mexican Revolution were implemented, where intense poverty caused a backlash against the social order that had oppressed the peasantry for more than a century.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Mexico’s dictator, Porfirio Dı´az, ran a corrupt government that suppressed the rights of the poor and the middle class. In the election of 1910, Dı´az was announced the winner by an overwhelming majority, but his opponent, Francisco Madero, who was living in the United States, declared that the election was illegitimate and that he was the true president. The question over the election riled the population to armed revolt: followers of Madero, as well as revolutionaries following Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa, rose up against the government. Dı´az resigned as president in May of 1911, and after a brief rule by an interim president, Madero was inaugurated in November of that year. After fifteen months, Madero was in turn overthrown by one of his generals, Victoriano Huerta, a cruel and violent man who drew the enmity of the United States. Between 1910 and 1920, Mexico was in a constant state of revolt, with between 1 and 2 million people out of a population of 15 million dying violently, and hundreds of thousands fleeing the country over the United States border.
One result of the revolution was the constitution of 1917. The constitution, which is still the ruling document of Mexican politics to this day, provided political reforms and land distribution rights that gave the country’s millions of poor a voice in their political system. It created a modern social democracy, a system that was new to that part of the world and provided a model for countries throughout Latin America. With a constitution that was generally agreed upon by several of the revolutionary factions, violence fell off during the 1920s, though there were still scattered outbreaks against the government. By the end of that decade, the government’s control of the country was secure under a one-party system. The Institutional Revolutionary Party ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000.
One result of the national constitution was the suppression of Catholicism. The Catholic Church had been established in Mexico for centuries, going back to the arrival of the Spanish adventurer Herna´n Corte´s, who was accompanied on his expedition by several members of the Roman Catholic clergy. In the 1800s, the government feared that the church was becoming a rival in power and made several moves to limit it. Measures were passed in 1833 and 1857 that were designed to confiscate the property of the Catholic Church in the name of the government, leading to a civil war in 1857–1860 to support the Church’s right to exist. By the period of Porfirio Dı´az, Catholicism was accepted and encouraged, and so it was natural that the revolutionary forces that overthrew Dı´az would view religion as a tool to suppress the rights of the poor. The 1917 constitution includes several statements about religious reform. Article 3, for instance, forbids church activity in elections, and Article 5 prohibits the establishment of new religious orders. Article 24 forbids religious ceremonies from taking place outside religious buildings, and Article 27 turns the ownership of all religious buildings over to the government. Article 130 gives individual state governments the authority to determine how many clergy members are allowed to function within the state and strips the church of any authority in the social sphere, such as the power to wed people or the power to criticize the government.
The Cristero Rebellion of 1926–1929 was a violent uprising on behalf of religious freedom that eventually ended with even greater repression. After the rebellion was quelled, the state of Tabasco outlawed Catholic worship except in cases where priests were willing to break their vows of celibacy and marry. In Sonora, all churches were closed, and in Chihuahua only one priest was permitted to remain to serve the entire population.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Graham Greene, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.