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«LATIN AMERICAN IDENTITY IN THE TEMPEST: ARIEL OR CALIBAN George Frederico Oliveira Bentley (Doutorando  The University of Manchester) ABSTRACT ...»

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Revista de Pós-Graduação em Letras

UNESP – Campus de Assis

ISSN: 1984-2899


Miscelânea, Assis, vol.7, jan./jun.2010


George Frederico Oliveira Bentley

(Doutorando  The University of Manchester)



This essay attempts to address the dual Este texto pretende abordar a dupla character of Latin America in reaction to natureza da América Latina no debate the debate of “Latin American identity”. sobre a “identidade latino-americana”. O drama de William Shakespeare A William Shakespeare’s drama The Tempest has inspired many Latin tempestade tem inspirado muitos latinoAmericans to seek self definition through americanos a buscar uma auto-definição two of the book’s slave characters, Ariel através de dois dos personagens escravos the obedient spirit, and Caliban the do livro, Ariel, o espírito obediente, e mutinous native, both captured by their Caliban, o nativo amotinado, ambos European master Prospero. In order for capturados por seu mestre europeu one to understand more about what Próspero. Para uma melhor compreensão relevance the two literary tropes of Ariel da relevância dos tropos literários de Ariel and Caliban have, in relation to the e Caliban para a pergunta suscitada por question that many intellectuals have muitos intelectuais sobre “qual é a raised of “What is Latin American identidade latino-americana?”, é necessário identity”, it is necessary to look at the determinar o significado global dessas Global significance of these characters. In personagens. Em outras palavras, other words, just as Retamar’s conforme a metodologia de Retamar, o que methodology for Latin America implies, acontece na América Latina não deve ser what happens in Latin America should considerado de maneira isolada em relação not be considered in isolation from a qualquer outro assunto remotamente anything remotely relevant anywhere relevante, em qualquer lugar do passado past or present. The continent in essence ou presente. O continente na sua essência must to continue 'assimilating inspirations deve continuar as “inspirações assimiladas from all parts of the world’.

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Introduction L atin America is an area of many extreme polarities such as poverty / wealth, civilization / nature, strong / weak and white / black. As a result, Latin American identity reflects this complex mixture of contrasting characteristics, which has provoked the inhabitants to ask “who are we”. One explanation may be offered by language, as language is the essence and historical epitome of one’s culture. By replacing a language, one enacts the erasure of a cultural history, which is one of the consequences of the European conquests during the middle ages. This, in addition to a negation of a cultural existence and the enforcement of an adherence to a “superior” form of civilization, were all transformations that shaped Latin American Identity over the last five hundred years. The feats of the European discoveries in the new world would have a severe impact on the inhabitants, which William Shakespeare infers in The Tempest. The main indication of this can be found through an analysis of the interaction between the characters. For example, the relationship between Prospero and his slave Caliban is analogous to the hierarchy affiliation shared between the repressive colonizers and the enslaved population. Consequently, many writers since then have interpreted the relationship between the two characters of Shakespeare’s play as a possible answer to the question of ‘who are we?’ in terms of Latin American identity. However, as the nature of this subject is so changeable, assertions have even been made to Ariel the spirit as an accurate representation of the continent, as opposed to the character’s degenerate antithesis Caliban.

Therefore, one immediate question would be, what real significance could the tropes of a spirit and a slave have for Latin American identity, and if so, why? In order to answer these questions, it would be appropriate to address the debate of

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Latin American identity in conjunction with some references to The Tempest to understand the discourses stimulated by the tropes of Ariel and Caliban.

Discovery of a new World? Or the reestablishment of an Old civilization?

First of all, it is important to establish what the characters Ariel, Caliban and in this case Prospero represent from a Latin American viewpoint and identify the first major discourse on the region’s identity. What is instantly recognizable about Ariel and Caliban is that they are both slaves who have to serve the powerful Prospero. However, even in servitude these two are not treated in the same manner, which is reflected by the way Prospero, the story’s architect, controls the audience’s perception of these servants. This is achieved through the distinctive ways he refers to his servants such as, ‘Approach my Ariel’ (SHAKESPEARE, 1623, p. 32) and ‘Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself...’ (Idem, p. 37) to Caliban. From the start, the audience’s perceptions of the characters are influenced by Prospero’s perspective of the pure spirit Ariel and the barbarous hybrid Caliban. Everything is engineered and transformed by the proficient European from what he interpreted as chaos into absolute order. So it is possible to see Latin America’s connection with the drama’s tale of an island conquered by a European possessing superior scientific wisdom, who enslaves the autochthonous inhabitants to subservience and laborious work. This is because many Latin American intellectuals feel that their past like the story of the Tempest has been dictated from a European point of view. Edmundo O’Gorman advocates this concept, as he highlights that, the descriptions made by Christopher Columbus and Vespucio in their testimonies to the Monarchs, were exaggerated to suit the objectives of their masters (O’GORMAN, 2004, p. 185). So, the conquerors akin to Prospero, were attempting to make their stories more palatable for their target audience, by overstating the details of the Islands they had visited, in order for the Kings to gain interest and sponsor further expeditions. These over-elaborated tales Miscelânea, Assis, vol.7, jan./jun.2010 15 George Frederico Oliveira Bentley ranged from the vast riches Columbus had discovered, to the cannibalistic rituals of the inhabitants, which is inferred to by Shakespeare’s anagram of cannibal from Caliban. Hence, O’Gorman preferred the term, “The Invention of America” as opposed to the discovery of America. The very discovery of Latin America had to be disguised as a place that could be understood by Europeans, as this strange ‘New World’ created a problem. This was because in Europe everything before the discoveries could be explained by religion for example the tripartite idea of the world was the belief professed by the scriptures’, that the planet consisted of three continents. Now this way of thinking would have to change as a result of this ‘la cuarta parte del mundo’ (O’GORMAN, 1958, p. 185).

However, the cause for the volatile nature of the Latin American identity debate can be traced to the fact that, once these Islands were finally recognized as new discoveries, the Europeans conceived them to be a menace. The existence of a new land in between Europe and Asia was seen as a barrier to achieving the age old desire of establishing easy contact with the Far East. So, Columbus’ belief that he had found Asia, along with the Voyagers’ fear of not discovering riches equivalent to those found in Asia, meant that Latin America would not establish an immediate identity until the ones who controlled history said so, namely the Europeans. Instead, they would start what O’Gorman refers to as ‘el proceso’ (Idem, 1958, p. 185). in which Latin America was invented through a series of voyages between 1492 and 1507.The fact that these discoveries were not preconceived by the scriptures began to make Europeans question and modify what had previously been learnt from hermeneutics1 as well as epistemology2 (Idem, 1958, p. 126). This two way process becomes increasingly unbalanced as history progresses, because most of Latin American culture is imposed from The branch of theology that deals with the principles of critical explanation or interpretation of the bible.

A branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge.

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outside and shaped to reflect other civilizations. Latin America was not seen as the dynamic structures or by the multi-secular process that kept it together, it was just defined by what Europeans instilled. Rather than recognizing the discovery of a New World, the colonizers would instead create a new Europe. Therefore, this process is what can be seen as America’s inclusion in to Europe’s self modernization project that would also affirm the European dominance over the “natural world”.

Inevitably then, two further questions are raised. Firstly, what could explain the digression of Latin America? Secondly how could the tropes relate to the issue of recovering a Latin America identity? O’ Gorman offers an answer to both of these questions that point out the two paths that can be taken by the repressed subordinate, in a power struggle. Latin America in O’Gorman's view was enslaved by European values as Latin America took ‘the path of imitation’ (O’GORMAN, 1958, p. 156). The ‘backwardness’ of Latin American society in light of ‘La invención de America’ was blamed on the copying of European models to shape Latin American society. Whereas, North America takes the second path of being ‘Americano’ (O’GORMAN, 1958, p. 157), which meant adapting the model to the circumstances as opposed to the other way around. So in other words, Latin America plays the passive role of imitating the savage behavior of the conquerors and showing no sign of sophistication or originality. Whereas, the United States on the other hand refutes these old ideals of Europe and invents their own principles free from the colonizers influence. The parallels of Caliban to barbarous Latin America and Ariel to the liberated United States can be thus loosely envisaged here. Although these comparisons don’t quite fit, and O’Gorman’s text does not refer directly to the characters of the The Tempest, it was still important to refer to La Invención de America to fully appreciate the relationship shared between Latin America, the U.S. and Europe. What is missing from this text is a positive comparison of Latin America that could enable both an international and Latin Miscelânea, Assis, vol.7, jan./jun.2010 17 George Frederico Oliveira Bentley American reader understand the condition of Latin America as a “developing” continent of the future, as O ‘Gorman appears to give too much appraisal to the United States, thus downplaying his own continent’s accomplishments. In the context of O’Gorman’s argument, the uncouth character of Caliban would perfectly convey the degenerate Latin American society, which contrasted with his conception of the ethereal sphere created by the Ariel like North American civilizations. So, the cultural success of the U.S. understandably would make one choose Ariel as the character to follow in the power struggle against Prospero, but what exactly could this symbol of a spirit mean for Latin American scholars.

Latin America as Ariel?

In this section, Ariel is the main symbolic focus as it represents a specific type of reaction to power in which the subordinate, albeit reluctantly, abides by the masters’ commands and waits patiently for his freedom. In the Uruguayan essayist José Enrique Rodó’s book Ariel, he states that Latin America is faced with a new enemy. In light of the fall of the Spanish empire and the rise of the United States as a Global power, he identifies the U.S., Latin America’s antithesis, and the everpervasive American influence as a potential threat to Latin American identity. So, in contrast with O’Gorman’s perspective, as the future of Latin America according to Rodó did not mean following the path of the United States, as it was a deeply materialistic, utilitarian continent that promoted the specialization of workers’ knowledge in only one area. The concern at the time was that this sort of mentality would create individuals who were ‘apt in one aspect of life but monstrously inept in all others’ (RODÓ, 1900, p. 43). Furthermore, the act of constantly carrying out the same activity is not only a way of diminishing the workers’ mind but also their ‘spirit’.

So, in an attempt to restore the spirit and counter the threat seen to Latin American identity, Ariel is addressed to the youth, as they symbolize ‘light, love Miscelânea, Assis, vol.7, jan./jun.2010 18 George Frederico Oliveira Bentley and energy, for individuals, for generations, and also for the evolutionary process of society’ (Idem, 1900, p. 34) The story is appropriately situated in a classroom with Ariel and Caliban as disciples of the wise European professor named Prospero, who pontificates one last secular sermon. The pupil Ariel is the personification of youth, human spirit and the aesthetic beauty that was emphasized by Greek philosophers. Ariel was ‘reason and feeling’ (Idem, 1900, p. 31) over the basic instincts of irrationality in contrast to Caliban who represented “basic sensuality’ (Idem, 1900, p. 31). These embodiments, were supposed to persuade the youth to embark on the path of continual self-improvement and promote widespread education. To reestablish the Latin American “spirit” Rodó uses the models of Greece and Rome, both of which advocate the arts as a form of learning. So, he adapts the classic concepts of ancient western culture as opposed to the U.S.

modern utilitarian culture that only partially educated the continent’s members, consequently making high culture much harder to acquire.

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