Porter's 'Hacienda' and the Theme of Change

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Author: Robert L. Perry
Editors: Jenny Cromie and Justin Karr
Date: 2001
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 43)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,156 words

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[(essay date 1965) In the following essay, Perry appraises Porter's story "Hacienda" as a combination of her major thematic concerns, concluding that change is the most important theme in the piece.]

Katherine Anne Porter's "Hacienda" is one of those stories whose meaning is blurred by topicality. This story, as many of its readers know, had its genesis in a series of impressions Miss Porter gathered during an extended visit to the Tetlapayac Hacienda, one of the settings for Que Viva Mexico. This ill-fated masterpiece, directed by the famous Sergei Eisenstein, aroused great controversy in the States when Upton Sinclair, the film's financial backer, suddenly curtailed production of the film and refused Eisenstein the right to edit it. What followed was an extended legal struggle over the rights to the film in which Sinclair was ultimately the victor. The film was thereupon sold to Sol Lesser and released in 1933 under the title of Thunder Over Mexico. Readers wishing to learn more about the story of Que Viva Mexico and the people involved in it may consult Marie Seton's excellent biography of Eisenstein published by Grove Press in 1960.

This immense topical interest in the story makes one guess that the failure of critics to discover its unifying theme stems from their unwillingness to read the story as "art," and from their eagerness to read it as a factual, reportorial account of Miss Porter's experiences. Glenway Wescott, for instance, recently wrote in The Atlantic (April, 1962) that the story was "mainly a portrait of the great Russian film maker, Eisenstein," although anyone even tolerably familiar with the story knows this simply is not true. And knowing what we do of Miss Porter's profound respect for the craft of fiction, we should find it odd that she would submit for publication a story that was little more than mere journalism.

Since J. W. Johnson writing in The Virginia Quarterly Review (Autumn, 1960) has suggested that "Hacienda" is an "amalgam" of Porter's major themes, perhaps we should appraise the story in these terms. Johnson sees five specific themes operating in Porter's works, each represented by a novella prototype and a flock of short stories. The first is "the individual within his heritage" (Old Mortality), the second is "cultural displacement" ("The Leaning Tower"), the third is "unhappy marriage" ("The Cracked Looking-Glass"), the fourth is "the death of love" (Pale Horse, Pale Rider), and the fifth is "man's slavery to his own nature and subjugation to a human fate which dooms him to suffering and disappointment" (Noon Wine). We can easily find all of these themes operating in "Hacienda." Don Genaro, for instance, clearly represents the theme of "the individual within his heritage," just as Uspensky, Stepanov, Kennerly, and especially Andreyev represent the theme of "cultural displacement." Moreover, we have an "unhappy marriage" between don Genaro and doña Julia, and both the "death of love" theme and the "fate" theme are present in the tragedy of Rosalita, Justino, and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420035150