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Literature (CMC), Modern Languages (CMC)

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Esteban Echeverria's short story "El matadero" is generally acknowledged as a literary masterpiece in miniature. It is widely anthologized and has been called the inaugural work of Argentine short fiction, if not the first Latin American short story. Seymour Menton positions it as the first story in his influential anthology El cuento hispanoamericano and calls it "una verdadera obra de arte" (34); David William Foster refers to it as "the founding text of Argentine fiction" (Sexual Textualities 135). Although the story has been popularly and critically acclaimed, it also presents certain problems for its readers. Written by an avowed Romantic, "El matadero" with its graphic, to some readers even disgusting descriptions of the slaughter of cattle, the scrupulous reproduction of lower-class Buenos Aires speech patterns, and its scathing attacks on the "chusma" or underclass of Argentina, complete with racial stereotypes, does not seem to fit within the standard critical definitions of Romanticism. But given that Realism is generally considered to have "arrived" in Latin American literature with the publication of the Chilean Alberto Blest Gana's La aritmetica en el amor in 1860, critics have resisted calling "El matadero" a Realist story. Indeed, the text even appears to defy generic definitions; while it is usually referred to as a short story, the lengthy description of the slaughterhouse that occupies the first half of the narrative has led some readers to see it as a costumbrista hybrid (Gutierrez, Ghiano).1 In short, "El matadero" presents its readers with a variety of conceptual puzzles, from literary movement to genre to date of production. Moreover, the content of the story-the brutal and graphic retelling of the slaughter of fifty head of cattle and the torture and death of a young man-· -has also created interpretive difficulties for critics. It is this aspect of the story that I will examine here.

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© 1999 Washington University. Posted with permission of the copyright holder.