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Literature / Doņa Barbara

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"Killing the centaur! Don't be a fool, Santos Luzardo! You think that about the centaur is pure rethoric? I can assure you it exist. I heard it neight. Every night comes around here. And not only here; There, in Caracas, too. And even further yet. Anywhere one of us go, us with the Luzardo blood, can hear the centaur. You heard it too, and that's why you're here. Who said is possible to kill the centaur? Me? Spit on my face, Santos Luzardo. The centaur is a enthelechy. One hundred years has been galloping in this land, and will remain for another hundred. I believed myself to be a civilized man, the first of my family, but it changed when they told me "come to avenge your father" for the barbarian to return to me. The same happened to you; you heard the call. I will see you on her arms and go mad for a caress of hers."
Lorenzo Barquero

Doña Barbara is a 1929 novel by Venezuelan author Rómulo Gallegos. It's the story of Santos Luzardo, a man who is returning to his native land of Altamira, that has been taken over by the woman known as Doña Barbara, an infamous woman with a dreadful reputation who has renamed the place as El Miedo. There, he will try to recover the place by legal means, while his friends try to tell him to kill Doña Barbara and be a man.

On his way there, Santos Luzardo meets Marisela, the daughter of Doña Barbara and Lorenzo Barquero. Barquero is Santos cousin, who was his idol and main inspiration growing up, but has been corrupted by the devourer of men who turned him into n drinker and took his lands. Marisela, who has been raised by a dumb worker from the Doña, is taken by Santos in an attempt to educate her.


Doña Barbara is a story of barbarism versus civilization, inspired by the sociopolitical situation of Venezuela under the regime of dictator Juan Vicente Gomez. Despite being an allegorical criticism of of the Gomez government, the General liked the book and gave it his blessing. In fact, the book gave its author a good reputation among the people of Venezuela, and was a factor in him becoming president in 1948... before being taken out by another dictator nine months later, Marco Perez Jimenez.

The book was adapted into a Mexican movie in 1943, with actress Maria Felix playing the titular character, with author Rómulo Gallegos helping with the script. It has also been adapted into many telenovelas in both Venezuela and Mexico.

The novel briefly became infamous due to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez calling then President George W. Bush "Mister Danger", like a character from the book, who was an Evil Colonialist.


This work provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: In the book, Juan Primito calls Marisela "Niña de mis ojos" (light of my eyes).
  • Alcoholic Parent: Lorenzo Barquero, being The Alcoholic, is this to Marisela. He doesn't really take care of her, with Juan Primito being the one who helps her the most. He does, however, love her deep down, as a drunk Lorenzo tries to defend Marisela from Mister Danger when he tries to rape her.
  • Antagonist Title: Doña Barbara is both the title of the book and the name of the main antagonist.
  • Arc Words: "This land doesn't forgive."
  • Book Dumb: The people of the Venezuelan flatlands are shown to be quite ignorant, prone to malapropisms, and superstitious. This is actually Truth in Television, due to the education of Venezuela outside of Caracas not being very good during those days. Juan Primito hardly speaks well, and before being taken by Santos, Marisela was more like a feral child.
  • Cattle Baron: Doña Bárbara is the Latin American (in fact, Venezuelan) take on this trope, and a female one, to boot. In fact, whenever wealthy people from "El Llano" (the Venezuelan flatlands) appear in Telenovelas they tend to not only represent this trope, but reference Doña Bárbara in a way or another.
  • Central Theme: Civilization overcoming barbarism. The words of Lorenzo Barquero define this. "It is necesary to kill the centaur that all of us, the people of the flatlands, have".
  • Character Development: Marisela, thanks to Luzardo's help, becomes a better person through the book, going from almost a feral child to a civilized lady. By the third part of the book, she decides to get back to her old home in "La Chusmita", and couldn't take any of it.
  • The Dreaded: Doña Barbara is feared throughout the region, with the population making up stories about her and how she obtained her fortune. It helps that she had allies in the form of dangerous criminals like the Mondragons, knew all sorts of sorcery, learned from the indigenous population, and she was believed to be talking with some sort of spirit which she called "partner" (El Socio).
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Lorenzo Barquero, who is a shadow of his former self, became an heavy drinker due to Doña Barbara's influence. Mister Danger, knowing of his misfortune, gives him more and more drinks because it amuses him.
    Mister Danger: He is beyond repair, doctor. Leave him end his own misery. He doesn't want to live. He is still in love with Barbarita. Terribly so, and he drinks and drinks to forget her. I told him many times: "Don Lorenzo, you're killing yourself". But he doesn't want to listen, and doesn't take the drink out of his mouth.
  • Evil Colonialist: The racist, drunken, Egomaniac Hunter Míster Danger. While Bárbara, the main villain of the book, has a Freudian Excuse for her actions, he enjoys his horrible acts just because he's bored. By the end of the book, when he realizes that now he Can't Get Away with Nuthin', he just flees from the place. As a matter of trivia, the trope was named after the character previously.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mister Danger presents himself as a nice guy, but is racist, gives Lorenzo more alcohol despite his status, and attempts to rape Marisela.
  • Feuding Families: The family of the Luzardo and the Barqueros, while from the same bloodline (being cousins), fought over the control of Altamira for the sake of its name, with the Luzardo brand wanting to keep it as "Altamira", while the Barqueros wanted it to be renamed "La Barquereña". This brought members of both families into conflict, and by the time Santos Luzardo was eight years old, his father killed his son and then committed suicide over this. Santos and Lorenzo are the last of their families. Santos doesn't want this family discord anymore, and tries to convince Lorenzo Barquero, who is a shadow of his former self and finds it baffling that "a Luzardo is in the house of a Barquero", to accept his friendship.
    : Santos Luzardo: I'm Santos Luzardo, and I come to offer my friendship.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Minor character Maria Nieves, who, despite the name, is a dude. The character is based on a man of the same name the author knew from his travels through the country.
  • Gratuitous English: Mister Danger, being an Evil Colonialist written by a Latin-American writer, employs English words among his phrases from time to time.
    : Mister Danger: ¡All right! Ya soy en casa.
  • In-Series Nickname: Doña Barbara is known by several nicknames due to her reputation, which include "La cacica de Arauca" (Arauca's chief), and "La devoradora de hombres" (The devourer of men), among others. Mister Danger also affectionaly calls her "Barbarita".
  • The Lost Lenore: Gender inverted example in Asdrubal, Doña Barbara's first love. She still misses him and sometimes projects him on many of her lovers, but the illusion breaks down after a while.
  • Malaproper: Many of the flatlands residents don't speak very well, with old man Menesio using words like "haiga" and "juera" in his sentences, instead of "haga" and "fuera".
  • Parental Neglect: Doña Barbara never took well the fact she was a mother, and left Lorenzo and her daughter to rot in some cabin in "La Chusmita", far away from her presence. She also never develops any sort of paternal love for her child, but sees her as competition for Santos' affection. At the end of the book, when Marisela asks her for support in order to leave to another town, Doña Barbara helps her not out of love, but because she would have Santos to herself.
  • Posthumous Character: Some characters in the tale are very important to the core motivations of the main protagonists, but they have been dead for decades. Asdrubal was a poor guy who wanted to go to Manaos, and offered his service to "Taita", Doña Barbara's caretaker. He taught her how to read and write, and was her first love. One day, however, he was killed by the three men who later raped Barbara. That was 25 years before the events of the book, but Doña Barbara still has a strong memory of him.
  • Rape as Backstory: Doña Barbara was raped when she was a child, after her first love was killed by the three pirates who abused her. This gives Doña Barbara some pity points, despite how "evil" she is.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Doña Barbara, the main antagonist of the book, was raped when she was a child by three men after her boyfriend was killed by then. Mister Danger then tries to rape poor Marisela, but is stopped.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The conflict of the story is about Civilization, represented by Santos Luzardo (a man who left the flatlands behind and went to the city of Caracas to study as a lawyer) and Barbarism, represented by Doña Barbara, a woman who uses sorcery, seduction and controls Altamira, which she renamed "El Miedo" (The Fear), through fear. Likewise, Santos Luzardo has to deal with her through the law, avoiding the way everyone in the population fell to the "ley del llano" (law of the llano), which meant honor-killing.

The prescribed time by law passed for Marisela to enter in holding of her mother's inheritance, of whom no news have been heard, and begone from the Arauca is the name of The Fear, and Altamira returns to be once more.