After 1945, the United States was able to establish hegemony after the victory in World War II, the end of the Great Depression and the acceleration of globalization through industrialization and the construction of nuclear weapons. This boom period also brought with it sociopolitical tensions such as the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the rise of neoliberal exploitation of the working class and the country’s own natural resources, whose sequels would become clear decades later.
In Puerto Rico, the creation of the commonwealth and the unbridled acceleration of the industrialization process negatively impacted agricultural and cultural resources. This situation led to a process of migration that created a number of slums, a notable exodus to the United States and marked social inequality. Paradoxically, there was also huge economic growth.
By the middle of the 1940s and early 1950s, radio programs and advertising rose as agents in shaping discourse. In the face of all this, a community of writers began to question these processes and give voice to individuals who participated in it. The time that this occurred has led to a theoretical debate whether this group should be called the 1940, 1945 or 1950 Generation. For the purpose of this essay it was categorized as the Generation of 1945 to coincide with the majority of theoreticians and literary critics.
The Generation of 1945 is the logical (and chronological) continuation of the so-called Generation of 1930. René Marqués (the most outstanding short story writer of this group) said that in seeking a formal distance from Spain — the Spanish Civil War had silenced its literary production in that era, and also it was almost impossible to acquire and follow the literature of the Spanish Americas (especially before the Korean War) — he was interested in U.S. authors such as Hemingway and Faulkner, or British, such as Joyce.
Thus, new stylistic influences and trends such as nostalgia for the past, nationalism, social justice, the city, marginalized people and the interference of the U.S. model became the central themes for the Generation of 1945. This group of writers was comprised of fiction writers Abelardo Díaz Alfaro, Edwin Figueroa, José Luis González, René Marqués, Pedro Juan Soto, José Luis Vivas, Emilio Díaz Valcárcel, Violeta López Suria; essay writers José Luis González, René Marqués, Josefina Rivera de álvarez, Juan Martínez Capó, Francisco Matos Paoli, César Andréu Iglesias, Josemilio González; poets Francisco Lluch Mora, Félix Franco Oppenheimer, Laura Gallego, Violeta López Suria, Francisco Matos Paoli (transcendental poet and model for subsequent generations); and children’s literature writer Ester Feliciano Mendoza, among others.
In terms of style, the Generation of 1945 was the precursor of innovative narrative techniques that aimed toward subjectivity, interior monologue and stream of consciousness. These writers also used a discursive technique that sought to reflect the inner thought through a flood of words in excessively long sentences, such as in “Sol negro” (“Black Sun”) by Emilio Díaz Valcárcel. These attempts to represent the psychological were displayed in the typographical resources and punctuation they used, such as italics, asterisks, etc. In the same way, they were very assertive in the use of symbols as a way to transmit the psychological or the existential, in stories such as “Los perros” (“The Dogs”) by Abelardo Díaz Alfaro and “Un fósforo quemado” (“A Burnt Match”) by José Luis Vivas, as well as in the poetry of Francisco Matos Paoli.
At the same time, scenery representations by René Marqués showed a new approach and use of theatrical media in which light plays a key role in setting the stage and presenting the characters (“Los soles truncos,” or “The Truncated Suns” to mention an example). In fact, in terms of characters, women would play the leading role in many texts, which in a certain measure broadened the vision that urban society had.
All of this was framed in an urban context (it was an era of full industrialization, when an exodus from the country to the city took place). Stories such as “En el fondo del caño hay un negrito” (“There is a Little Black Boy in the Bottom of the Canal”) by José Luis González present the inequality and use gritty language as references to the social situation, as well as value a more laconic form of expression. The grim, inhospitable and destructive spaces of the city stimulated an existential approach to the reality of the characters and humanity (as seen in “Los inocentes” [“The Innocents”] by Pedro Juan Soto and the poetry of Matos Paoli), which gave universality to the literature. Similarly, in addition to Puerto Rican urban spaces, New York stood out as a scene for the story, and the discrimination and other hard times that were experienced by the diaspora became narrative conflicts (Spiks by Soto) and topics of analysis in essays.
One of the events that marked the Generation of 1945 was the militarization of Puerto Ricans, who were persuaded and obligated to participate in the Korean War. The character crushed by the uncaring mechanisms of the war would be one of the main social criticisms found in stories that are now iconic, such as “Sangre inútil” (“Useless Blood”) by Díaz Valcárcel and “Una caja de plomo que no se podía abrir” (“A Box of Lead that Can’t be Opened”) by González.
In the urban setting, the media figure as part of the backdrop and setting for the texts. The billboards, the neon lights, and the radio ads are all elements that form part of the discourse. They delineate the actions and the characters who are inclined to consume (as in the story “En la popa del barco hay un cuerpo reclinado” [“There is a Body Resting in the Stern of the Ship”] by Marqués). The texts become psychological studies of the characters, of the Puerto Rican mentality that tries to analyze exhaustively the social character of the people in the framework allowed by the era.
In summary, the defining characteristics of this generation are existentialism, surrealism (the psychological approach and symbolism), social commitment that denounces social, industrial, military and racial exploitation, and the textual universalization in presenting the regional as subjective and intrinsically human. There are many examples of this generation, but some who are part of the literary canon are Díaz Alfaro, Marqués, González, Soto, Matos Paoli, Arriví, Díaz Valcárcel, Lluch Mora, Figueroa and Feliciano Mendoza, as an example of children’s literature with stories and poems that are still read in Puerto Rican schools.
Author: Alexandra Pagán Vélez
Published: August 24, 2015.
This post is also available in: Español