Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Peter Elmore

Second Advisor

Leila Gómez

Third Advisor

Javier Krauel

Fourth Advisor

Mary K. Long

Fifth Advisor

César Ferreira


This dissertation studies how the melodramatic mode shapes the approach to political violence in six novels: Libro de Manuel, by Julio Cortázar, El beso de la mujer araña, by Manuel Puig; Historia de Mayta, by Mario Vargas Llosa; Estrella distante, by Roberto Bolaño; La hora azul, by Alonso Cueto; and La vida doble, by Arturo Fontaine. Beyond the realm of sentimental formulaic melodrama, I define this term as the interpretation of events after subjective emotions. By studying these novels, I propose that the melodramatic imagination has become the most employed set of tropes for the interpretation of public and private interactions in contemporary fiction. My analysis exposes how literary writing addresses commercial, political, and artistic aspirations through a combined use of strategies such as moral polarization, pathos, emotional interpretation, scenic emplotment, and sensationalism.

Chapter One analyses the connections between political violence and melodrama in Latin American literatures and cultures. Chapter Two is a study of Cortázar’s Libro de Manuel, a novel which fictionalizes what I call melodrama of the revolutionary, an emotional, uncritical identification with leftist urban subcultures. Chapter Three studies Puig’s El beso de la mujer araña to illustrate the existence of reactionary practices in progressivist and queer sectors, limiting their capacity to generate political change. Chapter Four is an analysis of Vargas Llosa’s Historia de Mayta, a dystopian diatribe against leftist politicians in which a melodramatic understanding of experience appears in both dominant and marginal sectors. Chapter Five studies Bolaño’s Estrella distante, a novel in which the search for a neo-avantgardist artist obsessed with the use of corpses as material allows the dramatization of melodrama in artistic sectors, leading to the normalization of totalitarianism. Chapter Six is a reading of Cueto’s La hora azul, a novel in which national reconciliation becomes a middle-high class subjective conflict, interpreting historical experience in terms originated in audiovisual melodrama. Chapter Seven analyzes Fontaine’s La vida doble, in which the voice of a former revolutionary and intelligence agent reinforces the idea that leftist convictions are futile, normalizing emotions that normalize material and symbolic inequity. Finally, the last section summarizes this work’s contributions.