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LIT 4930: Florida Lit and Culture

Class 5: Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them

    Jose Yglesias, The Truth About Them
    Read at least as far as chapters 3&4 (56-110)

    DUE: Post 3 group B, Response Group A

Class Objectives:

    Analyze chapters 3 & 4 The Truth About Them
    Apply theories of place literary representations of Florida

Notes and Discussion Questions:

    We will continue to discuss the theories of place in the representation of Florida in the novel as well as some of the larger thematic questions.

    The action moves between Matanzas, Havana, Key West, Tampa and New York City. Would you call this an American novel? A Florida novel?

    As in his essay, Yglesias is keenly aware of class differences in the novel. The "them" of the novel is the colonial Spanish families of Cuba; what is the truth the novel tells about them? How might this relate to Yglesias' claim in his essay that "we Latins are not necessarily of a piece"?

    The Truth About Them offers a rich example of a literary text that provides enormous amounts of information about place, written as it is by a talented writer, keen observer and a person who is both inside and outside the community. Let's analyze the novel on a variety of levels related to place.

    Returning to Cresswell, what information does the novel provide on a descriptive level? What do you learn about Ybor (or other "real" places) that you might not know today?

    What information does the novel provide about the social construction of place? In this particular place (Ybor from 1880s to 1950s), what attributes of place does the book highlight that inform the social, political, racial, gendered, sexual, and economic structures? It is for this question, I believe, that the book provides most information.

    How does the narrative suggest a phenomenology of place? Each chapter highlights the experience of one member of his family, though it is told from the perspective of Pini. How do characters experience places differently?

    The book is not told in chronological sequence. Why might that be? What is the relation between linear time and immigrant experience? Does place have anything to do with this?


    Chapter 3

    This is Uncle Candido's chapter. What does it mean to be a foreman? What are the class distinctions among cigar makers and why does Grandfather refuse to bow to them? Why do the men gather on Candido's porch? How does gender structure the domestic spaces of the novel?

    Why does Pini refuse to read Spanish literature?

    The social clubs Ybor are mentioned in this chapter (Centro Asturiano and Centro Espanol). How are they structured by race and class and what role do they play in the lives of the cigar workers? How do the clubs reflect the larger commercial relations between Cuba, Spain and the USA?

    Comment: "At sixteen all that occupied me were the oppressive differences between us in Ybor City and the Americans I first met in high school.... My dead father was born in Spain and my mother was wholly of Cuban descent, but I claimed neither. I was stubbornly intent on being American, a singular view of myself that no one in or outside that anomalous Southern community shared" (59-60).

    What happens when Candido drives his car into the man on Seventh Avenue and he dies? Why does it matter that the man is black? What does the story indicate about relations between Latinos and Blacks in Ybor City?

    How is New York a different cultural space for Pini (75-77)?

    Why does Pini humiliate Candido and how does he explain it? How might this be a turning point for The Truth About Them as a coming of age story?

    Chapter 4

    This chapter focuses on the story of Pini's sister Eloisa. How does Eloisa's estrangement from her husband Abel make visible the spoken and unspoken assumptions about women in the Latin community?

    Notice the mention of USF on page 87. How is this connected to the "mafia"? Why doesn't Eloisa believe what people tell her about the mafia?

    Comment: "She will agree when someone bemoans the fate of Ybor City, but every new neon sign that goes up over a new drive-in or motel lights up her interest and indeed she enjoys the freeway that now cuts the city up into shopping centers" (89)

    How does Abel educate Pini?

    The chapter contrasts Abel's seduction of Pini's family with his death scene fifteen years later in Centro Espanol Hospital. What is the significance of Pini's encounter in the hospital?

    How does Eloisa end up well off and married (several times)? Where does she live? How does her place differ from that of her extended family?


    Remember to identify place names for your mapping project. For this novel, select a way to organize the places mentioned in the novel and represent that through your mapping strategy. For example, you could map the travels of individual characters in the novel and assign each of the characters you choose a color. Add a quotation from the novel for the places marked.

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