Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Advisor

Joseph V. Ricapito


Despite all that has been written in recent years on the subject of literary postmodernism, theorists and critics have yet to arrive at a consensus about the meaning of the term. In the context of Latin America, the theoretical disagreement is given an added dimension by an ongoing debate over whether the notion of postmodernism, in any of its manifestations, is relevant to contemporary Latin American letters. This study maintains that at least some of the issues raised in the debate over postmodernism are not only relevant, but crucial to an understanding of the many complex worlds of Latin America at the end of the twentieth century. These issues, which include societal fragmentation, radical heterogeneity, multiple and often conflicting values, and a sense of disorientation and purposeless, directionless wandering, are nowhere as painfully apparent as in contemporary Peru. The study examines the strategies by which Peruvian novelists Jose Maria Arguedas and Mario Vargas Llosa explore these issues, not merely as a literary or intellectual exercise, but as a matter of life and death, the seriousness of which is borne out by the fact that in each case the search culminates in what appears to be a grand, irrevocable gesture that indicates despair. A close, comparative reading of three novels by each of two authors traces the evolution of their thought, and attempts to establish some links between the insights which they arrive and the gestures of despair. I considered are Los rios profundos, Todas as sangres, and El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo by Arguedas, and La casa verde, El hablador, and Lituma en los Andes by Vargas Llosa. Finally, the study arrives at and argues for the conclusion that the despair Arguedas and Vargas Llosa express is not, after all, the product of the contemplation of postmodern chaos; rather, it stems from the only partially acknowledged discovery of a deeper, darker, more terrible order that defies understanding, yet demands to be understood.