Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ short story, “La Siesta del Martes,” focuses on divisions of class and gender. The story begins with a description of the Macondo region, viewed through the window of a train as it passes through areas that are both modest as well as poverty-stricken. The two main characters are a mother and her 12-year-old daughter, who are traveling to a cemetery to visit the gravesite where the woman’s son has been buried. His crime is the first hint of one of the themes of the story: he has been shot while committing a petty theft in a private home. The passengers on the train, the two females, are riding in a substandard third-class wagon, and Marquez describes indirectly their isolation and humility, while at the same time presenting the mother as full of serenity. Clearly, this is an admirable trait, and in this way, the poverty of the pair is associated with a dignity that transcends their diminished social class. This paper will discuss “La Siesta del Martes,” examining its theme of impoverishment and its connection with dignity and worth as expressed by Marquez.
There are several themes that appear in this short story: isolation, social injustice and inequality, violence, loss, and the judgmental role and lack of compassion that people, including the clergy, sometimes play. The mother and her daughter are traveling in extremely uncomfortable conditions–“they were the only passengers in the lone third-class carriage,…mixed with the whistle of the locomotive and the din of the old cars”, an image of isolation as well as discomfort, since smoke from the engine of the train is coming through the window. In addition, the sweltering heat is palpable. Throughout the story, all the characters involved are affected by the intense heat: the woman advises her daughter to “turn up the glass… it was eleven o’clock and still had not started the heat.” The train stops in a station for ten minutes, without any ability to provide water to the passengers. The family’s resources are scant, when it is pointed out that “(the daughter) was 12 years and was the first time traveling,” a reference to the lack of financial resources of the Ayala family. They are carrying their own meager lunch with them in a plastic bag.
During their trip, the author comments on the surroundings through which the Ayalas are passing, which are clearly of a more livable nature than those from which they came, passing a town in which a crowd had gathered in the plaza to listen to a group of musicians that were playing cheerful music. The visual differences between their world and the lands through which they are passing are stark. Throughout, Señora Ayala displays “the conscientious serenity of someone accustomed to poverty.” This is a woman who has clearly suffered, yet demonstrates a kind of calm that may elude people of more means.
When the twosome arrives at the town where Carlos was killed, their destination appears to be a small, quiet, neat village that doesn’t seem to contain much economic activity: “the houses, mostly built on the model of the banana company, had the doors locked and blinds drawn.” The town is deserted as everyone is taking their midday siesta. This proud woman and her daughter do not have the luxury of taking an afternoon nap like the rest of the people in this village; instead, they have traveled, despite terrible conditions, to visit the gravesite of their son/brother. The sense of dignity demonstrated by the woman comes up in various forms, including a reminder to her daughter, several times, that they are not coming to mourn. Rather, they are going to hold their heads high, despite his crime, as they make their way through the town to the rectory and then the cemetery.
The rectory that they visit is portrayed in the same simple but poor fashion: “The narrow waiting room was poor, neat and clean.” The impression is given that the woman who lets them into the rectory greets them with a minimum of hospitality or compassion. When the Father finally appears, he seems to be annoyed that he has been interrupted and forced to receive these unexpected visitors when the heat is so extreme: “What is offered? He Asked. The keys to the cemetery, she said. In this heat, He said. Have been expected to come down the sun.”
When the priest learns the identity of her son, the person who has been murdered while in the act of committing a petty theft, he expresses the classic blame-the-victim mentality of people who have not experienced difficulties such as poverty. He asks her whether she has ever tried to get him “on the right track.” Again, in her dignified way, she resists becoming angry and defensive, defending the memory of her son, by explaining that he was a good man who only stole because the family needed food. Even the priest is amazed at the evenness of the woman’s demeanor, her pride in and defense of her son.
The story raises the question of whether or not it is ever justifiable to steal. The woman’s defense of her son and his crime, and the priest’s accusatory question to her, highlights the fact that many people who have not been in such a position lack empathy, and cannot imagine anyone being in such a dire situation that he or she would be desperate enough to risk one’s life committing a crime to help save his family. Even after speaking with the priest, the woman and her daughter continue to be exposed to stigma, curiosity, and the judgments of the crowd that has gathered to see the family of the man who killed one of their community members. The mother’s dignity and pride continue to be on display as she rejects the advice to wait until after dark to visit the cemetery; the priest says that it’s because of the heat, but in addition, the mood of the crowd might make it unsafe for her, or at the very least uncomfortable, to be seen in the area. Nevertheless, she takes her daughter by the hand and leaves, unwilling to be deterred from her goal of expressing her grief at her son’s grave.
The image of the crowd outside, waiting for the woman and her daughter to emerge, contributes to the marginalization of “outsiders” who are not welcome in many communities, much as foreigners are rejected nowadays on the bases of race, social class, ethnicity, and being one of the “others.” This is a story that revolves around social inequality, society’s callousness and lack of compassion for the plight of the poor, combined with themes of the dignity and peacefulness of people, despite their difficult existences. It is a Rorschach test regarding one’s attitudes about crime, and whether or not it is ever justified, and if so, under what circumstances. It also reveals much about people’s capacity, or lack thereof, for empathy regarding outsiders as well as those less fortunate than themselves. The inclusion of the priest at the rectory in this group of indifferent, judgmental people is also a commentary about the potential harshness expressed by the clergy towards the poor.