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Clorinda Matto de Turner begins by voicing her reasons for writing the novel. In the proemio she cites her desire to show the world what life is really like in Peru, to create a "fotografía que estereotipe los vicios y las virtudes" , to show what happens when authorities are not correctly chosen or monitored and to enforce the idea that the clergy should have the right to marriage, in order to limit the possibility of devastating effects on society as portrayed in her novel.
Each character in the novel is a vehicle for Matto de Turner's ideas about the Peruvian national model and her thoughts on possible changes. The main focus of the novel is on the plight of the native Indians. The story focuses on two main Indian families, yet throughout the novel their plights are generalised by the use of the terms of "the race" and "brothers born in adversity" so that the novel critiques the entire nation and its treatment of the native culture.
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Matto de Turner's explanation for the corrupting nature of the juridico-political structure is a lack of education. The governor, Pancorbo, is described as having "received as elementary an education as the three years he spent at a city school allowed", Verdejo, the judge, is virtually illiterate as he needs someone else to write things down for him "-Esperemos otro poquito, mi señor; no tardará mi plumario pa quescriba -repuso Verdejo algo turbado" and Estéfano Benítez, supposedly one of the best educated, merely has "good handwriting". At times the reader could be mislead into thinking that the plight of the Indians is due to this corrupt governing body and that if they were to comply with their obligations the problems could be resolved. However, when the new sub prefect arrives, although he jails some of the gentry, he soon settles into the ways of his predecessors, showing that it is a better understanding of things and a greater need for education that is needed in Peru rather than new reforms.
The third element of the triad is the church, in this novel embodied by Don Pedro Mirando y Claro and Father Pascual Vargas. One of the aims of Matto de Turner's novel was to raise the awareness of the need for the clergy to have the right to marriage and so this concept is stressed throughout the novel by focusing on the private lives of the priests. Don Pedro Mirando y Claro is not a present figure in the novel but we learn that by using his position of authority he was able to exploit the young Indian women and as a result has fathered two children, Margarita and Manuel. Father Vargas is portrayed as a drunkard womaniser who exploits the Indians for his own personal needs which, like Don Pedro Mirando y Claro, are sexual. He forces the women of the village to work for him for free and although it is never directly said it is hinted that this work is of a more sexual nature than a religious one. He also has a mistress, Melitona. However, Matto de Turner does not critique this blatant lack of Christian values but rather sympathises with the priest's situation and highlights that the reason for his debauchery is due to his lack of a loving family which is voiced through the priest himself, "¡Desdichado el hombre que es arrojado al desierto del curato sin el amparo de la familia!" The natural imagery associated with him also highlights his corrupt nature as instead of a bird, which is the imagery associated with the majority of other protagonists in the novel, he is described as "un nido de sierpes lujuriosas" which is a clear biblical critique of his actions.
The other main characters in "Aves sin nido" are the "outsiders" from Lima. Lucia, Fernando and Manuel have all been educated in Lima and are considered far more enlightened than the inhabitants of Kíllac. They are the characters who fight for the rights of the Indians and highlight the problems and possible solutions for these. Lucia believes that there is a great need for education and is particularly interested in Indian culture. The Maríns have very Liberal ideas and also reflect positivist ideology, in particular Fernando, who believes that the underdevelopment of the Indians is due to malnourishment. Manuel is also very keen to educate Margarita and to move himself and his family away from the corruption of the small Andean towns to the Liberal, enlightened capital, Lima.
Although the novel primarily critiques the make up of the Peruvian nation it also has a feminist element. The novel represents the female characters in a much better light than the male characters. Both the female Indian characters, Marcela Yupanqui and Martina Champi, show great determination and strength when faced with a crisis, neither of them ever give up and approach others in their hour of need. Whereas their husbands immediately give up when faced with a problem, becoming depressed and so desperate that in Juan's case he sees death as the only way out.
The two other main female characters, Lucia Marín and Doña Petronila, both express Matto de Turner's view that women "exercise a morally corrective influence upon men" . Doña Petronila is repeatedly seen trying to persuade her corrupt husband to turn his back on the corruption and violence. And Lucia is constantly asking her husband to do the morally right thing, firstly by helping the Yupanqui family by giving them money and secondly by helping to prove that the village sexton, Champi, is innocent.
Matto de Turner's thoughts also transpire through three of the more enlightened male characters; Fernando, Manuel and Gaspar. All three have the view that women are sharper than men and have an incredible ability to read and judge others. Fernando sums up Matto's views by saying "Women always excel us in insight and imagination."
Although the novel has a feminist element it is typical of nineteenth-century feminism, the aim of which was to win over the majority of society. The novel therefore depicts the idea that although women are more ethical than men and that they are superior in thought they are primarily wives and mothers. When Petronila offers her husband advice he rejects it saying "Really, women should never mix themselves up with men's business; they had better keep to their pots and pans" clearly showing that women shouldn't be too progressive, they should still know their role in society and not try and force their ideas on men.
From reading Aves sin nido the world is left with an image of Peru filled with social oppression, corruption and backwardness. But, it is also clear that some Peruvian's want change to take place in order to modernise and unite the country under one national identity. However, it becomes apparent that even with the help of enlightened intellectuals the Indians are still powerless to the corruption of their small towns. At the end of the novel Manuel and Margarita's dream of marriage is shattered by the revelation that both are fathered by Don Pedro Mirando y Claro thus bringing them back to the reality. "Aves sin nido" shows that the native culture of Peru is based upon exploitation and the issues that arise from it and raises the issue that in order to end the oppression and corruption more significant changes have to be made in the shape of education.
Clorinda Matto de Turner, Aves sin nido (Lima 1988)
Antonio Cornejo Polar, "Foreword" in Torn from the Nest translated by John H. R. Polt (New York 1998)
Efrain Kristal, "El indigenismo de Clorinda Matto de Turner" in Una vision urbana de los Andes. Génesis y desarrollo del indigenismo en el Perú 1848-1930. (Lima; Instituto de Apoyo Agrerio 1991)
Clorinda Matto de Turner, Birds without a nest, translated by J.G.H, amended by Naomi Lindstorm
Francesca Denegri "La identidad nacional en Aves sin nido, Indole y Herencia" in El Abanico y la Cigarrera: La primera generación de mujeres ilustradas en el Perú (Lima 1996)