Nature and Civilization in Vega´s The Story of Pedro Serrano and Saer´s The Witness
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During the era of maritime exploration and the discovery of the Americas, assumptions were made of the land likening it to not only a paradise, but one that was overrun with cannibalistic natives. These suppositions led to a desire to explore the lands and conquer the savages that posed a threat to man and civilization itself. The consequences of this mass colonization and dehumanization of the natives paved the way for literary pieces that pose as critiques of the era when viewed through a post-colonial lens. When looked at through a post-colonial perspective, a few common themes prevail amongst compared texts. Focusing on the theme of the journey, what it means, and what is at stake, Garcilaso de la Vega’s “The Story of Pedro Serrano” and Juan José Saer’s The Witness both touch on all these themes with great severity, dissecting the purpose of the journey and what it means to be a civilized man.
Vega wrote of Pedro Serrano, a man who was shipwrecked upon a small desert island for nearly a decade. A majority of the story focuses on Serrano conquering and taming the island to fit his own needs. For example, he uses turtle shells to not only catch water for his consumption, but also to build a small hut to perpetuate the life of his fire that nature threatened to extinguish. However, despite his efforts, nature eventually wins over Serrano, disrobing him and leaving him almost animal like in the view of civilized men. While this story does not focus too heavily on the journey of Serrano, it does offer an in dept perspective of what is at stake when man is put up against nature. Serrano desperately tries to recreate civilization on the island in an attempt to cling to civilization. After all, it was religion (a manmade institution)...
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...the need for a balance between man’s true physical appearance and man’s true behavior is needed. For Serrano, his journey led to his discovery of that balance and for the “Def-ghi”, it was the balance between the cannibalistic and civilized nature of man, something that frightened him so much that he confined himself to the city where it masquerades as something refined.
Between Vega’s “The Story of Pedro Serrano” and Saer’s The Witness, each character discovered their own truths and purpose in life. For Serrano, his was the journey to achieve the balance between nature and civilization and twisting it for his own benefit much like he did with the resources on the island. For the nameless narrator, his journey was to gain the identity of what would end up a lost civilization and share their story with the world, ensuring that they would live on and be understood.