The title of Jose Armas’ story, "El Tonto Del Barrio" (or "The Barrio Dummy"), may be interpreted two different ways. The first interpretation is literal and applies to the simple-minded Romero, who with the help of his community is able to function in the real world. The second interpretation is ironic; it applies to the Harvard-bound Seferino, who though he means well is so lacking in experience that he turns Romero’s world upside down and nearly gets him committed to an institution. Many readers see the second interpretation as the more interesting, but to see the story in this light is to overlook a very important element. This element is the significant role of the community that is the setting for this story. If we consider the importance of the community, Romero is justly the title character. Romero gives the community character through his positive attitude, and he is a great role model to the children in terms of his work ethic. In return, the neighbors treat Romero with kindness, loyalty, and respect.
In a successful community, everyone must work together and help one another. Sometimes there are people in the community who seem strange to outsiders. They may even seem strange to the community members. The more peculiar residents may be ridiculed and put down, but not in Romero’s community—he is both respected and well-treated, and in return he treats members of the community with consideration. In this way Romero’s situation demands the best of his community, and in demanding their best, he makes the community stronger.
Although Romero was not quite normal, he has a mature attitude towards his job, and he always made sure his work was done thoroughly: "R...
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... everyone is taught to help anyone who needs it and to respect everyone, no matter how odd he or she seems. These values come through strongly in Armas’ story.
Overall, the reader can see that this community does band together to support Romero. Romero is a bit touched, but he manages to teach everyone in the town some important lessons. He exemplifies a work ethic that is probably stronger than any else’s in the community. Despite his affliction, Romero is always cheerful and full of vitality. Even though he is the "village idiot" by conventional definition, he is a blessing to this barrio.
Armas, Jose. "El Tonto Del Barrio." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. NY: HarperCollins, 1991. 1137-1142.
Armas, Jose. Cuban Consciousness in Literature: 1923-1974. Miami, Florida: Ediciones Universal, 1978.
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