Use of allegory of Civilization versus ‘barbarism’ and violence

The film “Dona Barbara” employs allegory to portray two worlds. The novel is set in the 1940s Venezuelan transitional period. During this time, the country was experiencing a new culture and way of life brought about by the discovery of oil.

As such, an oil economy was starting to emerge, bringing with it an urban culture. The emergence of urbanism set the pace for a conflict between modern civilization and barbarism. This conflict is neatly depicted through allegory. Therefore, the film can be seen as both a national as well as a literary allegory.

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In “Dona Barbara”, the conflict is signified through a number of allegorical symbols, such as urban culture versus the rural, progressiveness against retrogressiveness, the law against the outlaw, masculinity versus femininity, rational thought against the irrational thought (passion and Freudian sexual desires), et cetera.

There are many critics of the film, each of whom has a varied version of the use of allegory. However, all the critics are in agreement that the use of allegory helps to clearly depict two oppositions not only in the film but also of the 1940s Venezuela. Thus, the film is seen as a way of confronting the old and the new cultures and the significant conflict that arises from this fusion. Allegory is not only used for literary sense but also for explicitly portraying the social cultural history of Venezuela.

The allegorical nature of the film is embedded in the film itself as seen in a number of symbols. Allegory is used to illustrate a transition between civilization and barbarism. The character, Dona Barbara, is seen as a synthesis not just of the two worlds, but also in transit between barbarism and civilization. She is an allegory of barbarism and a symbol of the uncultured woman of loose morals.

This is evident in her tendency to use the power of seduction to overpower men, a characteristic that has earned her the title, ‘the devourer of men’1. Still, Dona Barbara is seen as a representation of civility and decorum when she genuinely falls in love with Santos Luzardo2. She is seen as a child of the two worlds and a victim of the Venezuelan social cultural conflict. This transformation from bad to good is overshadowed by the general character of Dona Barbara, otherwise christened Barbarita (a homophone to barbarism).

The initial representation of Barbara as a simple girl is soon overshadowed by her transition to a gang leader who uses violence to achieve what she wants. This transition is translated in the Freudian perceptive that childhood sexual experiences determine adult behavior. Dona is a victim of child rape and violence and this transformation is thus seen as a way of reliving her childhood. Dona is thus the allegory of the Venezuelan woman who is a victim of the synthesis between civilization and barbarism.

The film is a good example on the use of literature to reflect on matters of social cultural and historical importance to a nation. Allegory is used to show a clear distinction between the Venezuelan historical conflict between law and lawlessness, and

John King. Magical reels: a history of cinema in Latin America. (London: Verso, 2000). 49
Juan Pablo Dabove. Nightmares of the lettered city: banditry and literature in Latin America. (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007). 271-280

the subsequent consequences. This country has always been torn between the old agrarian order (the rule of the law) and lawlessness (characterized by violence). This is portrayed in the Ilanera agrarian rural culture in which there is confusion between law and lawlessness.

The director of the film achieves this by intertwining cattle ranching (the allegory of agrarian law – civilization) and cattle rustling (the allegory lawlessness – barbarism) 2. Santos Luzardo, a civil gentleman, is also a symbol of the confusion between lawlessness and the rule of the law.

The judges (symbolic of lawfulness) rule against him, thereby denying him the ownership of his property3. Santos Luzardo’s acceptance of this rule is an indication that he does not necessarily see himself as a victim of the injustices as he is well aware of his violent past, a means through which he acquired his wealth. As such, literature is used to not only synthesis civilization and barbarism, but also to clearly depict Venezuelan social cultural historical struggles with lawlessness.

The film is a clear depiction of how literature can be used to illuminate not only the relevance of literary characters but also of reality. Allegory is a stylistic device employed by the director of this film to highlight the social cultural conflict in 1940s Venezuela, brought about by the emergence of urban civilization. It thus helps to portray the synthesis of the civility of modernity and the barbarism of the

Juan Pablo Dabove. Nightmares of the lettered city: banditry and literature in Latin America. (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007). 271-280
“Dona Barbara” directed by Fernando de Fuentes. (RTI Colombia) pre-1940s Venezuela. This synthesis is seen effectively through some characters like Barbarita, law, and gender, among others.


Dabove, Juan. Nightmares of the Lettered City: Banditry and Literature in Latin America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. 271-280

“Dona Barbara” directed by Fernando de Fuentes. RTI: Colombia.

King, John. Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America. London: Verso, 2000. 49


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