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Bruno Traven

In: English and Literature

Submitted By shangai66
Words 2686
Pages 11
Diego Bustos

Mrs. Schmitt

English 120

21 May 2012

Traven’s Literature:

Subliminal or Straight Criticism?

In 1993, Bruno Traven’s Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos was published. Although numerous people have read his work, many critics claim that Traven’s literature is nothing more than subliminal criticism. In an online “working paper,” writer Mr. Tapio Helen from the University of Helsinki, Finland, states that Traven’s ideology “is socialism and anarchism” (par 5) and Helen writes: “capitalism and bureaucracy make decent life impossible for the ordinary man.” Since Traven’s work of literature is full of subliminal criticism about capitalism functioning over subordinate countries, Traven has been the target of critics since his literature was first published in the 1930s. Despite the controversial criticism surrounding his work, Traven accurately describes the American capitalistic system, its flaws and the impact it has over subordinated countries.

Traven is more mysterious and difficult to find credible information about than the majority of authors. This is because there does not exist precise data, only theories about Traven’s origin. One of the reasons of this incognita is that during his life Bruno Traven had different names in order to keep his true identity hidden. Ret Marut, Traven Torsvan, and Hal Croves are the three names most associated with Bruno Traven. His wife, Mrs. Rosa Elena Lujan, said that Bruno Traven was an actor in Germany by the name of Ret Marut. According to the article written by Heather Mace: Ret Marut, who is thought to be the original Traven, first appeared in 1907 as a small-time actor at Essen City Theater in Germany. He registered himself in Munich in 1915 claiming to be an American student and, in 1916, published To the Honorable Miss S... under the name Richard Maurhut. Amidst the outbreak of World War I, Marut began to establish himself as an anarchist, publishing the first issue of Der Ziegelbrenner, a communist magazine, in 1917. In 1919, Murat became a censor for Munchen-Augsburger Abendzeitung, a German newspaper, and was involved in propaganda for the soviet government. Finally, Bruno Traven moved to America, under the name of Hal Croves where he lived until his death in Mexico in 1969.

Before Traven emerged, writers had begun their criticism about capitalism. In 1844, Friedrich Engels, in his “Identity Revisited,” became well known in multiple countries because of his critical essays in political economy. Also, Engels condemns the effects of private property on the working class and concludes that private property must be abolished. Steven Vincent, from North Carolina State University, wrote a biography of Pierre- Joseph Proudhon in the encycpledia of the 1848 revolutions that states that “Proudhon began working [as] a well-known French Social theorist during the 1840’s.” Moreover, “Proudhon in his numerous articles criticized the policies of the government and continued to propose the reform of credit and exchange.” However, Traven finds ways to be original and concise. Traven also manages to be assertive with political messages within his literature every time he creates a new story. Indeed, it is Traven’s satirical craftiness that makes his literature original and attractive to read.

Traven’s literature first appeared in the 1930s and gained rapid popularity in Germany, especially amongst workers. Traven wrote six Jungle novels, a Hexalogy depicting the capitalistic-bureaucratic exploitation system under which the Indians of Southern Mexico lived and the violent rebellion of the Indians. The personality of B. Traven is a mystery that has never been disclosed. Adventurer? Son of immigrants born in America? Politically exiled from Nazi Germany? What is known for sure is that he settled and lived until his death in Mexico, a country where all his novels were set and which he knew thoroughly, as is evident in his work. Traven’s stories describe things of life, life on the opposite side of society organized and developed. This was a life full of injustice, dominated by primal feelings that lead them to a natural rebelliousness barely controlled. His works consist of simple prose and direct humor and are the product of his unique vision. Traven was a narrator who could understand and interpret as no one could see Mexican reality; he describes, in a series of stories, Indian life highlighting his wit and his insight. The works of Bruno Traven have gone around the world from the day of his death because he was not interested in fame or that the stories he wrote were published. Traven was a writer who was hidden from publicity and fame, for this reason today there exists only unclear data about Traven’s origin. His works have been published in more than forty different languages and read for decades around the world. A web site called “Library Thing” shows the popularity of Traven’s book, The Death Ship, and is telling that the popularity of Traven’s work has increased from 31,030 in 2006 to 37,054 readers in 2011, that is an increase of 16.26 % in five years. In addition, analyzing these numbers of readers shows that an interest in Traven’s book is increasing over the years, instead of decreasing.

The personal experience form used to narrate his works and criticism over the capitalistic system is what has made Traven’s literature exciting and interesting to read. Bruno Traven describes his personal life-experiences in his book, Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos, where he narrates the life-style of the indigenous people in Mexico through his stories. According to a very literate Mexican who teaches Spanish, Yadira Morales: “Traven’s stories are considered personal experience because during the time he lived in Mexico he could interpret the customs and vision of the indigenous people, interpretations that are narrated in his stories. Through these two concepts is how Traven began to give his stories a touch of truth and honesty to his writing.” As Morales further stated, Traven developed his stories based on the customs and by interpreting the Indian’s vision. Consequently, readers easily can be influenced by Traven’s political criticism. Without Traven’s work, the world would lack social, cultural, and most important, would lack political awareness.

Traven wrote about serious issues of social justice, cruelty, and greed while employing a taut, suspenseful style. His approach toward political issues was cloaked in the struggles of the everyday working-man. According to Petri Liukkonen, in his article he claims: “In Regierung (1931, Government), a depiction of political corruption and the exploitation of the poor, Traven showed how a brutal regime works.” Traven was not limited toward exposing political corruption, his work also revealed social inequalities of the Mexican Indians. His novels are a reflection of his experience in the Mexican labor force, as well as a view into the mindset of the capitalistic driven people that seek to enrich themselves through the labor of others. Such is the case in the story “Canastitas en Serie”: There’s still another thing that perhaps you don’t know. You see, my good patron, I’ve got to make these canastitas in my own way and with my song in them and with bits of my soul woven into them. If I have to make them in great numbers there would no longer be my soul in each, or my song. Each would look like the other with no difference whatever and such a thing would slowly eat up my heart. Each has to be another song which I hear in the morning when the sun rises and the birds begin to chirp and the butterflies come and sit down on my baskets so I may see a new beauty, because, you see, the butterflies like my baskets and the pretty colors on them, that’s why they come and sit down, and I can make my canastitas after them. (Traven)

Here is where an American businessman tries to convince an Indian basket maker to go into mass production, without realizing the time and effort required to make each one of the items. The author argues that capitalism’s sole concern rests upon how much profit can be made with a minimum of risk and loss, instead of valuing the individual and his wellbeing.

Additionally, Traven stirs up a great impact around the world with his literature. Through more than 25 million copies and translated into more than forty different languages around the world, Traven’s stories have been read by millions of people. According to the literate Yadira Morales: “In Mexican schools it is required to read Traven’s literature, as an impact of how Traven’s work gained fame and acceptance very rapidly in Mexico through the years.” Not forgetting to mention that while Traven was alive, he sent most of his work to Germany to be published by an anarchical newspaper in that country. Moreover, the impact of Traven’s literature was on such in a big scale that two films about some of his stories were filmed in Mexico with Julio Bracho as the director, Rebelion de los Colgados (1954) and Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos (1956) with the stellar participation of Maria Felix and Pedro Armendaris, famous actors from Mexico.

Despite the harsh criticism Traven shows in his stories, capitalism has the ability to generate wealth through production. Since the main point in some of Traven’s stories is clearly criticism of how capitalism operates over subordinated workers or countries, other people may oppose it such as Leo N. in his article, “A Few Good Things About Capitalism”, where he states: “The evil Capitalistic system has done more than any other system: it has brought humanity out of the dark ages; it has allowed freedom; it has created a level of comfort never experienced before; it has created a safer, healthier, better educated society; it has proved to be a truly democratic system we are all participating and voting members in.” Granted, this argument is not full of lies, but if analyzed each one of the factors Leo N. mentioned and compare it to the current world situation, it will end up being wrong. To mention a comparison, it is true that capitalistic system has brought humanity out of the dark ages with the rise of the industrial revolution but in an expedited manner and misdirected. Expedited and misdirected because nowadays the world’s population is facing uncontrolled pollution, waste of resources, and destruction of natural habitats, just to name a few things. However, in regards to workers being exploited or in contempt for their work, according to “our mayday” website in its article “Capitalism Explained”: Workers are forced to compete with each other to work for low wages in order to buy necessities, and as a result the bosses and shareholders of the companies we work for and buy from make profits for themselves. Most work is useless and tedious, making unnecessary new products and services which waste resources and generate pollution. They are usually products which are unaffordable to most of the world's population, which means we have to work harder to afford them. Traven’s work is unique and filled with purpose. His work is not just stories that a person could just spend his time reading. It obtains the recognition and admiration of his readers because it is meaningful and influential; Traven’s stories are motivational and admired by many.

Another opposition of Traven’s criticism is that capitalism allows accumulated savings, which promote productive investments. Traven in his story, “Canastitas en Serie,” mentions how an American wanted to exploit a Mexican Indian by paying him a much smaller amount of what he was going to receive for the sale of some baskets. The American is investing little and gaining much, which refers to the way it works as a productive investment. According to Geoff Riley, in his article “Capital Investment and Spending,”: “Capital investment is defined as spending on capital goods such as new machinery, buildings and technology so that the economy can produce more consumer goods in the future. Most economists agree that investment is vital to promoting long-run economic growth through improvements in productivity and a country’s productive capacity.” What Traven wrote in his story was the operation of productive investment from an ordinary perspective. In the story, “Canastitas en Serie,” Traven highlights this perspective, when two Americans are making a deal by taking advantage of an Indian:

Mr. Kemple: Let me be frank with you. I know art when I see it, and these little baskets are superb works of art. We are, after all, merely sellers of sweets. The only real use we would have for these baskets would be as packages for our special French pralines. They wouldn’t, that is, be anything more than wrappings—fine wrappings, perhaps, but nonetheless wrappings. I’m sure, Mr. Wilthrop, you can see it our way. We have to work with certain limitations. Mr. Winthrop: Of course. So tell me, what would these be worth to you? Mr. Kemple: You’ll understand, I’m sure, that we do have a budget and at the same time a respect and regard for the eye of our customers. . . . Here’s my offer. We would be able to pay a dollar and a quarter apiece, and not one cent more. Take it or leave it. (Mr. Winthrop, in surprise at the high price, nearly jumps.) Mr. Kemple: All right, all right, no reason to get excited. Perhaps we might go as high as one fifty. Mr. Winthrop: Make it one-seventy-five. Mr. Kemple: Sold. One-seventy-five apiece free at port of New York. We pay the customs and you pay the shipping. Right? Mr. Winthrop: Right.

(Mr. Winthrop and Mr. Kemple shake hands.). (Traven)

As Traven wrote in this story, the Indian first gave Mr. Winthrop a price much less than the dollar and seventy five cents Mr. Winthrop is going to receive for the baskets. However, after the Indian went through numbers and calculations of all the baskets he will have to make, he ended up with a higher price that would preclude Mr. Winthrop to profit from the deal made with the other American. Giving credit to the fact that Traven’s stories are very controversial, his stories keep captivating attention.

Traven’s literature builds an extensive controversy around the world, not only for his work, but also for his enigmatic past and his unique way of writing. This book Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos has kept scholars and readers wanting to solve the mystery and dabble more in his life. Traven’s stories are full of subliminal criticism towards capitalism, the way it dehumanizes and propels people into caring only about profit, and the amount of wealth a single person can accumulate. Throughout his stories, it is easy to see how much he cares for the working class and values their individual work. Through Traven’s stories, the world began to take notice of the injustices people were experiencing at the hands of those in power. He also brought to light some of the flaws and problems of capitalism.

Works Cited

“Capitalism Explained”. Our Mayday. April 2003. Web. 18 May 2012.

Chankin, Donald O. “Anonimity and Death: the Fiction of B. Traven.” Pennsylvania State UP,

1975. Web. 18 May 2012.

Friedrich Engels. E Notes, n.d. Web. 17 May 2012.

Helen, Tapio. “B. Traven’s Identity Revisited.” Historiallinen 1. (1991): n. pag. Web.

17 May 2012.

Liukkonen, Petri. “B. Traven (1882?-1969) - Names Associated with Traven: Ret Marut, Hal

Croves, Traven Torsvan, Bruno Traven, Arnold, Barker, Feige, Kraus, Lainger,

Wienecke and Ziegelbrenner.” N.p. n.d. Web. 14 May 2012.

Mace, Heather. “Who was B. Traven?” World Literatures, @suite 101, 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 16

May 2012.

Morales, Yadira. Personal Interview. 15 May 2012.

N, Leo. “A Few Good Things about Capitalism.” 31 July 2009. Web. 18 May


Pruiksma, Tom. The Basket Maker. Mexico City: Selector, 1993. Print.

Riley, Geoff. “Capital Investment and Spending.” Eton College. Sep. 2006. Web. 15 May 2012.

Traven, Bruno. Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos. Mexico City: Selector, 1993. Print.

Vincent, Steven. “Proudhon Pierre-Joseph”. Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848, n.d. Web. 15

May 2012.

What is Capitalism. World Socialist Movement, 13 Aug. 2006. Web. 16 May 2012.

"Who was B. Traven?" The Free Library. 01 Jan. 2010. Web. 17 May 2012.

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