The Godmother of All the Pretty Horses
In analysis of the character, Duena Alfonsa, in the novel All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, facets of her character are clearly revealed. From her physical deformity to her feelings of her father keeping her exiled in her own country, seventy-two year old Alfonsa is filled with a lifetime of complex situations. Her character was consistent and motivational in wisdom and provided greatness in her role in the novel. She is a grandaunt and godmother of Alejandra, a young teenager still in school. The Duena, one could say, is the “Godfather” of the novel. She literally “goes to the mattresses” in protecting her grandniece from a man.
After seventy-two years of life, Alfonsa speaks of her life’s experiences at an elevated level of knowledge. She is formal, polite, and full of assuredness. McCarthy describes Alfonsa’s appearance as an “elegance chilling” (McCarthy 227). Her knowledge came from reading books. McCarthy writes of Alfonsa, “By the time I was sixteen I had read many books and I had become a freethinker” (McCarthy 232).
Alfonsa’s complexity included her physical deformity. She describes the loss of her last two fingers of her left hand in a shooting accident when she was seventeen years old where the barrel of the gun exploded while she was shooting for live pigeons. This placed her with several perspectives. Two of her perspectives in becoming deformed were, first, it lead her to the feelings of scars having a strange power reminding people of their real past. Second, it made her feel conscience of her hand as she “learned to affect a handkerchief in her life in such a way as to cover her deformity”. Alfonsa’s deformity even affected her to the point of her “awaiting age and death” (McCarthy 234).
Alfonsa had strong convictions toward women being suppressed as she was growing up in a time before and after the Mexican revolutionary war. Her father sending her to Europe had made its contributions to her “revolutionary spirit.” Women at that time lived their lives in the constant shadows of men. The women were consumed by family life, marriage, the Catholic church, and lived silently behind their dominant male counterparts. There were many inequalities women and other ethnic, economic, political, or religious minorities suffered under the regime of Porferio Diaz. Mexican women at that time knew they were essential in a number of ways and rose up becoming strong advocates for causes they believed in (Jandura 1). Alfonsa’s character speaks of “Dictator Diaz” in a conversation with the main character by the name of John Grady (McCarthy 236).
On several occasions, Alfonsa touches on the subject of women’s reputation and how valuable it is living in a Mexican society. With her intelligence and whit, she guides and guards her grandniece for her (Alejandra) future’s sake. Alfonsa states in the novel about Alejandra, “She is much like me at that age and I seem at times to be struggling with my own past?I have no one to advise me, you see. Perhaps I would not have listened anyway? I was also rebellious and so I recognize it in others?You see that I cannot help but be sympathetic to Alejandra. Even at her worst. I won’t have her unhappy. I won’t have her spoken ill of” (McCarthy 135-6). After Grady becomes intimately involved with Alejandra, Alfonsa strategically forbids her to see him. For she believed that women had only their reputation and no chance for forgiveness while men were able to lose their reputation and regain it (McCarthy 136-7).
In conclusion, Alfonsa’s character played a tremendous part in the novel as a whole. Using her psychological and motivational attributes, she gave detailed explanations about her life experiences when speaking to Grady. McCarthy used Alfonsa’s character to teach Grady and Alejandra lifelong lessons. The lessons John Grady learned from the Duena were responsibility, that fate in life does not exist, and to have more respect for women. Alfonsa meant well for her family. Alejandra was taught to protect her female image, especially since she was a Mexican heiress under the public’s eye. Her rebellion was changed to being more obedient and respectful to her father and Alfonsa herself. Though her experience with men and love had just begun with Grady, the Duena made it clear she will always carry a watchful eye over Alejandra.
McCarthy was impressive with his great details of Alfonsa. Once again, he was consistent and complex in manners female readers easily related to. Duena Alfonsa was enormous and contributing to his novel, All the Pretty Horses.
Jandura, Tereza. “Revolutionary Mexican Women.” *http://wuru.u.arizona.edu/ic/mcbride/ ws200/max~jand.htm. (February 24, 2000).
McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses. New York: Vintage International, 1992.