Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Hispanic Studies


Montano, Rafael


This dissertation presents analyses of six of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes. The impetus for this study came from Alberto Moreiras’s article “The Question of Cynicism” (2014), which challenges Beatriz Cortez’s estética del cinismo—a theory that has dominated the academic discourse surrounding Castellanos Moya for the last two decades. Moreiras concludes his article by linking the political perspective of Castellanos Moya’s writings to tragedy rather than cynicism. The present study investigates whether Moreiras’s idea applies to Castellanos Moya’s works characterologically: are Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes tragic? This problem is resolved through psychological-affective character analyses.

Chapter One establishes that many of Castellanos Moya’s protagonists deviate from the archetypal patterns laid out by the heroes of epic and testimonio; therefore, they are anti-heroes. This chapter posits, moreover, that Castellanos Moya’s antihero narratives are Dionysian, in terms of the Apollo–Dionysus dichotomy presented in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (1872). Continuing this Nietzschean line of thought, the “Dionysian disintegrations” of Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes are conceptualized as metaphorical deaths that culminate in two possible states: tremendous horror or blissful rapture. The narratological paths to these states are marked by the self-boundary-altering emotions of menace and enchantment (Susan Beth Miller) and by shocking encounters with the dark side of the self, or the “shadow” (Carl Jung and Erich Neumann).

The subsequent chapters illustrate the Dionysian disintegrations of Castellanos Moya’s protagonists. Chapter Two examines Erasmo Aragón of Desmoronamiento (2006), El sueño del retorno (2013), and Moronga (2018), as well as José Zeledón of the short story “Némesis” (1993) and the novels El arma en el hombre (2001), La sirvienta y el luchador (2011), and Moronga (2018). Chapter Three examines Edgardo Vega of El asco (1997) and Laura Rivera of La diabla en el espejo (2000). Chapter Four examines Eduardo Sosa of Baile con serpientes (1996) and the unnamed protagonist ofInsensatez (2004).

Finally, this dissertation concludes that Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes are tragic because their narratives are centred on metaphorical deaths. This emphasis echoes the self-obliterating Dionysian impulse that Nietzsche views as the essence of tragedy.

Summary for Lay Audience

Horacio Castellanos Moya (1957) is a Honduran-Salvadoran author. He belongs to a disenchanted generation of Central American writers whose early adulthood coincided with the civil wars of Guatemala (1960–1996), Nicaragua (1978–1990), and El Salvador (1979–1992). Castellanos Moya’s antihero narratives have often been contrasted with the epic narratives of Central America’s prewar and wartime testimonio literature. In literary criticism, testimonio generally refers to first-person testimonies of sociopolitical struggles in Latin American contexts.

Since 2001, the predominant literary theory applied to Castellanos Moya’s fiction has been Beatriz Cortez’s estética del cinismo (aesthetic of cynicism), which links the works of Castellanos Moya and other writers of the disenchanted generation to a cynical outlook. Cortez’s theory was challenged, however, in Alberto Moreiras’s 2014 article “The Question of Cynicism.” Moreiras linked the political perspective of Castellanos Moya’s writings to tragedy rather than cynicism, a unique stance that inspired the present study. This dissertation asks: are Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes tragic?

Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of tragedy, as presented in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), is used to answer this overarching question. Nietzsche posited that tragedy was born in fifth-century BC Greece thanks to the uprising of a frenzied, self-obliterating Dionysian impulse in a culture that was previously dominated by a serene, self-realizing Apollonian impulse. For Nietzsche, death—the obliteration of the self—was essential to the Dionysian impulse and tragedy. The present study maintains that Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes are tragic because their narratives are centred on metaphorical deaths that manifest as psychological and emotional breakdowns. These breakdowns, or “Dionysian disintegrations,” are analyzed using Carl Jung and Erich Neumann’s psychological theories in addition to Susan Beth Miller’s theories on emotion.

Chapter One provides an overview of previous literary criticism pertaining to Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes and establishes the theories applied in subsequent chapters. Chapters Two, Three, and Four present analyses of the Dionysian disintegrations of six of Castellanos Moya’s antiheroes: Chapter Two examines Erasmo Aragón and José Zeledón, Chapter Three examines Edgardo Vega and Laura Rivera, and Chapter Four examines Eduardo Sosa and the unnamed protagonist of the novel Insensatez (2004).