In El Gaucho Martín Fierro, the eponymous protagonist is an impoverished gaucho who has been drafted to serve at a border fort, defending the Argentine inner frontier against the NativePeoples. His life of poverty on the pampas is somewhat romanticized; his military experiences are not. He deserts and tries to return to his home, but discovers that his house, farm, and family are gone.He deliberately provokes an affair of honor by insulting a black woman in a bar; in the knife duel that ensues, he kills her male companion. The narration of another knife fight suggests by its lack ofdetail that it is one of many. Fierro becomes an outlaw pursued by the police militia. In battle with them, he acquires a companion: one Sergeant Cruz, inspired by Fierro's bravery in resistance,defects and joins him mid-battle. The two set out to live among the natives, hoping to find a better life there.
In La Vuelta de Martín Fierro, we discover that their hope of a better life is promptlyand bitterly disappointed. They are taken for spies; the cacique (chieftain) saves their lives, but they are effectively prisoners of the natives; in this context Hernández presents another, and veryunsentimentalized, version of rural life. The poem narrates an epidemic, the horrible, expiatory attempts at cure, and the fatal wrath upon those, including a young "Christian" (presumably ethnicallySpanish) boy suspected of bringing the plague. Both Cruz and the cacique die of the disease. Shortly afterward, at Cruz's grave, Fierro hears the anguished cries of a woman: he follows and encounters anative woman weeping over the body of her dead son, her hands tied with the boy's entrails. It develops that she has been accused of witchcraft. Fierro fights and wins a brutal combat with her captorand travels with her back towards civilization, or at least towards Christian lands.
After Fierro leaves the woman at the first ranch they see, he goes on to an encounter that raises the story...
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