Part 1: Tasting the Fruits: The Poem, the Images, and the Ideas
It is pitch dark. Even though the lights are on, the United Fruit Co. casts the shadow that does not let the sun in the lives of millions of people. In his striking poem, The United Fruit Co., Pablo Neruda draws the sketch of a monster named injustice – the monster that devoured a great number of people, and seized the power over the entire universe.
Despite the poet knows that the fight is already lost, for the monster is far too influential, and his face is under a perfect disguise, Neruda still depicts the crimes of those prepossessing power.
Each word a loud cry, the poem is filled with grief and rage. In each line, the fury is building more and more until it reaches the top pitch, to subside then slowly into a sad ending. The incredible tension pierces the novel right through, as the poet balances between the anger for those ruining the lives of hundreds of people, and the grief for these lives broken.
Sarcastic and sad, the poem shapes the image of The United Fruit Co. as the barbarians who came to break the rest of the people down, to make them submit and follow the orders of the company.
The poem sounds like a cadence of images – it seems as if Neruda was threading beads to make a string of the saddest story ever. Listening more carefully to the poem, one can hear the distinct lament of the people, their pleas for mercy – but the monster they are calling to is deaf and blind, with no heart to understand them. Neruda’s cartridges are blank, and he knows that well enough.
Part 2: Neruda’s Life Path: A Long Way to Heaven
One of the people who shaped the literature of XX century Chile and contributed to the world literature as the man who saw woes and misery, Neruda followed specific life track that predetermined his creative work. Growing under the hot Chile sun and learning what the vicissitudes of life can be, the poet-to-be was destined to become a world-recognized personality.
With help of his unique experience and the specific manner of perceiving and understanding the events that occurred in the world and in his own life, Neruda was born to become a poet – or, it would be better to say, he was born a poet, literally (Urrutia).
One of the details that strike most about the poet’s biography is the strain in his relationships with the family. Neftali (the poet’s real name) was much like a medium between the earth and the underworld, with his incredible ability to feel the world at the tip of his fingers:
He heard footsteps. Was it Father? He had been away, working on the railroad for a week, and was due home today. Neftali’s heart pounded and his round brown eyes grew large with panic. The footsteps came closer […] (Ryan 5)
Each of us experiences the time when the childhood fears and ideas fade away like the morning dew. That is the inevitable cost of growing up and becoming the part of the world. Yet that did not happen to Neruda – he never was the part of this world; the poet could be rather described as a creature thrown into the heart of the Earth to test the humankind for humanity.
This incredible ability of his – the ability to understand and give the piece of his without demanding anything back – acme as the boy grew into a poet. However, the dreamer within his was not gone. There was still a piece of the little boy whom he used to be:
Nefati sat, rubbed his eyes, and looked around the room. The words were no longer there. He slid from the bed, tiptoed to the drawer, and opened it. All of the words were sleeping (Ryan 23).
The words were still there. It was just that he had to convey them to the adults this time, being an adult himself. In fact, this proved harder than he expected.
Together with the specifics of the adult life, the political problems and the concern fro the native land came, which literally tore Neruda apart. As soon as the head of Chile signed the agreement with the U.S. and practically sold the country to the entrepreneurs from the United States, Neruda felt that he could not take the half-baked decisions of the government any longer. As a result of this long-lasting conflict, The United Fruit Co., the poetic masterpiece in Neruda’s treasure chest, appeared:
There was considerable political tension, nevertheless, arising from the United States’ commercial involvement in the country, particularly through the United Fruit Company. Shortly before Neruda’s arrival, the municipality in Barranquilla had passed a resolution to expropriate the American firm that operated its public utilities (Feinstein 171).
Neruda’s unique brainchild, this poem is ridden with the fear for the future of the country, and the indignation for the invaders. The “flies” seized power over the entire country, which Neruda could not bear – and he never did.
Part 3: Balancing Between Scylla and Charybdis: Where the Truth Lurks
Like many other great poets, Neruda is perceived as either the man who proclaimed Latin freedom from the Western expansion, or the Communist agent that was going to undermine the most progressive and prominent activities of the United Sattes; yet none of the critics deny the geniality of the poet.
It is worth mentioning that there are two basic points of view concerning Neruda’s poem; the rest of the considerations either dub the existing ones, or touch upon the issues that were not topical for the author. Thus, it would be a good idea to consider the two key ideas that critics had about the United Fruit Co., the two opposing views that were represented by Marc Mascia and Jeffrey Gray.
Considering one of the most conventional viewpoints offered by Jeffrey Gray, one must note that, to some extent, this is a tribute to the late poet. Indeed his greatness cannot be doubted, which triggers the specific attitude to the poem.
Seized by the fear for his nation and the desire to protect people from the danger of being enslaved, Neruda did everything possible to prevent the consumerism from devouring the society. Such patriotic goals are worth appreciation, no matter whether they were correct or erroneous. Indeed, it is hard to deny that the impact of the company’s operations left much to be desired, which meant that the poet was guided by the noblest ideas.
According to Jeffrey Gray, United Fruit Co. is “depicting a dictator’s betrayal of revolutionary aspirations, and emphasizing the hope that lay, for Neruda, in socialism” (201-202). Therefore, it was not only the expansion o the Americans in the country, but also the home policy of the political leaders that troubled Neruda and that he expressed in his poem, Grey emphasizes.
Could the famous writer err? In contrast to Grey, famous Mark Mascia criticizes the poem in quite different manner, suggesting another way of interpreting it. According to his article, the poet resorted to the ideas that were totally Utopian from the very beginning, choosing the path of socialism to heal the wounds of the country:
His desire to conquer is, as mentioned above, one to overcome grief (both individual, as an exiled writer, and collective, as a self-declared “man of the people”) and to “conquer happiness.” But is this conquest of a better world not itself a universal utopian dream? (Mascia 74)
Despite the credibility of Mascia’s argument, it is still more reasonable to consider the poem from the viewpoint that Grey offers. Although Mascia sounds rather impressive, it still seems that his ideas are cluttered with the prejudice for the Socialism.
After all, it must be admitted that the Socialism theory was the last resort for the collapsing state and the opportunity to fight the insistent attempts of the United States to establish the consumerist lifestyle in the country.
Nevertheless, each paper allows to consider the work of the poet deeper. Knowing the ideas that made Neruda write United Fruit Co., one can evaluate the work more objectively and enjoy the vision of the words gaining unpredictable shades of meaning. Although the viewpoints of each critic can be considered somewhat subjective, their papers still contribute to the overall understanding of the poem.
Part 4: Two and Two, Put Together: Picking the Fruits
Summarizing the creation of Neruda, one can claim with certainty that the incredible power of the [poet’s words drove the attention of the entire state. With help of his talent, Neruda managed to break new grounds in people’s vision of the USA invasion.
Making it clear that the economical aggression of the foreigners will bring nothing but the troubles for the state, Neruda tried to explain his ideas to the people, yet – no one would listen. A heart-rending and impressive poem, it was a cry of despair and an attempt to bring the country and the people together, making them a unified entity.
With a number of metaphors for the country explored by the foreigners, Neruda managed to depict the shock and the helplessness of the nation, make the lament of those in despair reach everyone. However, it is worth mentioning as well that the poem was not only about the policy of the invaders, but also about the propaganda that they seeded.
To teach this poem for someone who is unaware of the life and struggle of the poet, I would use the visual aids and the literature sources to tell the story of Neruda. I would try to incorporate the movies shot about the poet and his creations and the information about his life, both personal and political. It could also be a good idea to demonstrate the influence of the United Fruit Co., which I would do with help of PowerPoint presentations and the articles about the company.
Gray, Jeffrey. “United Fruit Co., Canto Generale, and Neruda’s Critique of
Capitalism”. Ed. Harold Bloom, Exploration and Colonization. New York City, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2010: 201-212. Print.
Feinstein, Adam. Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2005. Print.
Mascia, Mark. “Pablo Neruda and the Construction of Past and Future Utopias in the Canto General.” Utopian Studies, 12.1: 65-81. Print.
Neruda, Pablo. United Fruit Co. Stone Soup. July 16 2004. Web. May 15 2010. Web.
Ryan, Pam Muoz, and Peter Sis. The Dreamer. New York City, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2010. Print.
Urrutia, Matilde. My Life with Pablo Neruda. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. Print.