The Nine Guardians
?Nine Guardians? takes places in the State of Chiapas, in Mexico, where from the
remains of the Mexican revolution came the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas. His presidency
takes places between 1934 and 1940, during the time this novel takes place. Cardenas
expropriated foreign-held properties, distributed land to peasants, and instituted reforms to
benefit indigenous people and Mexican workers. Cardenas found it unfair for the Indians to not
be treated as equals, so he demanded rights for Indians. Land holdings were controlled by a
ruling elite. The Indians were encouraged to rise against the landowners and demand their rights.
They have the law on their side and they start to realize they don’t deserve to be treated as slaves.
With the help of others, Cardenas breaks up large estates and forces families off of the lands.
The novel is written from the point of view of the author, Rosario Castellanos. However, a seven
year old girl is the narrator through most of ?The Nine Guardians?. She takes us through the
book by introducing the people surrounding her life and her family’s life.
The seven year old girl is the daughter of a wealthy landowner, Cesar Arguello. Since the
Arguellos are wealthy, the girl is not raised by her parents, but mostly by an Indian servant, she
calls Nana. Nana has nurtured and cared for the girl and her little brother, Mario, since birth.
Nana is an Indian that lives with this elite, controlling, possessive, landowning family. Despite
the fact that she is treated as a slave, Nana loves the Arguellos. Nana becomes a big influence on
the little girl, along with her parents, and the retaliation of the landowners and the Indians against
one another. The girl and her brother will become innocent victims mostly because of her father,
who will try desperately to hold on to their land for Mario’s future. Some of the damage done
cannot be fixed and will remain permanent. It is a tragedy of money, power, and male
supremacy. The situations that occur will leave a strong impact on how she thinks and feels.
From beginning to end, the seven year old girl’s perspective of the Indians will change
In the beginning, the girl is ignorant to the thought of being an Indian. She doesn’t want
to know their history and how they stand in their society. She speaks of how young she is and
wants no part of what is going on. She loves her Nana but doesn’t think she knows what she is
talking about. The thought that she could have been an Indian threatens her. She wants to be
idle, absent-minded, and not aware of her surroundings. Perhaps, she wishes this for Nana also.
The Indians frighten her and she is ignorant of their part in society. In this novel, when bad
things happen, some of the characters are superstitious and believe they pay for their mistakes
through curses given by the sorcerers, especially the Indians. She starts to understand her Nana
when she sees her wounded knees done by a curse that has followed her from her home,
Chactajal. ?It’s withches’ doings that’s afoot, child. They gobble everything up-the crops, peace
in the family, people’s health.? Since Nana grew up in the Arguellos house and loved the family
she lived with, she was being punished. The Indians could not understand how she could love
those that give orders and have possessions, it was against their beliefs. The girl is angry at first
at the Indians and begins to understand the sacrifices and hardships her Nana must have and is
going through to be apart of the Arguellos family. From this experience, she starts to see who
her father is and becomes disgusted with him because he is one that gives orders and own things.
She starts to put a lot of faith in her Nana and believes the things she tells her. She
becomes more aware that this time in her life is not going to be a time for fun. She also begins to
learn to look with lowered eyes when humility looks at bigness, like the Indians do out of respect
for the Nine Guardians. From what I understand, the Indians believe that there are nine
protectors of the earth that watch over all and control everything. The girl learns things from her
Nana and learns to think differently about her parents. She witnesses an Indian killed because
her father trusted him. It makes her sad and fearful of the power that her father possesses. She is
seeing her parents differently. As a child, your parents are the world and they can do no harm.
As a child, you think your parents are all-knowing. There comes a point where a child starts to
grow up and sometimes perhaps their parents are not who the child thought they were. The girl
begins to grow up a little and realizes she is now seeing her parents otherwise, almost with a new
set of eyes.
Her father is completely self-absorbed, except for the fact that he wants to save his land
for his son’s inheritance. He thinks of himself as all mighty. He doesn’t think the Indians are
worth schooling when the law demands it be done. Her father thinks the Indians could never
learn Spanish and are not worth the pay of a master to educate them. Cesar has a sense of
self-importance and cares only that his ?commands have power and his scolding inspire fear.?
He despises the government and believes Cardenas is inciting Indians against their masters and
handing them over the rights that they can’t use and don’t deserve. ?He (Cardenas) doesn’t know
them; he’s never been near them and found out how they stink of filth and drink. He’s never
done them a favour and been rewarded with their laziness. And they’re so hypocritical, so
underhand, so deceitful!? He sees the Indians as little children. ?Cesar was incapable of
speaking to people he didn’t consider his equals.?
The story moves from Comitran to Chactajal where her father’s ranch is located. Her
father needs to supervise the grinding and branding of his crops done by the Indians. At the
Arguello ranch, there are many families of Indians taking care of his land, the Indians that he
pays little money too, along with no respect. The family goes to Chactajal without Nana because
she is afraid of the witches’ curses. On their way, the girl starts to learn about death, how easy it
is to die when her cousin shots a deer to kill it. Her and her brother Mario are surprised at how
easy life can be taken away.
The feud that explodes against the Arguellos leaves everlasting effects on the children.
The girl has seen her Nana’s status in society, she has seen the effect of Nana’s love towards her
family, she can no longer go to school because it was ordered to be shut down. she has seen a
man killed from trusting her father, Their land is set to fire and the threat that they will die in the
fire, her illegitimate cousin is killed in rebellion towards her father, she sees her aunt go crazy,
and she believes in the power of sorcery. She misses her Nana and her wisdom on life. She is
ultimately going to learn the about male supremacy and the effects it has on society. Her brother,
Mario, is the pride of the Arguellos family. The Indians curse the boy to death because of the
endless fight her father has for power and wealth. The two things that matter to Cesar the most.
?For the Indian is helpless to do better if the white man’s will is not behind him. The Indians are
starting to realize they are equal to white men. They lose all respect for the landowners and fight
back just as bad as the Arguellos fought to keep them as slaves. They are aware now that they
own the ranch and are not obliged to work for anyone because now Cardenas has more power
than all the landowners. Perhaps, it would have all been better if Cesar Arguellos realized that
male supremacy should not control all of society. Cesar Arguello humiliated his wife, did not
treat her as an equal, although she put up with him. He also put his children in jeopardy for
having them around in the time of trouble. He didn’t realize what he thought and did was not the
way the world was supposed to work. He was one man who believed he had a want to control
and posses all the power and the wealth he could manage to get a hold of. His arrogant pride led
his family to separation.
Her mother, Zoraida, was responsible for her life and her childrens’ lives, although she
allowed herself to do as Cesar demanded. Her mother demands that Nana leaves because Nana
informed Zoraida about the curse put onto Mario’s life. The only reason the Arguello family
managed to stay together was because of their beloved Mario. If Mario was to die, not only does
she lose her son, but possibly her husband that she cannot communicate with. She fires Nana and
leaves her daughter scared and enlightened even more about the people she loves and respects.
The girl has lost her Nana, her brother dies because of the curse put on his life, she has
lost all respect for her mother and father. She only wants to be with Nana since she is the only
one that loves and cares about her. Her brother is dead and she feels guilty because she thinks
she could have stopped it from happening. Perhaps, she punished her mother for not caring
about her. Her mother only cared and loved Mario. Without Mario, her mother felt she was no
The girl finally realizes who her parents are and realizes that her Nana, despite being an
Indian, is the one who cares about her. She looks for forgiveness from her dead brother because
she realizes that it was not his fault she was a female without love and respect from her parents.
She realized that if her father just accepted that the time for male supremacy was to end, then the
events that took place may never have had happened.