Jorge Icaza’s Expressions of Social Protest

Most likely best known for his starkly realistic novel Huasipungo, Ecuadorian writer Jorge Icaza Coronel (1906-1978) began his literary career as a playwright. Some of his first published works included El Intruso (1928), La Comedia sin Nombre (1929), Cuál es (1931), and Sin Sentido (1932). Some of these works were lighthearted in nature and popular productions, but after writing a dramatic play in 1933, El Dictador, reportedly based on a novel by Jules Remains, government authorities took exception to the theme of the play and prevented it from being staged. It was at this point the Jorge Icaza began to express his viewpoints on the social problems of the time through the writing of novels.

Icaza’s first novel, Huasipungo, was published in 1934. With its exposure of the oppression suffered by Ecuador’s indigenous people, the novel gained international recognition, as did its author. The issues addressed in the book, that of the peasant class being exploited by the wealthy and influential, are experienced around the world and the book was translated into a number of languages and widely accepted. The first excerpts of the book translated into English, were printed in Russia, where the peasant socialist class were said to have welcomed it with enthusiasm, relating to its message. The author was later appointed as Ecuador’s ambassador to Russia. The first complete English translation of Huasipungo (The Villagers) was completed by Mervyn Savill in 1962 and published in England, with a second English translation completed by Bernard H. Dulsey in 1964 and published in the United States.

Huasipungo is considered to be a proletarian novel, an expression of social protest, and the book and its author have been likened to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck and his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, set in the period of the Great Depression and focusing on the hardships faced by a poor family of sharecroppers. While the upper classes of Ecuador were outraged by the publication of Huasipungo, and some slated it as anti-government propaganda, its powerful language and imagery was widely praised as a masterpiece of realism.

Throughout his life, most of which he lived in the city of Quito, Jorge Icaza continued to address social issues through both novels and plays. His works include Sierra (1933), En las calles (1936), Cholos (1938), Media Vida Deslumbrados (1942), Huayrapamushcas (1948), Seis Relatos (1952), El Chulla Romero y Flores (1958), and Atrapados (1973). His writing style and socially relevant themes have influenced writers throughout Latin America, including his home country of Ecuador.