Ruth Fine On:
Wild Honey by Horacio Quiroga
“Wild Honey” is part of the story collection “Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte” (Stories of Madness and Death) by the Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), which was first published in Buenos Aires in 1917.
Horacio Quiroga, whose life was marked by tragedy and would end with his suicide, could be described as the father of the contemporary Latin American story, a precursor to the great Latin American story writers of the 20th Century, such as Borges, Cortázar and Monterroso. Although Quiroga began as a modernist author, he quickly abandoned the style in favour of mystery, irrationality, decadence and realist psychological explorations. He is thus a paradigmatic representative of a style known American regionalism, which avoids a focus on local colour and customs as well as the excesses of modernism to integrate the individual with the American landscape without succumbing to sentimentalism or didacticism. Quiroga establishes a relationship between man and nature on precise, American terms, capturing the blind force of nature and the desperate plight of man defeated by an overwhelming environment. However, he does not lack in sympathy or compassion toward this human struggle, which is only capable of ephemeral victories against the greater power of nature.
In addition to his masterfully succinct, straightforward prose, often told from the perspective of one of the characters, his stories stand out for their careful management of inner time, as can be seen in the climax to “Wild Honey”. Quiroga does not embellish his characters or their existence. To the contrary, he is expressively reticent, with no hint of flowery description or sentimentalism, suggesting the horror rather than making it explicit. He thus presents a death free of taboos, myths and beliefs. Death is, to Quiroga, an allegory for the uncertainty of life, the perpetual struggle of man against his fate.
Like many of his stories, “Wild Honey” tells the tale of a tragic, accidental death that catches the protagonist unawares – in this case the victim is a man from the city, arrogantly ignorant of the hidden danger of the jungles of Misiones. As in all his fiction, in this story the remote territory of the Misiones jungle and the Chaco wilderness represent deadly threats that the protagonist is unable to perceive.
“Wild Honey”, like many of his other stories, jumps almost immediately from humour to horror and death. This is the key to the great irony of much of his writing: within something apparently familiar and innocent, even banal – such as a greedy man gorging himself – an unexpected element lurks to remind us with masterful skill of our fragility: we are creatures doomed to die.