By Night in Chile Summary and Analysis
After Father Antonio’s death, Urrutia continues his journey, traveling around Spain and then into France where he meets up with Father Paul. One evening, out with Father Paul’s falcon, Fever, they have a hard time finding any pigeons for the falcon to hunt. Finally, they see one, and release the falcon, who quickly kills the other bird. Only then do they realize that they have just killed a dove ceremoniously released for the opening of a nearby sporting competition. Embarrassed, they apologize to the gathered crowd. Though people are upset, the children gather around Father Paul to ask him questions about his bird.
Urrutia continues his travels - to Paris, to Greece, and finally to Rome, where he “kneels before the Holy Father” and has disturbing dreams remembering Father Antonio on his death bed when he raised up and told Urrutia - “It’s wrong, my friend, it’s wrong.” He also dreams of a fat German priest telling heretical jokes. One day on his journey, he decides it was time to go back to Chile.
Things, however, are not good in Chile and Urrutia claims that he returned in order to be a patriot. Allende, a leftist with Communist plans for Chile, is elected President and soon the country is cast into a spiral of chaos. In two pages of blistering prose, Urrutia relates how he spent the time of Allende’s reign reading the Greek tomes, all of the classic plays and works of philosophy. He also relates the political and cultural situation of Chile - Castro’s visit, the modernization of the state, the pro-Allende marches and the anti-Allende marches, the crowning of Neruda with the Nobel Prize, the communist reforms, the coup-de-tat that embroiled the country, and finally Allende’s suicide. After the death of Allende, Urrutia said he “sat there in silence, a finger between the pages to mark my place, and I thought: Peace at last.”
During the intervening period, Urrutia describes his movements as though he were in a dream state. The world all seemed to be moving at dream speed where “anything can happen and whatever happens the dreamer accepts it.” Urrutia receives a call and learns that Neruda has died of cancer. He and Farewell decide to attend the funeral together, but it is a somber affair and Farewell is upset that he was not asked to deliver a speech.
Urrutia returns to reading Chilean literature and begins to write poetry again, though it is the poetry of a madman. He claims that his poetry, up to that point, had been Apollonian, though now it was turning Dionysian. He writes of women being murdered, and homosexuals and children. He doesn’t understand why he is writing such things.
A few days later, Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah visit with Urrutia. Over tea, the two men ask Urrutia if he can be absolutely discreet with a secret mission. Urrutia agrees, but the men then begin to ask him pointed questions about how much he knows about communism. Urrutia, nervous that something is wrong, tells them he is familiar with communism but had never supported it. The two men keep pressing him before finally telling him that they would like him to teach a class on communism to several important men. When Urrutia asks who, Etah tells him it’s General Pinochet as well as some of his other commanders. They offer to pay Urrutia well for the service and Urrutia decides to take the job.
On the way to his first class, Urrutia is handed his money and realizes that he has on his cassock. He wonders why he had changed into it, and whether it is a ploy to ward off the danger he is walking into. Urrutia is taken to General Pinochet’s house where he is served tea and then, when the Junta enter, begins a lesson on Marx and Engels. He gives the Generals further reading material and continues lessons on communism. Pinochet rarely seems interested in the lessons and seems to be falling asleep though some of them. After one of the classes Pinochet takes Urrutia for a walk through his gardens where Urrutia recites poetry to the general.
Urrutia continues to teach the men about communism and its various manifestations, though their conversations always tend to return to a woman named Marta Harnecker. Urrutia teaches them ten lessons, the final one a conversation between him and Pinochet regarding religion. After the final lesson, Pinochet thanks him and sends him home, but Urrutia worries both that he did not do a good enough job teaching the men, and what his literary friends would think if they knew he had been teaching the general such a “diabolical theory.”
The next week, Urrutia has dinner with Farewell and, against the express orders of Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah, tells Farewell that he had been teaching Marxism to General Pinochet and his associates. Farewell wants to know all the details and Urrutia tells him everything.
He relates one story that is particularly illuminating: before one lesson Pinochet approaches the nervous Urrutia and begins to question him on what he believed Chile’s former rulers had read. Urrutia is unsure and Pinochet assures him that they read nothing; that they were not intellectuals, though some of their supporters were trying to convince people that they had been. Pinochet tells Urrutia that, on the contrary, he was an intellectual, that he had written three books himself as well as numerous articles and that he continued to read the latest literature and novels, including the novel “White Dove,” which was a novel popular amongst the younger generations. Pinochet tells Urrutia that the reason he is studying communism is so that he can “understand Chile’s enemies, to find out how they think, to get an idea of how far they are prepared to go.” Urrutia asks Farewell if he did the right thing or not, and Farewell asks him if he had a choice in the matter? Urrutia answers, “Necessary, necessary, necessary.”
The scene in which Father Paul’s falcon kills a symbolic dove is the epitome of Bolano’s falcon/pigeon imagery. The dove, which in the context of sport symbolizes friendship amidst competition, was killed by the falcon, which represents the priest. In another respect, the dove also symbolizes peace, which becomes a victim of the church’s collusion with deadly dictators. The scene in which the children gather around Father Paul to learn about his falcon is a chilling image, a pessimistic symbol of the future in which children must learn the same ruthless tactics from their predecessors.
There is also another level to imagery and that involves the novel “White Dove” by the Chilean novelist Enrique Lafourcade. The novel, known as the South American “Love Story” after the novel of the 1970’s, is a “Romeo and Juliet” type of tale in which a rich boy is forced to leave behind his love of a lower caste in society. The novel is set amidst the political turmoil that led to the Allende regime and was viewed as a pro-socialist novel. Thus, the imagery of the dove being killed by the falcon, as well as the references to the novel “White Dove,” symbolize the priestly caste’s ability to kill the pro-socialist agenda. As a result, millions of Chileans languished in poverty and political turmoil.
The pages that occupy the narrative of Allende’s rise to power and then violent fall while Urrutia reads Greek poetry and philosophy are some of the book's most potent passages. This passage works on two levels: first it illustrates the passivity of the literary class towards the political struggles of Chile. Though Urrutia claims that he was a “patriot,” he does nothing to support or condemn any of the political actions taken during this turbulent time. Instead, he stays holed up in his library and is relieved when Allende commits suicide so that he can now have peace. On another level, Bolano is comparing the political events in Chile to Greek tragedy. Just as in the plays of the Greeks, Bolano sees clear lines drawn between right and wrong, and believes that moral lessons are to be learned, along with lessons on human nature.
The death of Neruda signals the end of an era for the Chilean literati. Neruda, who had won the Nobel Prize, signified the glory of South American literature. His death, however, occurring just as Pinochet is coming to power, symbolizes a loss of autonomous power for the literary elites. No longer can the literati look towards Neruda as their leader, but must now bow before the political power that determines their future.
Urrutia is then asked (forced) to teach a class on communism to General Pinochet and the Junta. Though he is reluctant to do so, he agrees. His reluctance illuminates the divided nature of Urrutia. Though he has taken little notice of politics and morality, he still understands that associating himself with Pinochet is wrong on a moral level. Pinochet tells Urrutia explicitly that learning about communism is his effort to know how far his enemies will go in pursuit of their ideas. This is Bolano’s reflection on the nature of power and the evil deeds that can accompany that power. Evil, Bolano suggests, does not always come in the form of blind patriotism or unthinking action, but instead, is often masked in the cloak of intellectualism. In that way, the reader is asked to see that Pinochet and Urrutia are not that far removed from each other.
(Bolano also mentions the activist Marta Harnecker several times. Urrutia has the Junta read one of Harnecker’s books on Marxism and the Generals seem to get genuinely caught up in who she is and where she is. This is Bolano’s way of praising Harnecker’s work, a real person, who has advocated for leftist causes throughout Latin and South America.)
By Night in Chile Essays and Related Content
- By Night in Chile: Major Themes
- By Night in Chile: Essays
- By Night in Chile: Questions
- By Night in Chile: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Roberto Bolano: Biography
- By Night in Chile Summary
- About By Night in Chile
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Pages 1-30
- Summary and Analysis of Pages 31-55
- Summary and Analysis of Pages 56-75
- Summary and Analysis of Pages 76-100
- Summary and Analysis of Pages 101-130
- Politics and the Latin American Novel in the 20th Century
- Related Links on By Night in Chile
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources