full title I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

author Edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, from interviews with Rigoberta Menchu

type of work Autobiography

genre Memoir; testimonial; bildungsroman

language Spanish

time and place written 1982; Paris

date of first publication 1983

publisher Editorial Argos Vergara

narrator Rigoberta Menchu

point of view The narrator speaks in both plural first person and first person. This fluctuates, based on the events being described. The narrative remains with Rigoberta, although she describes events she could not witness with panoramic detail. As a narrator, Rigoberta represents a highly subjective, limited view of the other characters.

tone Confessional; sentimental; explanatory

tense Past; switches to present when describing traditions

setting (time) 1959–1982

setting (place) The mountains and coast of Guatemala; Guatemala City; Mexico

protagonist Rigoberta Menchu

major conflict Various Indian tribes, including the Quiches, of which Rigoberta is a member, are repeatedly exploited by the Spanish-speaking ladino population of Guatemala until they begin defending themselves in a movement led by Rigoberta and her family. Rigoberta’s determination to pursue knowledge goes against some of the conventions of her people and limitations placed on her because of her gender. Rigoberta struggles to stand up for herself and her people.

rising action When ladino landowners begin to stake their claim on the Altiplano, where Rigoberta and her people live, the Indians refuse to give up their land and begin defending their territory using makeshift weapons and traps. Rigoberta is empowered by her experience working as a maid in Guatemala City.

climax The capture and burning of Rigoberta’s brother, Petrocinio, fortifies Rigoberta’s family’s fight against the Guatemalans, causing Rigoberta’s father to organize the storming of the capital, which results in his death and the persecution of Rigoberta and her family.

falling action After the murder of her parents, Rigoberta views being an activist as her calling in life. She renounces marriage and embraces her work as a revolutionary in Guatemala and abroad.

themes The power of language; the cost of progress; the virtue of hard work

motifs Tradition; community; storytelling

symbols The lorry; Rigoberta’s corte; the Old Woman


 · The death of Nicolas, Rigoberta’s little brother, at the finca stirs a well of anger within Rigoberta, sparking a desire to rebel, which foreshadows the rebellion that takes place within the Indian community after Rigoberta and her family witness the burning of Petrocinio, another of Rigoberta’s younger brothers. Rigoberta’s first visit to Guatemala City, which is both frightening and instructive, foreshadows her experience there as a maid, when she is again scared but enlightened.
 · Rigoberta’s negative feelings toward the landowner on the finca mimic the feelings she holds toward the mistress when she becomes that landowner’s maid a few years later.