The Lorry

The lorry, with its closed sides, represents the darkness Rigoberta and other Indians exist within before they reach the point when they can no longer ignore the exploitation the ladinos have brought to them. People become sick in the lorry, but they also become sick of the oppressive conditions under which the Guatemalan government and landowners force them to live. After Rigoberta watches her brother die and grows angry for the first time, she sees her surroundings more clearly while returning to the Altiplano by bus. No longer kept in the dark, she has important insight that powers her efforts to reclaim her people’s rights. As I, Rigoberta Menchu unfolds, Rigoberta is usually the one who can see things clearly, and she must tell others how to defend themselves.

Rigoberta’s Corte

Rigoberta rips the corte, or skirt, that the mistress gives her in half, which signifies her ripping away from tradition and the obedient identity she has always known within her community. Until this point, Rigoberta’s stance has been to cover her growing anger with sweetness and submission. Her experience working as a maid in a ladino household and the example of Candelaria reveal to her that in order to claim her rights and the rights of her people, she must become more assertive, even aggressive. In remaining chapters, Rigoberta becomes more and more militant and less and less the timid, obedient servant she is when she arrives in the capital. Rigoberta’s mother continuously reminds her to continue wearing her corte and huipil, important parts of traditional Indian dress, a request that Rigoberta respects and follows. Still, to fight the Guatemalan government and landowners, Rigoberta must, in effect, rip away from the traditional fabric of her life.

The Old Woman

In I, Rigoberta Menchu, the Old Woman is an archetypal figure, which is an element that occurs cross-culturally in literature. She symbolizes the ancestors that Rigoberta and her people look up to, but she is also the first Indian in the work who commits murder. The Old Woman’s willingness to kill in the name of justice and liberty gives other Indians permission, from the ancestors and elders, to take life. The Old Woman is also a fierce defender of her culture and its people, and will stop at nothing to protect the younger generation, even though her own family has been killed. Able to summon enough strength to take down a soldier, the Old Woman also signifies the idea that those who appear meek or feeble might, in actuality, be capable of strong, powerful acts.