Saturn is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Kronos, the father of the Olympian gods. According to myths, Kronos/Saturn heard a prophesy that one of his children was going to overthrow him so he took up the nasty habit of eating his offspring. Needless to say, his wife, Rhea, was not too pleased with this behavior so one day she decided to hide her newborn instead of giving it over to Saturn to eat. The son she saved, Zeus in the Greek, Jupiter in the Roman, grows up and rebels against his father, eventually freeing his siblings from his father’s stomach. This myth bears similarities to the rebellion acted out by the characters in the book against the author. The myth also transforms the relationship between creator and created to that of father and children. I also think that its interesting that the author chooses Saturn, the second biggest planet in our solar system, to represent himself. One might interpret this identification as a way of compensating for his diminutive stature which he seems very self-conscious of.
When I read that the people of Monte were using lead to shield themselves from Saturn (this was before it became clear that Saturn stood for the author), I thought of the Roman empire which used lead to make pipes. This form of manufacturing lead to a lot of sickness, and I think some have argued, contributed to the fall of the empire. This association with decay and ruin leaches over into the ideas of psychological repression, marking it as an unhealthy activity. The definition for lead in J.C. Cooper’s An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols further ties the metal with the book.
“In Alchemy lead is the heavy ‘sick’ condition of the metal or of human existence or the soul; it is the base metal, density, the opaque bodily consciousness, unregenerate man, subject of the work of transforming and transmuting. The metal of Saturn” (96).
Like the lead, I think the limes that Little Merced eats are another example of repression and its destructive power. She keeps her lime consumption a secret from her father and it eventually makes her sick. Federico’s fear of confronting the loss of his wife drives him to seek refuge under a poisonous umbrella. One might take this a step further and argue that Federico’s unwillingness to share his feelings and secrets with his daughter sets a bad example for her (she probably knows something’s wrong; there has to be a reason why the mother left) and his secrets end up hurting her. If we consider Rachel Adams’s thesis from last week, that there is some kind of shift between Cold War lit and post Cold-War lit, I would say that the reactions of Federico and the EMF, their desire to cut themselves off from another entity are reminiscent of a Cold War mentality of paranoia and polarization. They don’t hide behind an Iron Curtain, but they do hide behind a lead one. It is when the truth comes out, words are exchanged, that people break away from repetitive and stagnant positions and seem to recover. This also relates to trauma theory in that the people who can rewrite painful experiences and somehow integrate them into their metanarrative (as Salvador Plascenia is clearly doing) are able to recover.
One final thought on limes- limes are a sour fruit, not a sweet one, hence not usually associated with enjoyment. Little Merced’s constant consumption of limes seems semi-masochist and parallel to the self-pitying and rumination on lost love that permeates the novel.
limes- caustic, secret, eating, damaging