Clorinda Matto de Turner’s novel Aves sin nido was published in July 1889. It’s release caused great controversies amongst intellectuals; some praising it for its accurate portrayal of Peruvian life, such as the then-president Andrés Avelino Cáceres who wrote a letter of praise to Matto de Turner saying that her novel had stimulated him to pursue much needed reforms, and others condemning it for its social critique of the national model of Peru and for its anticlerical tone. But no matter whether praising or condemning Matto’s most famous novel there is no denying that the novel is based around the idea of the native culture of Peru. Clorinda Matto de Turner begins by voicing her reasons for writing the novel.
In the proemio she cites her desire to show the world what life is really like in Peru, to create a“fotografía que estereotipe los vicios y las virtudes” , to show what happens when authorities are not correctly chosen or monitored and to enforce the idea that the clergy should have the right to marriage, in order to limit the possibility of devastating effects on society as portrayed in her novel. Each character in the novel is a vehicle for Matto de Turner’s ideas about the Peruvian national model and her thoughts on possible changes. The main focus of the novel is on the plight of the native Indians. The story focuses on two main Indian families, yet throughout the novel their plights are generalised by the use of the terms of “the race” and “brothers born in adversity” so that the novel critiques the entire nation and its treatment of the native culture. The two families, the Yupanqui’s and the Champi’s, although both Indians, have very different economic backgrounds yet are both still defenceless against the local gentry.
The novel highlights the oppression faced by the Indians via what González Prada characterised as a triad, consisting of the judge, the governor and the church. Each member of the triad plays a role in the oppression of the Indians. First, the more obvious roles are that of the governor and the judge. Both embody the idea of corruption and oppression, taking advantage of the Indians and their social and economic standings.
The local officials exploit the Indians through their policy of “el reparto”, paying the Indians a pittance for wool for the following year, which would have gone up in price, and then when the Indians can’t produce the correct amount of wool forcing them to pay back more than was originally paid to them. When this happens to the Yupanqui family their youngest daughter, Rosalía, is taken from them by officials as payment for their debts showing the unethical means by which the government obtain economic gain. The judge is also seen as a corrupt force, as when faced with the inquiry into the attack on the Marín’s house he overlooks the evidence and accepts the view of the local gentry that the blame lies with the village sexton. The local officials are constantly seen plotting together, fuelled by alcohol. They are only interested in what they can gain from exploiting others and how they can cover it up and place the blame on others, in order to exploit them. Matto de Turner’s explanation for the corrupting nature of the juridico-political structure is a lack of education.
The governor, Pancorbo, is described as having “received as elementary an education as the three years he spent at a city school allowed”, Verdejo, the judge, is virtually illiterate as he needs someone else to write things down for him “-Esperemos otro poquito, mi señor; no tardará mi plumario pa quescriba -repuso Verdejo algo turbado” and Estéfano Benítez, supposedly one of the best educated, merely has “good handwriting”.At times the reader could be mislead into thinking that the plight of the Indians is due to this corrupt governing body and that if they were to comply with their obligations the problems could be resolved. However, when the new sub prefect arrives, although he jails some of the gentry, he soon settles into the ways of his predecessors, showing that it is a better understanding of things and a greater need for education that is needed in Peru rather than new reforms.
The third element of the triad is the church, in this novel embodied by Don Pedro Mirando y Claro and Father Pascual Vargas. One of the aims of Matto de Turner’s novel was to raise the awareness of the need for the clergy to have the right to marriage and so this concept is stressed throughout the novel by focusing on the private lives of the priests. Don Pedro Mirando y Claro is not a present figure in the novel but we learn that by using his position of authority he was able to exploit the young Indian women and as a result has fathered two children, Margarita and Manuel. Father Vargas is portrayed as a drunkard womaniser who exploits the Indians for his own personal needs which, like Don.