Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe depicts the wonders and struggles of being a teenager. Benjamin Alire Saenz creates exquisite characters who cover a spectrum of personalities, conflicts, and families.
Aristotle and Dante, teenagers in the 1980’s, represent the juxtaposition of personalities and personas. Whereas one behaves as a free character regardless of society, the other is bound to live someone else’s life. Interestingly enough, Alire subtly covers the toxic manhood imposed by a patriarchal society and its gender roles. Children, indoctrinated since early in their lives, behave following those norms without knowing and questioning. However, as Aristotle reaches the ecotone of teenhood and adulthood, he begins to question the wired rules of how a man should act and what a man should feel or not. As the norm dictates, like his father, Aristotle deals with his internal war in silence, unspoken, and with violence, an uncharacteristic behavior of the main character.
Aristotle feels that he does not own his life. With the lurking shadow of secrecy emanating from his brother’s history, Aristotle’s expectations in life, self-imposed or implicit in his role as a son, spin around whether he should act a certain way or not based on what his brother would or would not do. His parent’s silence, their refusal to confront reality, and their protective impulses impacted, to a certain point, Aristotle’s life choices and personality. The family’s silence encouraged Aristotle’s reticence and drove the main character to violent outbursts and impulsive actions as the only outlet of his emotions.
Contrary to Aristotle, Dante comprehends the necessity of speaking out his emotions because his struggle lives whether he identifies as Mexican or not. Both characters’ Hispanic heritage plays a pivotal role in the definition of the self. Aristotle embraces better his Mexican heritage due to being closer to his family history and language, but Dante resides in a different ecotone. His caucasian appearance and ignorance of the Spanish language weigh on his identity definition, and, on this note, the reader should keep in mind the cultural value of language over determining if one person belongs to a community or not.
Aristotle and Dante cross this land of transition together while discovering their and the secrets of the universe. As they become more comfortable express their emotions and who they are and want to be, they join hands to confront the harshness of the system until they dive into the waters of the world!
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