Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Hispanic Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Enrico Mario Santí


The works of Carlos Fuentes are well known for their thematics of History, how the past continues to influence the present despite mechanisms of historical omission, oblivion, or repression. This dissertation offers a spectral reading of a selection of Fuentes’ works—La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962), Aura (1962), Cambio de piel (1967), Terra nostra (1975), and Una familia lejana (1980)—that represents his vision of Mexican, Latin American, and Transatlantic history. A spectral reading refers to the hidden or indirect ways that the past continues to manifest in the present as specters, ghosts—unconscious and unwitting remembrances of repressed or unknown material that elude conscious recollection but continue nonetheless to linger and impede healthy progress.

Concepts from trauma theory and psychoanalysis thus provide a framework for this critical approach. Fuentes’ representations of history often comprise violent events that resonate as ghostly presences haunting contemporary society. Our reading makes use of concepts such as Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s “crypt” and “phantom” as well as Marianne Hirsch’s “postmemory” in order to show how historical traumas and violent events are transmitted across generations as a spectral inheritance. Through this theoretical lens, a spectral reading sheds new light upon Carlos Fuentes’ use of cyclical time, doubling, narrative experimentation, and intertextuality that function together to represent the effects of violent history as a spectral legacy on individual, family, national, regional, and global scales.

The works studied in this dissertation’s six chapters represent distinct moments of Fuentes’ narrative production. Despite the works’ various forms of representation—realist, Gothic, modern, postmodern—, their common thread is the timeless burden of historical violence and trauma. Fuentes presents a pessimistic vision of the ways in which contemporary society ineffectively bears or disavows this burden. The works thus show a possibility for embracing the Other and engaging in the task of working through trauma, although this potential reconciliation remains constantly thwarted. History, according to Fuentes, remains trapped in a purgatory of violence. Yet the hope can be gleaned, however, that the reader may take up this healing labor. While full reconciliation continues to elude us, engagement with the ghosts of the past is a healthy first step.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Thursday, August 31, 2023