Analysis of Menchu's Autobiography

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Menchu's Autobiography and the Exploitation of the Quiche People

Menchu's autobiography gives us an account of the exploitation and the mistreatment of her community; the Quiche people (indigenous Guatemala peasants); by the Ladinos (Guatemalans of Spanish descent) and her work in organizing and being a voice fighting for the liberation of her people. She and her people work in the Fincas and the Altiplano (fields owned by the Ladinos) under conditions of starvation and malnutrition (Menchu 210). She is aware of and yearns for a world beyond the Altiplano and the Fincas, but oppression, language barriers, and illiteracy impede her desire to escape her predicament. Although she had many negative traits as positive ones, Menchu was a woman of extraordinary confidence and belief in self.

Journey to the City and the Peasants Unity Committee

She takes an opportunity to work in the city, hoping to learn Spanish in the process. She is still met with mistreatment and rejection from the landowners. She returns home and joins her Father in forming the Peasants Unity Committee (PUC) where they successfully organize and lead their fellow villagers to defend their land against the Guatemala Army (Menchu 179). After successfully defending their village she goes on the road to help defend other Indian peasants. As the CUC gains more influence, her father; an activist and her role model and her brother and mother are mistreated and killed (Menchu 210). Knowing her life too was at risk, she is forced into exile where she shifts to diplomacy as a tool for furthering the rights of Indians.


The power of language

Chief among the roles of language is that it enables communication and brings understanding. As a young girl, Menchu struggles to learn Spanish because she realizes that it will enable her to bring about the change that she desires. In her autobiography, she cleverly uses language to tell the world the plight of her people (Menchu 130). In the closing lines of her books, she admits to selectively choosing what to reveal about her community.

Culture and Progress

Though Menchu desires change for her people, they seem reluctant to change their way of life from that of their ancestors. While elders and ancestors are celebrated in tribal ceremonies, modernization is seen as a way of diluting their Indian identity. When the Ladinos attempt to take over their land in the name of progress, the villagers take up arms to preserve their old way of life. Through progress, Menchu can get an education and a life outside the Altiplano and to renounce marriage and motherhood to continue to fight for the rights of her people (Menchu).


There is a convergence of history, culture, thought and politics of the Latin America people as portrayed in the accounts of both Menchu and Gonzalez. There is a surprising conformity between both texts' respective discursive positions on four topics; the problem of the overseer, who rises up over his own ethnic group, the negative impact of alcohol among indigenous communities, the conundrum of language and culture with respect to education and the turn toward violence as a response to internal colonialism (Ward 401). These explain exactly who the people are.


Examinations and review of Menchu's work have revealed startling inconsistencies, exaggerations, and embellishments. Walford in Truth, Lies, and Politics in the Debate over Testimonial Writing writes that Menchu embellished facts and invented incidents to promote her cause to have stretched the truth to promote her cause (Walford 113). Stoll, an anthropologist studying the Quiche Maya of Guatemala, reveals that the land feud that was supposedly between the Quiches and the Ladinos was, in fact, a long-standing family feud between Menchu's father and his in-laws. He also claims that Menchu had not witnessed the death of her two brothers and that her account of the deaths was inaccurate. He revealed that she most likely had a formal education, equivalent to tenth-grade education and as has a result learned Spanish as a child (Walford 115). Perhaps the most damning of all is Stoll's discovery is that she did not mention her training in Marxist political theory and the family's long and active involvement with guerrillas.

John A Clark in The Problem of Truth in Educational Research: The Case of the Rigoberta Menchu 'Controversy' questions the truth of the account of Menchu's life based on the findings of Stoll, where Stoll found that Menchu favored, when it suited her, politics over truth (Clark 12). Pelaez in The Guatemala Reader argues that the idea that all Ladinos are bad, and all Indians are good as put forward by Menchu is incorrect and a mental trap. The reason is that there exists other facets of the struggle in the Guatemala society (Pelaez 132). For that reason, there are many factors that have to be considered before the individuals can be respectfully understood.


Menchu's bravery and determination shine throughout the text, and the fact that this book was instrumental in alerting the whole world to the plight of the indigenous Guatemalans. The fact that necessary action was taken is a win for Menchu. Although at times she shows double standards she is always fighting for the rights and honor of her people.

Works Cited

Clark, John A. "The Problem of Truth in Educational Research: The Case of the Rigoberta Menchu "Controversy." (2007): 15.

Menchu, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Verso; Second Edition edition (January 12, 2010), 2010.

Pelaez, Severo Martinez. The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press Durham and London, 2011.

Walford, Lynn. "Truth, Lies, and Politics in the Debate over Testimonial Writing:The Cases of Rigoberta Menchu and Binjamin." The Comparatist, Volume 30 (May 2006): 113-121.

Ward, Thomas. "Manuel González Prada and Rigoberta Menchú: Measuring Indegismo through Indigenous Thought." Hispania, Volume 95, Number 3 (2012): 400-423.

November 13, 2023



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