See pithy remarks for my personal comments.
In this passage from The Plum Plum Pickers, author Raymond Barrio suggests the ongoing struggle that takes place between the rich and the poor. Specifically, those of higher social ranking exploit and abuse the “common man”, despite living more comfortable lives. Barrio’s use of terse sentences and striking imagery express the inhuman and animal qualities of these “common men”, the Spanish laborers who pick fruit during a hot day. In contrast, the higher up authoritative figures relax and enjoy the day, “smiling in their cool filtered offices, puffing their elegant thin cigars”(40). The differences in these social groups eventually cause conflict, resulting in a confrontation that reveals the underlying similarities of all humans, regardless of class.
Barrio portrays the protagonist, Manuel, as the lower ranking man who must savagely toil away to earn insufficient pay. In fact, it is notable that Barrio chooses to name the character “Manuel”, as he seems to hint at the character’s representation of the common man. The passage begins with him picking fruit among the rows of trees. He is “trapped in an endless maze of apricot trees … like the blackest bars on the jails of hell”(40). Barrio compares Manuel’s meager job to an animal’s imprisonment, punishment for those considered below human standards. The use of one word sentences, “locked”(40), “animal”(40), “brute”(40), “beast”(40), and “savage”(40), are dispensed between descriptions of Manuel’s search for a respite, water, conveying his primal instincts. The short phrases are like flashes of bestiality; they compel Manuel to quench his dire thirst after working in the hot dry air. Later on, the crew chief passes by Manuel and ridicules his performance, calling him a “pendejo”(40). This pejorative term further classifies Manuel as a lowly human being. Such low prey is easy picking for higher up predatory crew chiefs.
Roberto Morales, the crew chief and foreman of the Spanish laborers, is the primary predator and antagonist. Although a fellow Spaniard himself, Morales is described as a “vicious, thieving brute … to his own people”(40). He found these fruit picking jobs for his fellow men, but in doing so, rose to a position above them. In essence, he has betrayed his people by actually taking money from each of his laborer’s already scanty salary. Morales’ name is actually a pun for moralless, having no virtues or conscience, suggesting his lack of decency even among his own people.
However, as Morales comes around to collect two cents from everyone’s pay, a change in tone occurs. Unlike the earlier animal imagery of Manuel and the derogatory portrayal of Morales, the two characters come face to face in a quick scene of conflict. Even though having more authority and “[having] the whole advantage”(41), Morales is perturbed by Manuel’s deliberate action; the fruit picker tips over his bucket of fruits, wasting them to the ground. His comrades poise to do the same, prompting Morales to back off, stating that he “shall take nothing this time”(41). The lower social group, in effect, defeats the higher one with strength in numbers and cause. Manuel and the other pickers “[have] wrenched Morales’ greedy fingers away”(41), allowing them to feed their families just a bit more. In doing so, Manuel achieves a “sense of honor and pride”(41) in which all “men are built to experience”(41).
Different social classes continue to clash due to disparities in living style and wealth. The lower classes, typically taken advantage of by the higher classes, are deemed subhuman. Despite the differences and conflicts that arise, all humans still have the right to feel dignity in protecting one’s family or serving one’s people, as Barrio clearly demonstrates in his depiction of Manuel.