PRINT November 1988



NOT THAT THERE IS really any way to crack the nut of national character, and not that I insist on trying; but we might say that the mortuary consciousness of a culture is probably a better index of its crucial attitudes to life than the more familiar and cliché-prone revelations of the laughter of its people (the national humor) or the rigmaroles of climatological determinism, or whatever canticles of national formation make it through the clamor of change in an age of speed. So it is, at least, with death in Mexico; and so it is especially on the Day of Death, All Soul’s Day—el Día de los Muertos (November 2).

Death is literally flaunted mast-high in Mexico, written into the privileged system of national emblems and national tokens and imaged in the very instruments of national self-definition—the flag and the anthem—with an insistence not displayed thus by any other major country in the

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