The Story of Juan Sánchez
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Story of Juan Sánchez
This essay is a response to the short story "Sánchez," written by Delta's philosophy teacher Richard Dokey. Branimir has taken a couple of courses with Mr. Dokey, and he regards those classes as some of the most interesting he has ever attended. He says that interpreting the story was a challenging task, particularly because of the personal attitude he has toward the writer, but he underlines that the experience was after all ultimately joyful. "The Story of Juan Sánchez" is Branimir's first published essay.
In his short story "Sánchez," Richard Dokey tickles some of the fundamental questions of human existence. In a manner so peculiar to philosophers, through the main character of the story the author vividly depicts the essence of the human condition. The story of Juan Sánchez describes his wandering through life in search for happiness. On a symbolic level, Juan's journey is a dramatization of evolution of human consciousness, from instinctual-habitual to rational-intuitive stages.
All human beings instinctively strive for pleasure and happiness. However, they often face objective restrictions imposed on their will by the surrounding environment. Unfavorable circumstances may include natural conditions as well as pressure exerted by society. Even without the struggle caused by external factors, every human being faces issues of death, loneliness, and meaninglessness of human existence. Juan Sánchez is acutely aware of the hostile environment in his village in Mexico. "He feared the land, believed almost that it possessed the power to kill him - as it had killed his mother and father" (Dokey 30). After the death of his mother, Juan feels ultimate loneliness, and his agony becomes chronic when he loses his second child. He curses himself, his village, and even God, and he definitely gets disillusioned about his life.
As a response to such an unbearable state of affairs, Juan decides to move away, hoping that physical distance may help him forget the pain associated with his homeland. He moves to California with his wife La Belleza in an attempt to start a new life. At this point of the story, Dokey describes one of the most frequent instinctual ways people attempt to deal with their existential problems -- they try to run away from them. Although Juan still works hard, for not enough money, he feels that his life gets a new meaning. He discovers love and the flourishing effects it has on him. He feels that his relationship to his wife and the mountains is enlarging him, and he starts to believe that he has found a secret of happiness. The newly acquired feeling of union with nature convinces him that he has achieved full reconciliation with his true self and the environment. He feels that he has found his true home.
However, Juan slowly starts to sense the presence of "fear and dread about such love" (Dokey 33). He understands the impermanent character of his relationships, and he suspects that the love he has acquired is a kind of blindness. He also discovers a new kind of loneliness, which he experiences when La Belleza is away. Although Juan's life becomes more pleasant, the issues of death and impermanence still remain unresolved. This fact becomes painfully obvious when La Belleza dies, demonstrating to Juan his inability to avoid suffering. At this point the author insinuates that human beings cannot escape from their own nature and that all their attempts to conquer pain and death are futile.
Despite the depressive character of the events, however, Juan does not become desperate. On the contrary, he realizes that fight was in vain, and he finally accepts the human condition as it is - pain, loneliness, suffering, and death are integral and inseparable parts of the life process. Acceptance of life "as it is" brings peace to Juan, and for the first time he becomes capable of discovering an intuitive sense of belonging - an ultimate sense of unity with the entire Cosmos. Juan understands that his previous state of bliss was "man-made," induced by his own consciousness. On the other hand, in his newly acquired, almost religious-like experience, he feels that he is and has always been unconditionally connected to the entire existence. Juan gets exposed to the blowing of the "south winds," and he recaptures his original sense of self-identity. He burns all of his dear belongings, including his house, before he returns to his village in Mexico. The burning symbolizes an act of detachment from the illusory nature of the manifest world. In the end, Juan goes through a stage of self-realization and enlightenment.
The story of Juan Sánchez describes some of the existential problems of human existence - feelings of separation from nature and fear of death and loneliness, as well as human attempts to reconcile with the universe. In the tradition of existential philosophy, Dokey suggests that there are no simple answers to the problem; moreover, human attempts to escape from conflicts can only create an illusion of salvation. The author insinuates that the only way to transcend the human condition is to fully and honestly accept it and to learn how to live with it - only then, a true, intuitive sense of fulfillment may appear. In the final analysis, according to the writer, the meaning of one's life and the sense of true self-identity can only be rediscovered, since they are present all the time. On a symbolic level, the story of Juan Sánchez is the story of all human beings and the development of their self-awareness toward self-actualization.
Dokey, Richard. "Sánchez." New Worlds of Literature: Writings from America's Many Cultures. 2nd ed. Ed. Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1994. 26-37.