Education with a Smile on its Face - An Analysis of Comic Elements in Luis Valdez "Los Vendidos"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

7 Pages, Grade: 1,3




Ironical Elements:
Honest Sancho
Mexican American

Satirical Elements:
Veiled Attack



Farm Labor Camps
Western Civilisation


In his article “El Teatro Campesino”, Luis Frederick Aldama quotes Luis Valdez, one of the most popular Chicano writers, on the ideal of Chicano theatre: “Chicano theatre [...] must be popular [...]; but it must also educate the pueblo toward an appreciation of social change, on and off the stage” (Valdez, quoted in Aldama). These ambitions that Valdez sets for himself as well as for other writers seem very challenging: How does one educate people via theatre plays, motivate one’s audience to change prevailing social conditions, and at the same time maintain popularity with one’s work? Certainly, one wouldn’t be very successful in accomplishing this aim by simply telling one’s audience what is wrong in society. Taking into account that “people pay no attention to moralizers,” Robert Harris therefore considers irony to be “the only fruitful method” to reveal hypocrisy and flaws in society, as suggested in his article “The Purpose and Method of Satire.” Harris’s opinion appears to be reflected in Valdez’s acto Los Vendidos, in which he frequently uses irony as well as other kinds of comic elements in order to entertainingly educate his audience and to provoke changes.

Initially, the comic nature of Los Vendidos is revealed by its ironical aspects. The most obvious instance of Valdez’s use of irony certainly is the salesman Honest Sancho himself. In the beginning of the acto, this character appears to be in control of the machines he sells; he seems to be the Mexicans’ master, to whose snipping of fingers the various models obey utterly. Even later, when one of the models has been sold, Sancho still shows no signs of the contrary, as can be observed in the instructions he gives to his customer: “Just snap your fingers. He’ll do anything you want” (Valdez 605). In the end of the acto, however, it becomes obvious that the audience has been tricked: The Mexicans are the ones who have been in control of things rather than Sancho, who ironically turns out to be “their front” in the end (Worthen 601). By creating such an ironic character, Valdez entertainingly points out to his audience that it is not only the one man in the spotlight who is in control of things, but that the ordinary man in the background, that is farm workers in particular, can have power as well and can use it to improve their situation.

Another example of irony in Los Vendidos reveals itself in the type of Mexican Miss Jimenez wants to buy: Although she has come to Sancho’s shop in order to buy “a Mexican type” (Valdez 602), the model ought to look Mexican (“We need a brown face in the crowd,” Valdez 605), but must basically behave “Americanized.” Moreover, Miss Jimenez will not accept a model made in Mexico, but insists she “can’t buy anything but American-made products” (Valdez 604), which constitutes an even higher priority for her than the type of Mexican himself: “It’s true we need Mexican models such as these, but it’s more important that he be American” (Valdez 604). Therefore, when she finally decides to buy the Mexican-American, she agrees to pay more for him than for the other models, as he is partly American. The irony of Miss Jimenez’s attitude mirrors the tokenism found in the policy of the so-called quota-men; rather than ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all ethnic groups, quota regulations further discriminate minorities by neglecting their actual qualifications and reducing their suitability for certain workplaces to their ethnic background.

Yet what strikes even more is Miss Jimenez’s abusiveness: After refusing to kick the Johnny-model at first, she nevertheless gives it a try. Once she has overcome her moral obligations, she even takes pleasure in maltreating the Mexican, and has to be stopped by Sancho: “Okay, that’s enough, lady. You ruin the merchandise” (Valdez 603). Yet can such a behavior still be categorized as comic? This particular scene seems so weird and violent, that no one of a sound mind could possibly laugh about it. Again, the application of Harris’s theory provides an answer to this issue: Miss Jimenez’s behavior is strongly exaggerated owing to the fact that hyperbole is necessary “to force recognition of vice upon the guilty” (Harris). Thus this scene as such represents a characteristic of satire, which in turn weakens its apparent brutality and evokes a comic effect despite its initial violence. Following Sancho’s example, the audience could learn from this scenario that nobody has to accept unfair treatment, but that everybody can and should intervene in unjust situations.

Further evidence supporting the assertion that Los Vendidos is a satirical acto can be drawn from the Mexican models’ attack of Miss Jimenez in the end: Miss Jimenez, who represents the US government, is attacked by the models, who represent human Mexicans in disguise. Completely helpless, she is unable to defend herself against the disguised Mexicans; in other words, she -or the American government respectively- holds “not enough [power] to suppress a veiled attack,” which points out the satirical character of Valdez’s acto (Bronowsky, quoted in Wikipedia). In terms of educating his audience, I assume Valdez included this scene in order to demonstrate that even Mexican farm workers can have some impact on the American government, just as the models are able to influence Miss Jimenez’s behavior. However, I do not believe that Valdez tried to provoke physical attacks such as the one in the acto; instead, the models’ disguise could represent the need to adapt to the prevailing system. Only by playing the game one can improve the system; in other words, one needs to participate from within making use of available means rather than remaining stuck in passivity and rejecting the existing system together with the possibilities it offers.


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Education with a Smile on its Face - An Analysis of Comic Elements in Luis Valdez "Los Vendidos"
University of Stuttgart
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This acto is an important example of Chicano Literature
Education, Smile, Face, Analysis, Comic, Elements, Luis, Valdez, Vendidos
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Michaela Abele (Author), 2006, Education with a Smile on its Face - An Analysis of Comic Elements in Luis Valdez "Los Vendidos", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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