Counter-Reading of The Man of Bronze (1933)

The plot of The Man of Bronze is true, but the events were more morally ambiguousman of bronze than those portrayed in Lester Dent’s novel.  Doc’s father, an American financier, did devise Doc a lease of a large tract of mineral rich land, albeit inconveniently already inhabited
by indigenous people, in a Central American republic.  Both the president of the country and the comprador leadership of the natives were close with Doc’s father.  Doc and his band did travel to Central America and help defeat a brewing insurgency, for which they were rewarded with fabulous wealth.

However, in real life, the villains of the novel were more complex than the greedy, brutish and/or stupid Hidalgo rebels and dissident Mayans portrayed by Dent.  The Red Death was probably so named by his enemies in an attempt to smear him by association with communism.  In fact, he was a middle class nationalist reformer trying to hold together an unwieldy coalition of middle class liberals, peasant farmers, lower caste Mayans  and probably a smattering of Communist and criminal elements.

The tensions within Mayan society had less to do with the personal greed of dissident religious figures than longstanding grievances held by the criminalized poor against the royalty and aristocracy.  If Morning Breeze had a following, there was a reason for it.

This doesn’t mean that all the villains were necessarily good guys.  We should concede that the Red Death probably had some wacky (read: low key genocidal) eugenicist ideas that were common among educated Latin Americans at the time.  This would explain why he had no reservations about exposing a Mayan population center to germ warfare.  In short, he was pretty much a bad dude.  History won’t absolve him.

But the rebels being led by a bad guy doesn’t change that it was mutually profitable for the President of Hidalgo, Doc, and the King of the Mayans to exploit the lode beneath the golden pyramid in a way where all the proceeds went off shore and out of sight.  The President and the King probably had big plans to buy property around the world, send relatives to get elite foreign educations, etc. etc.  Further research may bear this out.

As for Doc, he gets a limitless supply of wealth, extracted from indigenous land by “willing” indigenous hands, and all he had to do was suppress a rebellion.  Dent dresses this up with Doc’s talk about having a lack of moral rights to the gold and the King ensuring Doc that his people have no interest in the gold.  We have no way of knowing if such a conversation took place.  If it did, it begs credulity. The intellectually sophisticated King may have been sheltering under racist noble-savage ideas while personally enriching himself.


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