“Perhaps the most extraordinary event I enjoyed during my childhood was one provided by the heavens: the heavy downpour…It was a tropical drenching, heralded by violent thunder in cosmic, orchestral bursts that resounded across the fields, while lightning traced the wildest designs on the sky, striking palm trees that suddenly burst into flames and then shriveled like burnt matches. And in no time the rain would come down strong and seem like a massive army marching across the trees…it sounded like a million footsteps overhead” (16).
Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir entitled Before Night Falls was written shortly before his death. In it one finds the life of a man persecuted, discriminated, and conspired against even by his closest allies. Despite the long and frequent battles this writer endured, he found a way to continue creating some of the most inspirational and beautiful art amidst degradation and the oppression of Castro’s regime.
This passage, situated at the beginning of this chronological account, features Arenas recounting one his favorite events during his time spent as a peasant in the countryside of Cuba. Being that he was illiterate at the time, his retelling of the inception of the heavy rains is one plagued with literary embellishments. It is, in a sense, his way of contradicting his humble beginnings with his post-lettered genius. The passage reads similar to that of a poem, or perhaps, a hollywood film. The elements of lights (lightning), camera (Arenas’ eyes), action (the striking of the trees), along with amazing sound effects (thunder and rain) are all part of this nostalgic depiction. It is a moment of literary theatrics in that it moves far beyond simple imagery; it provides a full-fledged production of a tropical storm.
Furthermore, this passage reads as a foreshadowing of the eventual rise of Fidel Castro. The moment is one as theatrical as the war between rebel Fidel and dictator Batista. Castro’s overthrow of the tyrant was not one done in silence or bereft of attention, rather it has been argued that it wholly consisted of cinematics. Much in the way that the rain was preceded by the boisterous shouting of thunder to only conclude in its million man march, so was the rebellion led by Castro. The rebel army “seem[ed] like a massive army moving across the trees” (16). In other words, neither the rain nor the rebellion (as told in this recollection) resulted in a blood-stained event. The rains ran-off peacefully, reshaping the landscape beneath it; the rebels walked to the capitol,reforming the government without a full out battle between the new and old regime.
However, both managed to reach a certain level of violence, despite its seemingly peaceful intentions. Heavy rains are meant to erode unusable soil and replenish the earth with new, rich food for crops. In the end it proclaims be more beneficial than its initial destruction. The same was true for the rebellion. At its onset it portrayed the image of a better Cuba; one cleansed of its immoral and misguided corruptions and directed towards a more stable and healthy nation. Yet, unlike the rains, the rebellion did not live up to its promise.
Nonetheless, this passage brings up an important question as to why Arenas enjoyed, not only the rain but, the entire storm that ensued. Keeping in mind that at 14 he sought to join the rebels, it suffices to assume that he also noticed the similarities between the rain and the rebels. Perhaps, these theatrics provided a way in which he could feed his creativity given the extreme oppression of such outlets. Prohibited from creating, Arenas was forced to become an appreciator of the arts, in all its forms. It seems that it was this early flamboyancy of nature that sparked his already demonstrated beautification of violent occurrences.