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With His Pistol in His Hand: Part Two

In reading the last half of With His Pistol in His Hand, what stood out to me was the profound history of the transformation of the corrido and also the slight word choices (and verb tenses) that added to the imagery and storytelling of the story of Gregorio Cortez. The legend of Gregorio Cortez told by Paredes in the beginning of the book is only one variant of this tale and its interesting to see that there are another 9 variants that all highlight different events. Though the other 9 variants show the diverse history of the corrido, I am amazed to see the strategically placed adjectives and verb tenses, mainly the imperfect tense, that submerge the listener into the life of Cortez. I never truly appreciated literary analysis until the study of this legend.

The diversity and transformation of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez is pretty remarkable. Each variant comes from a different part of Mexico and each carries its own message that it wants to deliver. Some corridos stress the importance of the initial killing of Sheriff Morris while others gloss over it almost entirely. Some stress the importance of the surrender of Cortez, showing that he fought for his right till the very end, but others emphasize how the ending, the despedida, shows Cortez not giving into the police and hinting that he lived the rest of his life as a free man. The variance of the corrido reveals the attitudes of the ballad singers and the message they wanted to convey to their audience. Though some stressed the importance of the killing of Morris while others highlighted the capture of Cortez, one idea remained the same throughout all the corridos; he was an honourable man that “defended his right with his pistol in his hand.”

The final take away from the last half of the book was the use of the imperfect verb tense and the importance of creating a story that envelopes the listener completely. The imperfect tense in Spanish conveys a repeated action or an action in progress in the past, whereas the preterite form states that the action has been completed. Though it would have been simple for ballad singers to use the preterite (as it usually has fewer syllables) they usually used the imperfect as it created a scene of continuous action, submerging the listener into the story. An example of this is “venían los americanos” compared to “vinieron los americanos.” The difference here is one translates to “the Americans were coming” while the other says “the Americans came.” The use of imperfect creates a developing narrative that the listener becomes a witness to, as it doesn’t simply recount a laundry list of things that have already been completed, but shows a story unraveling and unfolding right there in the local cantina, where El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez was being sung.

-Curtis HR

3 thoughts on “With His Pistol in His Hand: Part Two

  1. I agree with you on the idea that even though different versions of this corrido, stressed different events of the story; the idea that remained the same in all of them was that Gregorio Cortez was an honorable man that “defended his right with his pistol in his hand.”

    I also liked to read all the variants of the corrido, particularly because they had a Spanish version, that is easier to understand for me :). I found that for me, as a Spanish native speaker, I didn`t pay attention ot the richness of the language that is in the corrido, and how the use of the imperfect verb tense can be so powerful for understanding it in a deeper and also different way.


  2. Hey Curtis,

    I was intrigued by what you mentioned in class and have written here. It is amazing how a simple change of verb tense, even with out thinking, can add, subtract or ultimately change the meaning of a phrase and those around it. In both English and Spanish this is impactful, but much more noticeable in Spanish. I often say that literature isn’t my thing. Oh sure, I like it well enough, but linguistics and stylistics really interest me. I am glad Paredes mentioned it (several times). It is a valuable tool when taking narrative apart and reassembling it to figure it all out.

    Have a good day,


  3. Hi curtis !
    Your remark on the use of imperfect tense is interesting because it shows the true power of language. I find it fascinating that the use of a word can has a totally different impact on the reader or on the audience (in the images it suggests, in the feelings…) whereas a synonymous word would not have the same impact. This is why the words or verbal tenses we use in an oral speech are crucial because the effect can be different whether the idea expressed is ultimately exactly the same.
    This difference between the preterit and the imperfect does not exist in French because in the spoken language, the preterit is never used whereas the imperfect is the common tense used to talk about the past. It was therefore interesting to think about this difference in Spanish which was not obvious to me although I am fluent in that language.



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