Project Text: One Day of Life

Like Sand Through An Hour Glass

One Day of Life revolves around a single long day of a woman named Lupe and her family who live in El Salvador. Manlio Argueta portrays Lupe’s own emotions, reflections, and behavior from her personal experiences through descriptive imagery, dialogue, and tone. This book captures the empathy and thoughts of the readers by painting a vivid picture of the terror that fills the lives of the community struggling daily to survive in El Salvador, however their hope and optimism is never lost. Argueta’s One Day of Life effectively takes his reader on a journey to experience the repression and violation of human rights through the government’s inability to provide public service for its people. Lupe, her family, and fellow victims of human rights abuse take matters in their own hands as their individual responsibility to fight for their human rights, yet remain hopeful for change and peace.

Argueta brilliantly portrays the destruction of human rights of the people of El Salvador by the authorities in the span of one day through his novel. The readers are captivated through the growth of the characters’ knowledge of their human rights along with the amount of abuse they receive in the duration of twenty-four hours. Argueta’s dramatic description and use of imagery allows the reader to witness the pain Lupe and her family endure. The readers develop an attachment to the characters in the novel due to the images Argueta paints for his readers. Toward the beginning of the novel, Lupe experiences the realization that “something called rights existed. The right to health care, to food and to schooling for [their] children. If it hadn’t been for the priest, [they] wouldn’t have found out about those things that are in [their] interest” (Argueta 31-32). Not only did the authorizes mentally deprive Salvadorans of their rights, but they physically raped those religious figures that the people looked up to. Argueta shares a disturbing event in which “the priest was found half dead on the road to the Kilometer. They had disfigured his face, had brutalized him all over. They’d stuck a stick up his anus and it was there still. The priest’s voice could barely be heard. They found the priest’s jeep farther up the road, burned, in another ditch. As if it had ignited itself” (30).

Such disgusting and manipulative acts were done to citizens in order to make their power known to the people. The leading cause of deaths in El Salvador is homicide and violent injury, obviously by the force of the authorities. Raping a man of God was a message from the authorities that they were capable of anything. Argueta shares vivid events like the one above in order for the reader to feel that pain and sorrow for a selfless man. This incident was a scare tactic from the authorities, but the more the Salvadorans learned their rights, the smarter they became when dealing with the authorities. Argueta shows the slow progression of the citizens freedom and independence through their ability “to rely on [their] own resources. [They] learned to look out for [them]selves” (32). Because their government was not helping them due to financial issues, the people of El Salvador were simply on their own. In order for them to achieve what they wanted, they need to fight for it because no one would help, especially not their corrupt government. Argueta emphasizes the independence of the people and their desire to thrive and attain their rights. Argueta uses the symbol of birds to mirror the people of El Salvador being trapped and oppressed by the government and officials. He incorporates the notion that birds are “’poor little things, why should we keep them locked up? They’ll die of sadness.’ Birds can’t withstand confinement” (199). The people of El Salvador thrive to break down of the walls of confinement and live a life free from manipulative figures yearning to forcibly oppress them. Argueta successfully takes his reader on the journey of the citizens intensely illustrating their struggle to discover their human rights.

The lack of public services is the responsibility of the government and liability to its people.  Argueta depicts the absence of healthcare, education, and safety evident in the lives of Salvadorans. Before their realization of human rights, Argueta shows how ignorant Lupe and her family were to their right to healthcare, education, and a sense of safety in their lives. According to Engler’s article, Salvadorans fight for their right to healthcare by going on strikes and getting the attention of the oppressors. Engler argues that the “strike was not about raising salaries for doctors or about getting better benefits. The strike was to defend the right to public healthcare- health for all people- against those who want the market to decide who gets services” (8). Instead of giving everyone the right to healthcare, the system in El Salvador is constantly changing the policies on their healthcare plans. These changes do not allow poor families to receive healthcare because they have put a price and restriction on it. Statistics show that “El Salvador has only one doctor from every 2000 people and the doctors are concentrated in the cities. Hospitals, are also limited to cities and large towns, have one bed for every 922 people” (Sanders 91). Now due to the notion of  “Pay or Die,” Salvadorans do not have the funds to afford healthcare. Instead, they are forced to use herbal and traditional remedies such as plants as seen in Argueta’s example. Some less fortunate families attain even more diseases from overall poor sanitation. As much as healthcare is a necessity, so is education. Argueta emphasizes the gift of education for the children “so that they won’t grow up ignorant…so that they’ll better understand the problem… of the farmworkers!” (173). Argueta forms this idea that the children are the future and they deserve to grow up properly with a decent education. However, education is limited “due to the severe shortage of schools and teachers, especially in rural areas. Many children never attend school. About 40 percent of those who begin primary school do not finish, either because they are needed to help their parents on the family farm or because the compulsory education law is not enforced” (Sanders 91). Argueta uses the character of Adolfina to successfully depict the need for education. Adolfina is seen as the youth and future of the novel. The elders in the novel are hopeful for Adolfina to live a better life than they did. The readers develop a drive for Adolfina to surpass the obstacles and become the educated future and legacy of the family. Argueta illustrates his characters in constant fear for their surroundings are not safe. Every second of their lives are precious and at risk. The El Salvador government claims they appointed “a new civilian national police to replace the old internal security forces that had been accused of violating human rights… The bloodshed and agony of the 1980s have ended, but the achievement of a lasting peace remains a long-term goal for Salvadorans” (Sanders 97). If this is so, how come there are still protests and violations of human rights in El Salvador present today? The government says they are not behind any of those operations yet they claimed to hire new police. Argueta depicts the irony of the government indirectly through the lack of public services from the government. The Salvadoran government states their aid and support for their people yet their refusal to take action speaks louder.

Hope is the key motive that encourages the Salvadorans to endure such a lifestyle and manage to survive. Argueta emphasizes the struggles they go through just in one day. Imagine months and years of living in such oppression. Lupe and her family are determined to live their lives one day at a time doing whatever they can. They realize they need to work together as a community to survive because their government, due to selfish and financial reasons, will not provide them aid. They stick through their harsh lifestyle, hope for the best, and try to take matters in their own hands. After all the abuse and hatred toward them, they thrive to keep going and cope with their lives. Argueta internally and externally shows his reader the absurdity taking place in El Salvador and manages to successfully bring awareness to the audience and other figures to possibly aid the violence taking place. The audience was able to feel for themselves the cruelty and abuse of human rights because their government chose not to supply public service. As victims of human rights abuse, Lupe and her clan continue to rebel against the oppressors and try to attain their rights somehow. Although these issues are not fully fixed, Argueta’s book alone is helpful in showing the world the brave and courageous One Day of Life of Lupe and her family.

Annotated Bibliography

Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. New York: Vintage, 1983. Print.

This novel is my primary source. I incorporate this book as a comparison, allowing my reader to see how severe the conditions of humans rights is in El Salvador and how much more tragic it is in Honduras.  This novel was my inspiration for this paper because the issue of repression and violation of human rights is so immense and vividly portrayed in this novel.

Booth, John A., Christine J. Wade, and Thomas W. Walker. Understanding Central

America: Global Forces, Rebellion, and Change. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010. Print.

This book helped me research on Central America and the countries that made up this area. I used this book to further my knowledge about the countries. I was able to learn more about the global forces, rebellions, and change that is currently taking place. This book is great background information.

Engler, Mark. “Pay or Die.” Xerxes 353 (2003): 8. Academic Search Elite. Web. 26 Apr.

2011. <;.

This article presents great information dealing with the issue of healthcare and how the government of El Salvador has stripped their people of their human rights. The government’s plan is to have a private healthcare system which gives those the choice to pay or die. Manuel Villanueva, National Program Director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador states,  “This strike was not about raising salaries for doctors or about getting better benefits. The strike was to defend the right to public healthcare- health for all people- against those who want the market to decide who gets services” (8).

Fitzpatrick, Molly. “El Salvador: A Story of Hope and Perseverance.” UN Chronicle 43.3

(2006). Wilson Web. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. <


This journal article states the ongoing problems that El Salvador has been dealing with. The article gives the reader an overwhelming sense of hope for the people due to the poverty, gangs, violence, and economic problems. These problems stem out to even more problems due to the impact on its people. The experiences can be traumatizing and it is heartbreaking. The people are being affected so harshly and the government is doing nothing to stop the destruction.

Sanders, Renfield. El Salvador. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999. Print.

This book focused mainly on the general information of El Salvador. The book was useful to my paper because it explored their government in a different perspective. The book also discusses the changes in society due to the civil war. It has taken a toll on its people due to the battles between the government and gorillas that damaged El Salvador’s economy. The damage of the 1980s is still evident through the efforts of maintaining peace.


I would like to thank Haley Mojica for peer editing my paper.

I would like to thank Freya Rojo for giving me feedback for my essay and helping me find sources to incorporate into my essay.

I would like to thank Raz Zapanta for rereading my essay for me.


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