Set largely on slave plantations, all three novels are key works in their national canons. Like several other narratives from the Latin American nineteenth century, their plots feature romances that fail due to varying combinations of incest and miscegenation. In Cecilia Valdés most clearly, the patriarch Cándido Gamboa is the literal father of both lovers. Cecilia and Leonardo are separated too far by race and joined too closely by blood for marriage. Excessives of endogamy and of exogamy flow together, destabilizing the family edifice don Cándido has so carefully built and highlighting questions of patrimony and power. The Gamboa family’s breadth is a measure of its influence, but also a threat to its power if racial hierarchies cannot be maintained within it. In her effort to cross color lines, the miscegenated Cecilia nearly succeeds in confounding the social structure these uphold. The characters’, and the novel’s greatest efforts are directed towards avoiding this implosion of patriarchal power and loss of hegemony by the Spanish and criollo elites.
Sommer reads Cecilia Valdés’ exposure of the irrationality of the racial system as an argument for integration in the struggle for an independence. This reading conforms with others popularized in the twentieth century, where, for example, Cecilia symbolizes a miscegenated Cuba oppressed by the colonizer Cándido Gamboa. Other analyses of the novel’s tangled politics and racial logic suggest that it actually advocates limiting mestizaje, so as to establish whiteness outside the framework of the madre patria (Luis 1990, Monteleone 2004, Nelsen 2011). From that perspective, this novel–like many other writings on race and the nation from this period–hardly signals a mestizo or post-racial nation to come. Rather, these writings trace struggles for racial hegemony in the formation of the post-Independence state.