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The Squatter and The Don – A Patriarchal and Racist Society

It was interesting for to see the patriarchy and aspects of racism that were interweaved in The Squatter and The Don. This novel took place in the 19th century – a time where women lived in a patriarchal society. However, as demonstrated by this book, we see how women found a stance of authority within the confounds of a man-driven society.

For instance, we see within the first pages of the novel how Mary Darrel has a grasp on William Darrel when they discuss moving to San Diego. Mary voices to William that she does not want to be squatterand if he chooses to acquire the land without purchasing it, she will not “willingly” go and will only go if he “compels” her. William responds with “compel you! Compel you, when you know I have obeyed you all my life”. This quote demonstrates how Mary has a sizable influence over William and holds an authoritative position within their marriage. I think this is rather interesting, because as modern readers we normally have a predisposed view of women in the 19th century as being submissive and timid. However, Mary demonstrates quite the opposite by showing her fearlessness in voicing her opinion and not letting her husband merrily make decision for her. That said, Mary says that she will not “willingly” gowith her husband, demonstrating that she is aware of the bounds set by a patriarchal society and that she must follow William even if he acquires the land as a squatter.

 Subsequently. William became a squatter on Don Mariano’s land against his wife’s wishes even though he claimed to obey Mary all his life; William is aware that, as a man, he is in a place of power and authority and that he can do as he wishes in this patriarchal society. As such, William believes that as a man in the marriage and as a white citizen in the US, he has the right to squat on another’s land. Thus, he believes that being an Anglo male entitles him to various claims and grants him authority and power over women and Californios.

As such, Ruiz de Burton addresses aspects of hierarchy and racism. She constructs a hierarchy as defined by whether you participate in work or labour, which groups people into upper and lower classes and white and non-white. For instance, Californios (such as the Alamars) are able to claim white status because of their work, while Indians are unable to claim whiteness as they are labour. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Ruiz de Burton wishes the reader to see the Alamars as white due to Don Mariano’s wealth and “kindly spirit”, for example. However, there is still unfair treatment that occurs towards the Californios; Don Mariano is successful and owns his own property, while William is not as successful and resorts to squatting. Yet, William is viewed as more privileged and of a higher class due to the colour of his skin and birthplace. William’s belief of his elite position in society is further reinforced when he exiles Clarence from his home and attempts to horsewhip Don Mariano after he discovered that Clarence had bought the land behind his back. In this case, Clarence had undermined his father’s patriarchal position and William’s reaction further solidifies his patriarchal and elite view of himself.

Unfairness and racism towards the Alamar family is further demonstrated by how Doña Josefa was kicked off her own land and forced to move to San Francisco, even after her daughter had married Clarence. She states “let the guilty rejoice and go unpunished and the innocent suffer ruin and desolation. I slander no one but shall speak the truth.” This is likely a direct feeling of what Ruiz de Burton had felt while she was suffering through this hardships; even though the Alamar family should have been considered an upper class family and treated as such, they suffered numerous injustices and were taken advantage of because of their race. While the squatters walk away with not even a guilty conscious, the Alamars can do nothing about it.


3 thoughts on “The Squatter and The Don – A Patriarchal and Racist Society

  1. Hey Madison,

    You know, you make an excellent point. For all the times that women are mentioned in the novel, they are generally blushing or fainting. And how often are the elder women’s names mentioned, such as Mary Darrell or Beatrice Mechlin? They are most frequently referred to as Mrs. Darrell or Mrs. Mechlin, references only associated with their husbands. Interesting that we know of Doña Josefa by her name throughout the duration. I almost get the impression that her role was a little more equal to Don Mariano. True, she probably didn’t go out and drive cattle (or whatever one does with mass amounts of cows) but she seems to have had similar power to Mariano.

    Have a good day.


  2. Yes, Mary in particular is an interesting character. And in many ways she seems to an edge of William. (For instance, it’s her idea that Clarence should buy up the land that they are squatting on, and not tell his father about it.) Note, too, that she is “Latin,” if French rather than Hispanic, and Catholic. Mary and William are already a “mixed” marriage, to an extent anticipating Clarence and Mercedes.


  3. Interesting post Madeson! I liked how you mentioned how racism is a clear aspect that is brought up in the novel. It is clear that the Alamar family is unjustly treated due to their race and cultural background. I believe that Ruiz de Burton wants to criticize this and educate the reader on how this racial group was unfairly treated during these times. Even though this group were rightful owners of their land it was not respected by many who stole their properties. These people represented by the squatters in the novel clearly had no respect towards the original owners as they felt superior to them one reason for this was due to their race.


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