The Censors: Summary, Theme & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian Matthews has taught composition, creative writing, and research at the college level for more than 5 years; he's also been an Instructional Designer for more than 3 years. He holds a Master's of Education in Learning and Technology from Western Governor's University and a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University.

'The Censors' is a short story by Luisa Valenzuela, an author from Argentina. In 'The Censors,' Valenzuela uses humor to examine the serious events in Argentina during her life. This lesson will focus on the book and will analyze some of the literary elements present.

Summary of 'The Censors'

Juan is a young man living in Argentina under the control of an authoritarian government (think Big Brother in Orwell's 1984). At the beginning of the story, he writes and mails a letter to a woman he loves named Mariana. However, he quickly begins worrying about what the censors will think about the contents of his letter.

All letters written and mailed in this society go through the Censor's Secret Command, a bureaucratic agency that inspects everything for bombs, poisonous powders, secret messages, and more. Anything and everything could be a potential signal to the Censors that the letter's sender or receiver is plotting against the government, and Juan is worried that something in his letter will implicate Mariana.

He comes up with a genius plan: he'll get a job with the Censors, work his way up the ladder, and intercept his own letter to send it through safely. He's hired easily, as there's a continuous need for new censors for reasons that we learn later in the story.

Juan quickly and easily works his way up the ranks at the Censor's Command. By the end of the first week, he's in the department that actually censors letters and is fully devoted to his work. Juan censors letter after letter, throwing away most of them that come across his desk.

One day, Juan's own letter lands on his desk. He's so focused on being the best censor possible that he mercilessly censors it and tosses it in the reject pile, which is a red flag to his superiors. Juan is executed the next day, 'another victim of his devotion to his work.'

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  • 0:01 Summary of ''The Censors''
  • 1:34 Themes and Real-World…
  • 2:52 Satire: Making Small…
  • 3:36 Valenzuela's Writing Style
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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The Themes & Real-World Parallels

The very broad theme of 'The Censors' is that government censorship and authoritarianism can cause profound psychological changes in an individual. In the story, government censorship gets in the way of Juan's love for Mariana - even before he becomes a censor he's overly careful about what he tells her in their letters. It also gets in the way of countless other people's innocent communications, as Juan censors innocent statements like 'the weather's unsettled,' believing that they could be secret codes used by rebels.

There's also a theme in the story of work taking the place of love and other things in life. Juan devotes himself entirely to his work in the censorship division, to the point where his mother worries about him. The theme of a character who's consumed by his work in a negative way is common in fiction, though it doesn't always go as far as a character literally causing his own death at his job.

The political situation in Valenzuela's home country of Argentina got nearly as bad as the depicted situation in 'The Censors' during her adulthood. After Juan Peron (the President of Argentina) died, the military took over in a coup. They formed an authoritarian regime and censored things they disagreed with - Valenzuela left to avoid the fate that befalls Juan in 'The Censors.' She didn't want to self-censor her work to please the regime, and she didn't want them to do it for her.

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