Out of the Wings

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Barranca abajo (c.1905), Florencio Sánchez

English title: Downhill
Date written: c. 1905
First production date: 26 April 1905
Keywords: morality > honour, violence > social, violence > suicide, identity > class/social standing, identity > hierarchy, family > patriarchy, history > change/revolution, family > parents and children
Genre and type: tragedy

A Latin American tragedy which tells the story of a Uruguayan patriarch and his family of women who, not unlike Lear, has fallen from his high perch in the old gauchesque world of land-owning and has descended into turmoil and despair, unable to make the transition into modern, liberal society.


A family drama set in rural Uruguay in the early twentieth century.  Don Zoilo, a once successful landowner, is the father of three daughters, Robustiana, Rudecinda and Prudencia.  In a downward spiral not unlike Lear’s descent, the play charts Don Zoilo’s disintegration and sad fall from grace.  He has lost his ancestral estate through an accumulation of debt and being the victim of new legislation.  The only reason Don Zoilo has been permitted to stay on the land is that his usurper, Juan Luis, is having an affair with one of his daughters (Prudencia).  When Don Zoilo discovers this affair, his honour is greatly offended and he makes plans for the family to leave with immediate effect.  Juan Luis tries to persuade him to stay but Don Zoilo will not be humiliated by accepting Juan Luis’s charity.  At the end of Act One, he is left in despair.

The family moves to a modest farm where the daughters are forced to take on manual labour to help the running of the farm.  Don Zoilo’s wife and daughters are resentful and preferred to live out of another man’s charity than be subjected to this demeaning state of affairs.  To make matters worse, Don Zoilo is arrested on a spurious charge but is powerless to resist.  When he asks the Sergeant arresting him ‘Do you know who I am?’ the Sergeant replies that he is the Don Zoilo that was, now he is merely known as ‘old Zoilo’.  His only true ally is his trusted friend, Aniceto, whom he asks to care for his daughter, Robustiana.

Tragically Robustiana dies after a series of illnesses and poor health.  Aniceto arrives to see the family preparing to return to their former home thus betraying his friend Don Zoilo by taking up residence on the estate of his usurper.  He chides Zoilo’s daughter, Martiniana, but Zoilo , mentally broken and defeated, intervenes and encourages his wife and daughters to go back to what was once their home.  By this stage, Zoilo is clearly suicidal and, although, Aniceto tries to make him promise that he will not give in to his suicidal urges, Zoilo’s resolve is firm.

In Sánchez’s  daring dramatisation of a tragic act, Zoilo stages his suicide by hanging himself with a rope from the rafters.

Critical response

Barranca abajo is uniformly regarded as a great Latin American tragic drama.

  • Sánchez, Florencio. 1972. La gringa; and, Barranca abajo. Rutherford, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

Useful readings and websites
  • Ramirez, Manuel D. 1966. ‘Florencio Sanchez and His Social Consciousness of the River Plate Region’, Journal of Inter-American Studies , 8, 585-594.

  • Richardson, Ruth. 1975. Florencio Sánchez and the Argentine Theatre. New York, Gordon Press

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Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 17 May 2012.

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