The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ernesto Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ernesto Che Guevara

Born into a middle class Argentine family, Ernesto “Che” Guevara became one of the most important revolutionary figures of the twentieth century. As a young student, he traveled around South America (a trip this book details), observing the rampant poverty and class oppression suffered by most of its people. Subsequently, Ernesto traveled to Guatemala and became involved in social reform there, only to see his efforts thwarted by a United States-supported coup that replaced a liberal president with a much more conservative one. Because of these experiences, Guevara became a radical Communist and devoted his life to fighting capitalism and imperialism. In the 1950s, he participated in the Cuban Revolution that installed Fidel Castro in power.  Later, he attempted similar revolutions in the Congo and Bolivia. In 1967, CIA-assisted Bolivian armed forces captured Guevara and killed him.
Get the entire The Motorcycle Diaries LitChart as a printable PDF.
The motorcycle diaries.pdf.medium

Historical Context of The Motorcycle Diaries

Guevara came of age in the period immediately following World War II. Two superpowers emerged from this war: the United States, a capitalist democracy, and the Soviet Union, a Communist country. Diametrically opposed to each other ideologically, the two powers remained for decades in a state of political tension we now call the Cold War. They competed by compiling formidable nuclear arsenals and attempting to foster their rival ideologies abroad by whatever means possible. For the US, this meant using the army and covert forces to install and support pro-capitalist leaders sympathetic to American business interests in Latin American countries, even if they were dictators or if the people supported a more liberal government. Guevara observed and came to loathe this policy of intervention; he eventually participated in the Cold War by promoting revolutionary Communism throughout Latin America. Guevara’s most significant political action was his involvement in the Cuban Revolution, which successfully defeated a capitalist regime and established a lasting Communist one.  Fidel Castro, with whom Guevara organized the revolution, remained in power (becoming a dictator himself) for several decades, and Cuba remains a Communist nation today. Guevara was part of the Cuban government during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, during which the Russian government constructed nuclear missiles in Cuba in response to a failed US invasion. This event is generally known as the highest point of Cold War nuclear tension.

Other Books Related to The Motorcycle Diaries

Guevara was highly influenced by The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, two nineteenth-century texts in which the political philosopher Karl Marx articulated the necessity to fight against capitalism and class-based societies, replacing them with political structures based on the equal sharing of wages. Later in his career, Che wrote a number of influential books on his political philosophy and personal experiences. Among the most famous are Guerilla Warfare: a Manual, which he distributed to revolutionary movements all over Latin America, and The Bolivian Diary, a personal record of his last campaign. He was killed less than 24 hours after his last entry. The Motorcycle Diaries has much in common with other travel narratives. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, is another philosophically-driven chronicle of a road trip by motorcycle, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, another road trip narrative, also asserts the importance of long periods of travel and solitude in forming the personal character of an unconventional protagonist. Additionally, as one of the most famous political memoirs ever published, The Motorcycle Diaries has done much to define and influence this genre as a whole. Guevara ties his politics to concrete personal experiences during this youth, and many subsequent authors have also used this tactic for explaining the origins of a political consciousness; for example, in Dreams of My Father, Barack Obama writes about how his youth and young adult life shaped his ideology as a politician.
Key Facts about The Motorcycle Diaries
  • Full Title: The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey
  • When Written: Guevara ostensibly wrote his memoir as a series of impromptu diary entries during his 1952 expedition. However, at least some editing occurred between 1952 and the memoir’s eventual publication in 1993. Some scholars have suggested that Guevara embellished the original narrative later on, or that his daughter or the Cuban government made alterations during editing.
  • Where Written: South America
  • When Published: 1993
  • Literary Period: modern/Cold War
  • Genre: memoir
  • Setting: South America
  • Climax: While the Motorcycle Diaries is not a traditionally-structured book that follows a strict plot structure, one important point both of climax and resolution comes when Ernesto meets a stranger in Venezuela with whom he discusses the inevitability of proletarian revolution. Stylistically, the unusually heightened language in this chapter shows that the memoir is at its dramatic apex. Ideologically, this chapter gives the reader a sense of resolution by showing the solidification of Ernesto’s commitment to radical Communism.
  • Antagonist: class oppression/capitalism
  • Point of View: first-person

Extra Credit for The Motorcycle Diaries

Brand Recognition. An iconic photo of Che Guevara’s face has been cited as “the most famous photograph in the world.”

Canonization. In Bolivia, where Guevara spent the last part of his life and was killed, he has been informally canonized by local communities, who sometimes call him “San Ernesto.” They have preserved the building where his body was kept as a shrine.