The Motorcycle Diaries

by

Ernesto Che Guevara

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Individuality vs. Ideology Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Class Consciousness Theme Icon
Suppression and Reclamation of Indigenous Culture Theme Icon
Medicine, Politics, and Helping Others Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Ideology Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Motorcycle Diaries, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Individuality vs. Ideology Theme Icon

As Ernesto grows into an avid Communist during his trip, he has to decide whether to prioritize his own needs and desires as an individual or the demands of the broader ideology to which he is committed. Structuring his memoir as a collection of impromptu notes jotted down in medias res, Ernesto gives the reader a compelling self-portrait of himself as a unique individual with his own set of personal goals and questions. He also provides highly realistic portraits of those he meets. However, as time goes on and Ernesto become more and more preoccupied by his developing ideological beliefs, he gives much broader and more generalized depictions both of himself and of those around him. Ultimately, although Ernesto views his commitment to Communism and revolution as a noble goal worth any degree of personal sacrifice, the reader has to decide if the pursuit of ideology demands too great a sacrifice of individual character.

Through his actions and his writing style, Ernesto shows himself as a complex, highly characterized individual full of desires and plans that have nothing to do with his political ideology. Ernesto prefaces the book by describing its chapters as a series of “fleeting impulses that raised my fingers to the [typewriter],” making it clear that the reader will be situated directly within Ernesto’s own stream of consciousness. This gives the reader very specific and personal insight into Ernesto’s character. In the next chapter, he details his own personal character, saying that he has the “spirit of a dreamer” and then describing his apprehensions about medical school, showing a clear focus on his individual desires and goals

In particular, Ernesto’s relationship with his girlfriend, Chichina, shows how much he is focused on his path as an individual. While Ernesto travels, Chichina remains at home, representing the interests and concerns of the bourgeois world which, at this point, they both inhabit. It’s clear that a more serious commitment to Chichina would entail a commitment to a bourgeois life as well, in which Ernesto’s prime concern would be for the success and prosperity of himself and his family. It’s also clear that, in many ways, Ernesto finds such a commitment appealing; he prolongs his visit with her and describes how “the entire universe drifted by, obeying the impulses of my inner voice,” showing the allure of a life centered around the individual. He also gives Chichina a dog named “Comeback,” which represents (at least at this point in the novel) an intention to return and start a life together with her.

As Ernesto travels, he generally derives his ideological principles from concrete individual experiences. For example, his frustrating inability to treat an old woman’s asthma leads him to synthesize broad judgments not just about healthcare, but also about class structure and the likelihood of a proletarian revolt. The ideological principles Ernesto synthesizes are compelling in large part because they derive from these meaningful individual experiences, rather than abstract ideas or political jargon. Thus, by the middle of the memoir, Ernesto has managed to combine ideology and individual experiences, both his own and others’, in a meaningful and productive way.

By the end of the book Ernesto’s overwhelmingly strong ideological commitments obscure his personal character and experience. In the final chapter, Ernesto meets a stranger who talks to him about the revolution he foresees. After this, Ernesto has a vision in which he foresees himself fighting in this revolution, “howling like one possessed” and “savoring the acrid smell of gunpowder, blood, [and] the enemy’s death.” In this graphic passage, Ernesto envisions himself transformed into a mechanism of proletarian force; his entire individual personal is subsumed in the power of his ideals. Because of the structure of the novel, the reader is still firmly rooted in Ernesto’s consciousness, but he has removed almost any trace of himself as an individual from that consciousness. Notably, Ernesto barely characterizes the stranger he encounters. Their interaction is a vehicle for an ideological dialogue, whereas many of Ernesto’s earlier experiences showed compelling connections between individuals. The memoir’s end shows that in order to seriously pursue his ideology, Ernesto must subsume his personal character.

Ernesto matures as an individual throughout his journey, but he also changes by subjugating his individual character to his ideology. While Ernesto begins the trip as a highly individualistic traveler, he exchanges this for the set of ideological principles he develops over the course of the novel. The reader has to decide whether the benefits of an ideological system merit the demands it places upon the individual character.

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Individuality vs. Ideology Quotes in The Motorcycle Diaries

Below you will find the important quotes in The Motorcycle Diaries related to the theme of Individuality vs. Ideology.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Man, the measure of all things, speaks here through my mouth and narrates in my own language that which my eyes have seen. It is likely that out of 10 possible heads I have seen only one true tail, or only vise versa….Okay, but this is how the typewriter interpreted those fleeting impulses raising my fingers to the keys, and those impulses have now died. Moreover, no one can be held responsible for them.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

The enormity of our endeavor escaped us in those moments; all we could see was the dust on the road ahead and ourselves on the bike, devouring kilometers in our flight northward.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Alberto Granado
Related Symbols: La Poderosa
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

I remember the day my friend the sea came to my defense…The beach was deserted and a cold onshore wind was blowing. My head rested in the lap tying me to this land, lulled by everything around. The entire universe drifted rhythmically by, obeying the impulses of my inner voice…And then, for the last time, I heard the ocean’s warning.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Chichina
Related Symbols: Chichina and “Comeback”
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

The huge figure of a stag dashed like a quick breath across the stream and his body, silver by the light of the rising moon, disappeared into the undergrowth. This tremor of nature cut straight to our hearts. We walked slowly so as not to disturb the peace of the wild sanctuary with which we were now communing.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Alberto Granado
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

A feeling of profound unease came over me; I felt that I was incapable of feeling anything. I began to feel afraid for myself and started a tearful letter, but I couldn't write, it was hopeless to try. In the half-light that surrounded us, phantoms swirled around and around but "she" wouldn't appear. I still believed I loved her until this moment, when I realized I felt nothing.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Chichina
Related Symbols: Chichina and “Comeback”
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

It is there, in the final moments, for people whose farthest horizon has always been tomorrow, that one comprehends the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Old Woman with Asthma
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

It's a great pity that they repress people like this. Apart from whether collectivism, the "communist vermin" is a danger to decent life, the communism gnawing at his entrails was no more than a natural longing for something better, a protest against persistent hunger transformed into a love for this strange doctrine, whose essence he could never grasp but whose translation, "bread for the poor," was something which he understood and, more importantly, filled him with hope.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), Mine Workers
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

We constitute a single mestizo race, which from Mexico to the Magellan Straits bears notable ethnographical similarities. And so, in an attempt to rid myself of the weight of small-minded provincialism, I propose a toast to Peru and to a United Latin America.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Leper Colony
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 46 Quotes

The terrible thing is the people need to be educated, and this they cannot do before taking power, only after. They can only learn at the cost of their own mistakes, which will be very serious and will cost many innocent lives.

Related Characters: The Stranger (speaker), Ernesto Guevara
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

I knew that when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I would be with the people. I know this, I see it printed in the night sky that I, eclectic dissembler of doctrine and psychoanalyst of dogma, howling like one possessed, will assault the barricades or the trenches, will take my bloodstained weapon and, consumed with fury, slaughter any enemy who falls into my hands.

Related Characters: Ernesto Guevara (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis: