definition of literary skull

In the context of the Day of the Dead, Mexicans have established a very unique celebration. In it, loved ones are remembered, but it is not a sad and melancholic journey. In fact, there is color, fun and humor. The skulls or literary skulls are an obvious example of the vital attitude of Mexicans to death.

A genuinely Mexican literary genre

This proposal is not subject to a specific format, because although it is a composition in verse, the number of stanzas and the rhyme is completely free. However, all of them have an ironic and humorous ingredient. Its true meaning can only be understood within the framework of the Day of the Dead in Mexico and outside of this scope it could be offensive and inappropriate.

It is a deeply popular literary manifestation, although some skulls have been written by famous creators. Many of these compositions deal with a current topic or are related to a public figure. In this sense, the literary skull fulfills a social function: to express social and political disenchantment with mischief and without drama.

Sometimes this literary genre serves to honor a deceased relative or friend. It could be said that it is like a sympathetic epitaph without a tombstone. This composition often appears in newspapers and magazines and is accompanied by an image, usually a catrina.

Although the content of the literary skull is frivolous and full of mischief, in the background it contains a reflection on the ephemeral dimension of life.

The skulls arose in a very specific historical context: after the independence of Mexico

Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, some literati began to scoff at the funerary literature associated with the viceroyalty. In this way, in a first stage the poems had an ingredient of literary criticism (the literary tributes of the Spanish tradition were considered pompous and funereal and the new composition in verse was based precisely on humor and mischief).

Initially they were censored because they were considered offensive and because from the Catholic perspective of Mexican society it was understood that humor and death were incompatible issues. Despite initial reluctance, the new literary genre became so popular that censorship gradually disappeared. Throughout the 19th century, skulls acquired a critical social and political focus.

Today this literary expression is a popular tradition among Mexicans.

Photos: Fotolia - olgaosa / fyb