…the tenth plague is the massacre of the first-born (Ex. 7:3-12:23). The Exterminating Angel is ambiguous: is this the messenger or the Lord himself? In any case, he is God’s agent of destruction and El Zarco deploys this term. The plagues are not about justice but about authority, and the novel deals with the years 1861-1863 which lead up to the French invasion of Mexico.
This angel is salvation and perdition; he establishes the law by operating beyond it. In the novel, there are bandits and vigilantes; these, today, would be guerrillas and paramilitaries. El Zarco is the bandit figure, and Martín Sánchez, the vigilante; there is not a great deal of commentary on him but it is this character who preoccupies Altamirano who is trying to sort out the contradictions of the mestizo state.
Various critics have seen in this text a Doris Sommer style mestizaje romance, a national allegory along these lines. But in fact it does not use love to resolve the disarticulation of the nation; rather, it conjures a vigilante to control the bandits. And this vigilante is social indignation personified, says the novel, and he has a Mexican look. The novel does have a wedding, but it ends with the extrajudicial execution of the bandit — which is part of the wedding’s backdrop.