This thesis will analyze José Clemente Orozco's mural The Epic of American Civilization in terms of the problem of suffering. It will focus specifically on two panels, “Human Sacrifice in Ancient Times” and “Human Sacrifice in Modern Times.” This analysis will comprehend not only the works of art within their historical context, but also within Martin Heidegger's philosophical discussion of the question of suffering. Heidegger presents a unique perspective on the question of human suffering when he writes that Western humans have forgotten how to “dwell.” This dwelling is defined by Heidegger's novel conception of ontology as relational rather than individualistic. According to this theory, humans must identify themselves through their associations, both with other people and with things. Without these associations, humans are not be able to escape the anxiety associated with suffering and death brought about by the isolating effects of Western modernity. A discussion of Mexico provides a practical example of the complexities of the question of dwelling in Western thought. At the time Orozco was painting his mural, Mexican identity was rapidly fragmenting. In the decades after the Mexican Revolution, many artists wrestled with the concept of Mexican identity, and it was in this time of flux that Orozco offered his interpretation of the cyclical progress of humanity. The two paintings depict two forms of suffering, which this paper will refer to as a “good” and a “bad” death. This nomenclature is not strictly accurate as neither form could be said to be desirable in any concrete way. Consequently a Rivera painting (“Revolution – Germination”) will also be presented that suggests an ideal death. However, the focus will remain on Orozco's paintings. Of course, in his own paintings Orozco is not endorsing the act of human sacrifice. However, because of differences in their composition, they suggest not only a cyclic pattern to human history, but also a downward progression where the persistent problems of violence and suffering in human societies have grown more difficult and complicated since the advent of modernity. As Orozco's paintings seem to suggest and Heidegger will argue, the solution to the isolating ‘bad death’ is learning to live relationally. These relationships comprehend the social and the cultural, but the focus will be on the ecological and the divine, because, as several critics will argue, these are the greatest deficiencies in modernity.



College and Department

Humanities; Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature



Date Submitted


Document Type





suffering, heidegger, nature, environment, modernity