José Hernández (1834-1886) is the author of the book that Leopoldo Lugones claimed was the national book of Argentina: Martín Fierro. It shows the stereotype of the gaucho, who lives in the plains of Argentina, Uruguay and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and is a poem describing the independence and freedom of these people.
Following the new independence from Spain, many of the new republics that emerged in America started to look for their own national identity, and the gaucho Martín Fierro became a symbol of that of Argentina. The book has many examples of their way of speaking, how they used vos instead of tú and changed letters (juego for fuego, etc.), which Hernández was criticised for by many intellectuals at the time.
Published in 1872, the main story of the first part of the work centres around the recruitment of Martín Fierro to the army, in order to defend a fort against the onslaught of the Indians. Martín Fierro becomes a fugitive hunted by the police, and in his escape meets the sergeant Cruz, who joins him. Together they escape to go live with the Indians because a native life is better for them than what awaits them in civilization.
In 1879, José Hernández published “The Return of Martín Fierro”. In this second part he changed the plot of the play and the idyllic setting of freedom with the Indians is discouraged, and instead shows him looking to adapt to the civilization that was rejected in the first part of the work.
It is thought that many of the characters of Martín Fierro were inspired by real people. In the area where José Hernández grew up, Lobería Grande (Mar del Plata), there was a rebel gaucho with the same name, however names and surnames such as these were fairly common. The most likely thing is that Martín Fierro was a paradigmatic character of the Argentine gaucho of 1880.
The two books of Martín Fierro have had a significant influence on Latin American literature in general, and Argentina literature in particular. This is as much for the topics treated as the way in which they are treated, especially through language, another symbol of the Argentine nation.