Pedro Sarmiento is born to upper-middle-class parents in Mexico City between 1771 and 1773; of the actual date, he is not sure. As a child he is willful, and his mother’s excessive devotion only makes him worse. He becomes such a scamp that at last his father sends him off to school. At school, he is nicknamed Parrot. A little later, when he contracts the itch, his schoolmates nickname him the Itching Parrot, or Poll for short, and the name sticks to him through most of his life.
In addition to his nickname, Poll acquires many vicious habits from his school fellows. Poll’s father resolves to put Poll out as an apprentice in a trade, but Poll’s mother, not wishing her son to disgrace her family by becoming a vulgar tradesman, insists that the boy be sent to college. Against his better judgment, the father agrees, and so Poll is sent off to study for a college degree. After learning some Latin, some Aristotle, some logic, and some physics, Poll is awarded a baccalaureate degree by the College of San Ildefonso. Shortly after receiving his degree, Poll goes into the countryside to visit a hacienda owned by the father of a former schoolmate. At the hacienda, he earns the hatred of his schoolmate, Januario, by making advances to the latter’s cousin, with whom Januario is infatuated. Januario takes his revenge by tempting Poll into a bullfight. Poll, who loses both the fight and his trousers, becomes the laughingstock of the hacienda. Still unsatisfied, Januario tricks Poll into trying to sleep with the girl cousin. Through Januario, the girl’s mother discovers the attempt, beats Poll with her shoe, and sends him back to Mexico City in disgrace.
Upon his return to the city, Poll is told by his father that he must find some means of earning a livelihood. Poll, searching for the easiest way, decides he will study theology and enter the Church. Theology quickly proves uninteresting, and Poll gives up that idea. Trying to escape his father’s insistence that he learn a trade, Poll then decides to enter a Franciscan monastery. There he soon finds that he cannot stand the life of a monk; he is glad when his father’s death gives him an excuse to leave the monastery. After a short period of mourning, Poll rapidly exhausts his small inheritance through his fondness for gambling, parties, and women. The sorrow he causes his mother sends her, also, to an early death. After his mother dies, Poll is left alone. None of his relatives, who know him for a rogue, will have anything to do with him.
In his despair, Poll falls in with another schoolmate, who supports himself by gambling and trickery. Poll takes up a similar career in his schoolmate’s company. A man Poll gulls discovers his treachery and beats him severely. After his release from the hospital, Poll goes back to his gambling partner, and they decide to turn thieves. On their first attempt, however, they are unsuccessful. Poll is caught and thrown into prison....
(The entire section is 1207 words.)