Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Lazarillo’s surname comes from the peculiar circumstance of his birth: His mother happened to stay the night at the mill where his father was employed, and Lazarillo was born on the mill floor just over the river Tormes, after which he was named. He has reached his ninth year when his father is caught taking flour from customers’ sacks. After being soundly punished, the father joins an army that is preparing to move against the Moors. He becomes a mule driver for a gentleman soldier and is killed in action. Lazarillo’s mother opens an eating house near a nobleman’s estate, where she soon makes the acquaintance of Zayde, a black groom. Zayde begins to visit the widow and her son frequently; at first Lazarillo is afraid of the black man, but he quickly learns that Zayde’s visits meant food and firewood. One consequence is a bit displeasing: Lazarillo acquires a small, dark brother to look after.
The nobleman’s steward begins to notice that horseshoes and brushes, as well as other supplies used in the stables, are going missing. When he is asked directly about the thefts, Lazarillo tells all that he knows of Zayde’s peccadillos. In punishment, Zayde is soundly flogged, and boiling fat is poured on his ribs. To avoid further scandal, Lazarillo’s mother sets up a new eating house in a different neighborhood.
When Lazarillo is fairly well grown, his mother apprentices him to a blind man who wants a boy to lead him about. The elderly blind man is shrewd and tough. As he and Lazarillo are leaving the city, they pass by a stone statue of a bull. The blind man tells the boy to put his ear to the statue and listen for a peculiar noise, and when Lazarillo obeys, the old man knocks the boy’s head sharply against the stone, hard enough so that his ears ring for three days. Lazarillo is thus forced to learn a few tricks for himself in order to survive.
Lazarillo notices that when the two of them squat over a fire to cook a meal, the blind man keeps his hand over the mouth of his wine jug. Surreptitiously, Lazarillo bores a tiny hole in the jug so that, lying down, he can let the liquid trickle into his mouth. He then plugs the hole with beeswax. The old man grows suspicious, and when he feels all over the surface of the jug, he finds the hole because the wax has melted. Giving no sign of what he has discovered, the next night he again puts the jug in front of him and Lazarillo again lies down next to it, expecting to drink wine once more. Suddenly the old man raises the jug and brings it down on Lazarillo’s face with such great force that all the boy’s teeth are loosened. On another occasion, Lazarillo seizes a roasting sausage from the spit and substitutes a rotten turnip. When the blind man bites into what he expects to be sausage, he roars with rage and scratches the boy severely with his long nails.
Lazarillo resolves to leave his master. Guiding the old man along the shores of a brook, Lazarillo positions him behind a stone pillar and then tells him that he must run and leap to clear the water. The old man gives a mighty jump, cracks his head on the stone, and falls down senseless. Lazarillo leaves town quickly.
His next master is a penurious priest who engages Lazarillo to assist at Mass. Unfortunately, the priest watches the collection box like a hawk, and Lazarillo has no...
(The entire section is 1367 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Alter, Robert. Rogue’s Progress: Studies in the Picaresque Novel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. Discusses several picaresque novels, beginning with Lazarillo de Tormes, and, by stretching the meaning of “picaresque,” traces the form’s survival into the twentieth century.
Bjornson, Richard. The Picaresque Hero in European Fiction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. Presents an expansive survey of picaresque literature in Spain, Germany, England, and France. Asserts that the author of Lazarillo de Tormes was among the first to realize “the novel’s potential as a serious form of literary expression.”
Camino, Mercedes Maroto. Practising Places: Saint Teresa, Lazarillo, and the Early Modern City. Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001. Provides a close interpretation of Lazarillo de Tormes as part of an examination of the culture of early modern Spain through literature, paintings, and the history of urban areas.
Deyermond, A. D.“Lazarillo de Tormes”: A Critical Guide. London: Grant & Cutler in association with Tamesis Books, 1975. Discusses the novel in its social and religious context, and analyzes the novel’s structure, style, and imagery. An indispensable resource. Includes an annotated bibliography.
Fiore, Robert L. Lazarillo de Tormes. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Good starting point for the general reader devotes a chapter to the novel’s disputed authorship and concludes by praising the work as being “universal in scope.” Includes chronology and annotated bibliography.
Maiorino, Giancarlo. At the Margins of the Renaissance: “Lazarillo de Tormes” and the Picaresque Art of Survival. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. Argues that Lazarillo de Tormes originated in the “culture of indigence” that existed at the margins of Spanish Renaissance society and demonstrates how the work challenged that society’s authoritarian ambitions.
Sánchez, Francisco J. An Early Bourgeois Literature in Golden Age Spain: “Lazarillo de Tormes,” “Guzmán de Alfarache,” and Baltasar Gracián. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 2003. Chronicles the emergence of a middle-class literature in Golden Age Spain, focusing on the picaresque novels Lazarillo de Tormes and Mateo Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache (1599) and on the works of Baltasar Gracián. Describes how these works represented bourgeois values and sensibilities and how they treated contemporary notions of person, culture, and life.