Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Essay - Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Short Fiction Analysis

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Short Fiction Analysis

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo is a writer who clearly uses literature as a vehicle for philosophy. His short fiction, though exhibiting some diversity, tends to emphasize broad ideas and characters that verge on caricature or archetype; the plots are simple, and the language is rarely ornate or highly developed. Among the views conveyed in Unamuno’s short fiction are his belief in personal responsibility, his cynicism toward the Catholic Church, his basic distrust of doctrine, and his tragic view of life as an experience full of challenges, isolation, and uncertainty. Some of his stories are decidedly romantic and sentimental, such as “El espejo de la muerte” and “El padrino Antonio,” with their focus on the infirm, the unhappy, and the elderly. Others are Kafkaesque parables of morality, futuristic visions, and satires on the relationship between the sexes. “Hijos espirituales” is a macabre examination of a marriage in which ambition and infertility lead to madness and tragedy.

For Unamuno, characters determine their own destiny. The concept of self-creation is implicit, and Unamuno offers many characters who have gone abroad to create themselves anew, and others who connive to achieve their shortsighted or selfish goals. The author speculates as well on the powers of human passion and offers individuals who are driven by obsessions or mysteries beyond their control. The psychology of power plays a central role in many stories; Unamuno often poses strong, willful protagonists against weaker, more fearful, or intellectually inferior people around them. Implicit is a sense of the relativity of morality; Unamuno seems to condemn the weakness and triviality of traditional moralists in favor of the quixotic madness of rebellious and even satanic individualists.

“The Madness of Doctor Montarco”

The 1904 short story “La locura del doctor Montarco” (“The Madness of Doctor Montarco”) is a simple tale of the downfall of a doctor who publishes bizarre stories, as recounted by a sympathetic onlooker. Dr. Montarco is well regarded as a physician, but his patients begin to distrust him because of his outlandish and amoral tales. He refuses to cease or even explain his writing, though he knows his practice will dwindle and he will be ostracized as a madman. Indeed, he ends up in an asylum where he passes his time dwelling on a passage of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha and ranting about goodness and folly. In the end, he dies, melancholy and mute, leaving behind a bulky manuscript and an enigmatic note asking that it be burnt unread. In Dr. Montarco, Unamuno offers an uncompromising, if unlikely, hero, an emblem of individualism and a brand of genius rife with contradiction.

Abel Sánchez

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