Miguel Delibes Essay - Critical Essays

Miguel Delibes Setien


Critics generally divide Miguel Delibes’s novels into two periods or types. Written in the first manner are the author’s first two novels, La sombra del ciprés es alargada and Aún es de día, and his fourth novel, Mi idolatrado hijo Sisí (my adored son Sisí), published in 1953. With the publication of The Path in 1950, his third novel, Delibes inaugurated his second manner, which implied a definite break with his earlier rhetorical, rather sluggish, analytical, and traditionally realistic style. After 1950, with the exception of his brief reversion to traditional realism in Mi idolatrado hijo Sisí, a novel that advances an anti-Malthusian thesis, Delibes evolved in the direction of freer artistic expression, of what has been called poetic realism (as against his former “analytic realism”).

During his second phase, Delibes experimented freely with new techniques and structures. Plot all but disappeared and a third-person narrative point of view was replaced with the author-narrator merging his voice with that of the protagonist to form a central narrative consciousness with a double perspective: that of the narrator and that of the protagonist. Though the two perspectives coalesce, they can be distinguished by the alert reader. Technical and structural innovations made by Delibes are expressive of his search for his own most authentic mode or path of novelization (although he was sometimes suspected of following current literary vogues in pursuit of critical acclaim). Novels of his second period are generally characterized by a reduction in time and space and by single-minded, simpleminded protagonists; what the works lose in complexity they gain in unity and concentrated force. The action on the primary plane in The Path occurs in one night, in Five Hours with Mario also in one night, in The Wars of Our Ancestors in seven consecutive evenings, and all occur in a single house or room.

In ideology or thematic content, one finds little if any real changes between the author’s early and later periods. An intensified anguish over the dangers to humankind’s freedom and dignity, inherent in modern technological paternalistic societies, and the growing lack of communication or human solidarity in today’s world, however, especially mark some of his more recent novels, notably Five Hours with Mario and The Hedge. His main motifs, as pointed out by Díaz, remain as constants in his work: the shadow of death, the importance of nature, the life and landscape of rural Old Castile (with its severe socioeconomic problems and abandonment by the Central Spanish Government), a preference for child protagonists (The Path, Smoke on the Ground, El príncipe destronado) or elementary, abnormal, or “primitive” characters (the Rat Hunter in Smoke on the Ground, Pacífico Pèrez in The Wars of Our Ancestors), and the individual in his difficult relationships with others and with society at large (The Wars of Our Ancestors). His more recent novels include biting satire of the Catholic Church’s apparent impotence in effecting a genuine spiritual-moral transformation of the Spanish character. From childhood on, Delibes occasionally suffered from periods of pessimism, a mood that seemed to have intensified in his later novels.

Pío Baroja and Camilo José Cela appear to be two of the principal influences upon Delibes as a writer of fiction. His irony and his dry, laconic description of gruesome scenes as well as his use of nicknames and repetition of descriptive phrases or tag lines, often ironic, to identify characters (for example, the priest “who was a great saint”), especially recall Cela.

The Path

Through the memory flashbacks of Daniel, the eleven-year-old protagonist of The Path, on the night before his expected departure—for further schooling in the city—from the Castilian village in which he was born and has lived all of his life, the reader enters into the “world” of the protagonist. In that “world,” Daniel’s personal life is projected outward toward the collective life of the village; the individual and his society in this work fuse into an artistic unity. Past and present are also interwoven through Daniel’s memory flashbacks, though the narrator often intervenes to provide his own perspective on the events and situations being recalled. The narrator interjects without destroying the reader’s illusion that the central narrative consciousness is that of the child-protagonist; in fact his added perspective subtly contributes to the narrative’s sense of reality or verisimilitude.

Essentially plotless, a series of anecdotes given unity primarily by the protagonist himself—he is telling his personal story—the work simultaneously draws a vivid portrayal of village life in Spain while elaborating upon the author’s favorite themes: death, childhood, nature, and neighbor (or humankind’s relationship in society). Daniel, enamored of his life as the son of a poor cheesemaker in the village, believes that his “path” or “way” in life should be to remain where he is. His father, however, wants his son to develop his possibilities to the fullest, and to achieve that end he believes that it is imperative that Daniel acquire a higher education than that available in the village. At great sacrifice, Daniel’s father is sending him to the city. Through the opposing views of father and son, important differences between Spanish rural and city life become visible, leading some critics to regard the work as in praise of country life and scorn of life in the city; it can be more accurately described as simply an effort to present the realities of each. Though without a double time dimension, Smoke on the Ground, published almost twelve years later, bears close thematic and structural resemblance to The Path. In the later work, however, the reader is made much more painfully aware of the cultural, moral, and economic deprivation of life in a Castilian village.

Five Hours with Mario

Five Hours with Mario will undoubtedly remain one of Delibes’s most perfectly constructed and important novels. When it appeared in...

(The entire section is 2581 words.)