Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Two main themes dominate Our Friend Manso: education and society. Maximo’s conversations with Dona Javiera, Manuel, and Irene provide Pérez Galdós with ample opportunities to set forth his theories of education. Maximo provides Manuel with a well-rounded, humanistic education by stressing experience rather than dry book-learning. He understands that it is impossible to force intellectual curiosity, so he stimulates his student by engaging him in debate, taking him to the museum, and strolling with him through Madrid, where daily life provides ample material for discussion. Since Manuel does not possess a good knowledge of Latin, Maximo emphasizes modern authors, and since Manuel writes poorly, Maximo emphasizes oral communication. His system discards rigid pedagogical norms, replacing them with a pragmatic approach. The teacher builds on his student’s strengths, while at the same time trying to correct his deficiencies. Most important, he understands that “no teaching is possible without blessed friendship, which is the best conveyor of ideas between one man and another.” Maximo’s success depends on his ability to win Manuel’s trust and love, which makes it possible for him to convey to his pupil his own enthusiasm for learning.

Maximo encourages the education of women, although he stresses that it should be limited to “that which is appropriate to [their] sex.” He is delighted that Irene, although apparently eager to study,...

(The entire section is 599 words.)