In Praise of the Stepmother Themes

Themes

Conceived as a novel of eroticism, this short work is centered on the quest for worldly happiness and the individual's prospects of attaining it. The medium of the quest is sensory and sexual fulfillment, and Vargas Llosa's characters conduct their lives assuming that this fulfillment is both the cause and the effect of their happiness. As in other erotic texts, the characters' responses and relationships are fueled exclusively by sensual and sexual stimulation, and the mutual satisfaction gained from sexual encounters is in turn a reaffirmation of their sense of contentment and well being, of success and happiness. Sexual stimulation for Rigoberto, however, is not spontaneously generated but rather slowly achieved through an elaborate nightly toilette and the inspirational power of the artistic erotica he keeps locked up in the living room. By appealing to so much external stimulation, the character's predicament revolves around a number of questions: Is worldly happiness really possible? Are reality and happiness essentially incompatible? How long can happiness last? Is happiness only possible, as in the story, when one resorts to fantasy?

Although at times risible and esoteric, Don Rigoberto's habits and sexual poses are essentially harmless. In spite of the ritualistic even fetishistic way in which he pursues his pleasures, he is neither prurient nor abusive; his obsessions are diverting rather than threatening and his goals lofty rather than...

(The entire section is 564 words.)