Religious Philosophy of the Priest
Unamuno’s central concern in “Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr” is with religious faith and religious doubt. As a young woman, Angela expresses complete devotion to the Catholic faith, fully accepting its religious tenets. Her brother Lazarus, on the other hand, returns from America confident in his lack of religious faith. Through their association with Don Emmanuel over a period of years, Angela and Lazarus learn of the priest’s secret loss of faith, which he conceals with an outward display of devotion. Through the writing of her memoir, Angela comes to understand and appreciate the complexity of Don Emmanuel’s lack of faith, as well as his conviction that people need religion in order to live.
Don Emmanuel tells Lazarus that he does not believe in God or an afterlife; however, he believes it is his duty to maintain the religious faith of the villagers. Lazarus comes to understand the reasoning behind Don Emmanuel’s seemingly hypocritical stance of leading the villagers to believe that he is a devout worshipper of God, while secretly harboring a complete lack of faith. Lazarus is thus “converted” to Don Emmanuel’s religious philosophy, making it his duty to display outward devotion and encourage devotion among the villagers, while privately maintaining the conviction that God does not exist.
When Angela learns through Lazarus of Don Emmanuel’s secret lack of faith, she confronts the priest directly with her own religious...
(The entire section is 1476 words.)
He That Eateth of This Bread Shall Live Forever
At the thematic and structural centre of Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir (1931), lies a passage whose significance has been completely overlooked. Here, the narrator, Ángela Carballino, describes her brother’s reception of the Holy Communion:
Y llegó el dia de su comunión, ante el pueblo todo, con el pueblo todo. Cuando llegó la vez a mi hermano pude ver que Don Manuel, tan blanco como la nieve de enero en la montaña y temblando como tiembla el lago cuando le hostiga el cierzo, se le acercó con la sagrada forma en la mano, y de tal modo te temblaba ésta al arrimarla a la boca de Lázaro, que se le cayó la forma a tiempo que le daba un vahido, y fue mi hermano mismo quien recogió la hostia y se la llevó a la boca. (Valdés 120)
Until this point Ángela’s narrative has concentrated the reader’s attention on the actions and thoughts of Don Manuel, but now the focus of the novel broadens to include both Lázaro and Ángela as more active participants. Don Manuel ceases to be the sole source of interest because Lázaro, and to a lesser extent, Ángela, privy now through her brother to the priest’s spiritual anguish, adopt the motives and responsibilities once borne by him alone. While the behaviour and beliefs of this trinity appear to be thoroughly Christian to all observers (apparently even to the bishop of Renada), the reader sensitive to indicators Unamuno has placed in the text will see that they form the...
(The entire section is 3265 words.)
The Elusive Self: Narrative Method and Its Implications
Unamuno’s fictional writings, widely recognised as among the most original and innovative of their time, are, paradoxically, more often approached from a philosophical, rather than a strictly literary point of view. In view of Unamuno’s own insistence on the centrality of existential problems, his oftrepeated scorn for all forms of aestheticism and literariness, and his cultivation of a rather stark prose style which can easily—too easily, perhaps— encourage us to believe that his fictions wear their heart upon their sleeves, this is not too surprising. There are, however, dangers in approaching Unamuno’s novels in this way, dangers which are graphically illustrated by San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Those who approach this work from a primarily philosophical point of view are apt to assume that its eponymous hero is yet another mouthpiece or fictional alter ego of his creator and to concern themselves with the nature and extent of his belief or unbelief. Since the hero in question is an unbeliever who nonetheless wishes to preserve his flock from the painful implications of the existential uncertainty by which he himself is assailed, such critics are left with the problem of trying to account for what, on the face of it, is a radical volte-face on the part of Unamuno, much of whose life and work was devoted to shaking his readers out of their complacency and forcing them to face the tragic contradictions of the human condition—to confront, in other...
(The entire section is 5874 words.)
The Problem of Truth
We all know that fiction is the opposite of fact. A novel is called fiction, not fact; it is therefore not true. Yet while we are reading it we treat it as if it were true. What we are told in a novel, then, is true in a limited sense, that is to say it is true within the confines of the book. But if we happen to hold that truth is not absolute but relative to the observer, not merely something out there but something in the mind, then this can have interesting consequences for the novel, for it raises the possibility that what was regarded before as the truth within a fiction may now no longer be the truth. In modern novels (those of the post-realist era) there is always the chance that there may be different levels of truth or even of untruth. From Conrad’s Lord Jim onwards, various novelists (Scott Fitzgerald, Ford, Gide) have taught us to be on our guard against too easy an acceptance of the narrator’s view. William Faulkner in particular has exploited the device of contradictory evidence from multiple narrators (for example in Absalom, Absalom!), while Franz Kafka’s The Trial must stand as the prime example of the widespread practice among twentieth-century novelists of attenuating the authority traditionally invested in the narrative voice. Many earlier novelists had of course been aware of the possibilities of unreliable narration. It is a mode of narration frequently adopted in ghost stories and supernatural or implausible...
(The entire section is 10113 words.)