Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Don Manuel

Don Manuel (mahn-HWEHL), a Catholic priest in Valverde de Lucerna, a small village in Spain. A tall, slender, erect man in his middle years, he is wholly devoted to the service of his parishioners despite the fact that he has lost his ability to believe in life after death. His service takes many forms, all practical: helping children with schoolwork, promoting joyous social interaction, mediating quarrels, and caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying. His reputation as a healer and spiritual teacher spreads beyond the village, and people come to regard him as a living saint. Don Manuel carefully guards the secret of his loss of faith, not wanting to jeopardize the faith of his people. Only Angela and Lázaro Carballino are aware of the priest’s private agony.

Angela Carballino

Angela Carballino (AHN-heh-lah kahr-bah-YEE-noh), an educated village woman who becomes a confidante of Don Manuel and narrates his story. Orphaned as a child, she has known Don Manuel since girlhood and has been aware that others regard him as a saint since her years at convent school. At Don Manuel’s urging, she decides to make the village her convent rather than become a nun, sequestered from everyday life. Angela has collected numerous instances of Don Manuel’s effective ministry to the villagers, his words of wisdom, and his acts...

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Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Both Don Manuel and Lazaro are partially autobiographical characters. Lazaro, the political and social progressive, reflects the preoccupations of the young Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, who, in his early years, was drawn toward scientific materialism. Later in life, Unamuno experienced a spiritual crisis. Like Don Manuel, he was concerned with the problem of immortality, for it seemed to him that if there were no afterlife, life on earth had no purpose. Don Manuel incarnates Unamuno’s spiritual anguish. His fear that nothing follows death leads to depressions that border on the suicidal.

Like all Unamuno’s characters, Don Manuel is far more complex than he appears. Agonizing over his own doubts while protecting his parishioners from the truth, he seems a saint. Yet Don Manuel has a negative side. The author shows in many of his works that every act of charity is also an act of egotism. Citing the example of Cain and Abel—one of Unamuno’s favorite themes—he argues that the virtuous Abel is actually cruel because he causes Cain to be tortured by guilt. Don Manuel, unable to believe in eternal life, uses the parish to cultivate the fame that will allow him to go on living—through his reputation—after his death. When he tells people that the bishop has not given him permission to perform miracles, he seems humble. Yet he does not actually deny that he can perform them. His refusal to leave Valverde de Lucerna for a more prestigious position reveals not only his love for his people but also his fear of abandoning the safety of their adoring eyes. Don Manuel is cultivating his reputation as a saint. His beatification, which would allow him to be venerated as a local holy person, is a step in the process started by Don Manuel himself.

Unamuno writes in many essays that an unexamined faith is invalid. Although doubt...

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Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Andrachuk, Gregory Peter. “’He That Eateth of This Bread Shall Live Forever’ (John 6:58): Lazaro’s Communion.” Romance Notes 31, no. 3 (Spring, 1991): 205-213. Discusses the significance of Lazarus taking communion in his own hand before the practice was allowed in Roman Catholicism and likens it to his becoming a priest in the “new religion” of Valverde de Lucerna.

Biggane, Julia. “Introjection, Loss, and the Politics of Possession in Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, Mártir.” Hispanic Review (Summer, 2005): 329-349. Discussion of the psychoanalytic, ethical, and political dimensions of mourning as it relates to the state of gender and politics in Spain.

Carey, Douglas M., and Phillip G. Williams. “Religious Confession as Perspective and Mediation in Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, Mártir.” MLN 91, no. 2 (March, 1976): 292-310. The themes of absence, replacement, and confession show Don Manuel’s struggle to believe. There is a strong discussion of the parallels between Don Manuel and Christ.

Mancing, Howard. “The Lessons of San Manuel Bueno, Mártir.” MLN 121 (March, 2006): 343-366. Provides a synopsis and a discussion of the characters and the relationships between the novella and Unamuno’s life and previous writings.

Yorba-Gray, Galen B. “Don Quixote till Kingdom Come: The (Un)Realized Eschatology of Miguel de Unamuno.” Christianity and Literature 54, no. 2 (Winter, 2005): 165-182. A description of Unamuno’s vision of Don Quixote as spiritual and national savior of Spain because his creativity pushed beyond the apparent limits of the possible.