Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr was published at the beginning of the Spanish Republic, the end of Unamuno’s six-year exile in France for denouncing Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, and just five years before Unamuno’s death. Two of Unamuno’s books were listed on the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books. The themes of life and death, faith, and immortality reverberate on a national as well as a personal level.

The Christological imagery sets up Don Manuel as a martyr for his nation and as a vehicle to present Unamuno’s spiritual anguish for himself and Spain. Don Manuel’s name suggests “Emmanuel” or “God is with us,” a Hebrew name given to Jesus Christ. Similarly, he is the suffering servant who ministers to the poor and loves the children. Lazarus Carballino draws a parallel between the biblical story of Christ calling Lazarus from the tomb by telling his sister that Don Manuel metaphorically raised him from the dead by converting him to the priest’s “holy cause.”

Lazarus’s resurrection resembles the one Unamuno envisioned for Spain: a turning away from the scientific and progressive and a turning inward to “intrahistoria,” the soul of Spain, the nation’s own Spanishness found within its people, culture, and topography. Don Manuel walks through the village and countryside with Lazarus the way Christ walked with his apostles, and his lectures present thoughts on dealing with the abulia, or...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although Don Manuel has his duplicitous side, his spiritual anguish is genuine. His emphasis on life and children results from his dread of the nothingness that lies beyond the tomb. Don Manuel’s manipulation of the villagers is unconscious. He is a benevolent theocrat who tries to protect himself by protecting others. It is not clear to what extent he intuits the self-serving nature of his conduct. It is evident, however, that he does not see himself as Angela and the reader see him.

In Unamuno’s view, Don Manuel’s spiritual dilemma is that of all thinking men and women. In essays such as Del sentimiento tragico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos (1913; The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Peoples, 1921) and La agonia del Cristianismo (1925; The Agony of Christianity, 1928), Unamuno articulates what he sees as the basic human predicament: Man—homo sapiens—is a being who thinks and who therefore seeks rational explanations, but at the same time, man is a being who feels, intuits, and craves immortality. Through reason, man cannot prove the existence of God; he must accept it on faith. Yet his faith is continually eroded by doubt, for the sapiens part of man—the part that demands intellectual certainty—demands proof. Thus, life is an internal war between the rational and the nonrational. Don Manuel does not allow his parishioners to deal with this conflict, but, like a protective mother—Angela calls him “matriarchal”—shelters them from pain. By doing so, he deprives them of what Unamuno sees as...

(The entire section is 642 words.)