Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1075

Joaquín Monegro

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Joaquín Monegro (wah-KEEN mohn-AY-groh), a physician and scientist, an accomplished orator, and a lifelong friend and secret enemy of Abel Sánchez. In this parable of contrasts and moral ambiguities, Joaquín is the dark personality, like the biblical Cain, consumed by jealousy and hatred of his closest companion. Even as a child, Joaquín believed that Abel had robbed him of everything he ever wanted, effortlessly usurping his friends and the admiration of adults. Actually, having chosen this role, Joaquín often arranged accidents that promoted his preconceptions. When he fell passionately in love with the beautiful Helena, for example, he arranged for Abel to paint her portrait, fully aware of Abel’s easy success with women. When Abel and Helena became lovers, Joaquín believed that he had proved once more that Abel had betrayed him. He becomes more sly and circumspect in his zeal to outdo and even to destroy Abel. Although he is considered a cold man, Joaquín despises himself for his continual malice and actually fights off some temptations to harm Abel. After Abel and Helena are married and are expecting a child, he refuses to attend Helena in childbirth, lest he strangle the child at birth. He marries a tender and compassionate woman. When his wife has a baby girl, he hopes that he can find salvation through the love of a child. He even becomes fond of Abel’s son, who wants to become a doctor, not a painter like his father. Although Joaquín takes Abel’s son, Abelin, into his household as an apprentice, originally with the malicious goal of displacing Abel as parent, he grows to love the boy and becomes a good mentor, teaching him his healing arts. Neither the love of his patient wife nor the devotion of the young people, however, can root out the ancient malice. When Abel becomes enthralled with Joaquín’s grandson, born to Abelin and Joaquín’s daughter, the old jealousy arises. In an argument, Joaquín reaches for Abel’s throat, but Abel dies of a heart attack on the spot. The wretched Joaquín dies soon afterward, mourning that he had killed Abel and that he had never loved anyone.

Abel Sánchez

Abel Sánchez (ah-BEHL SAHN-chehs), a famous painter. Although he is devoid of malice and envy, Abel is hardly a candidate for sainthood. His character is extraordinarily flat, lacking any depth of reflection, sorrow, or passion. He is egotistical and self-serving, though not offensively so. He sometimes disagrees with Joaquín regarding the nature of art. He paints the surface of things and insists that a man is no different on the inside from what he appears to be on the outside. That is one reason that Joaquín and even young Abelin are dissatisfied with his art, even though he is very skillful in producing surface effects. Only Abelin has suffered from his father’s lack of warmth. Joaquín is probably correct that Abel does not want his son to follow in his footsteps as a painter, because that might dilute or even displace the father’s fame. Joaquín ardently seeks truth as the highest good; Abel pursues art and beauty rather dispassionately. His marriage to Helena is thus very appropriate, though he is unfaithful to her when other beautiful women are available.

Helena Sánchez

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Helena Sánchez (eh-LEH-nah), Abel’s wife. Abel met his match in Helena, a woman who seems to be all surface. She became enamored of Abel mostly because his portrait made her a famous beauty. She, too, seems lacking in malice or ulterior motives. Although well aware of Joaquín’s passion for her, she did not lead him on or promise him any favors. She is sometimes called a peacock or a “professional beauty.” She seems to have no impact on her son, nor does she appear to suffer from Abel’s infidelities.

Antonia Monegro

Antonia Monegro, Joaquín’s wife. She personifies motherliness, tenderness, and compassion. She is drawn to Joaquín because of the sickness of his soul. A religious person, she prays for his salvation and tries to bring him back into the light through the power of unselfish love. Joaquín recognizes and seems at times to respond to her devotion. He repudiates his old infatuation with Helena, realizing the real superiority of Antonia. He welcomes the daughter she gives him as a new opportunity to learn love instead of hate. Even his satisfaction with his daughter, however, is tainted with the desire to keep pace with Abel, who had sired a son. Ultimately, the long-suffering Antonia receives a final emotional wound from the remorseful Joaquín when, on his deathbed, her husband mourns that he never loved her.

Abelin Sánchez

Abelin Sánchez (ah-beh-LEEN), Abel’s son, who idealizes Joaquín for his devotion to the science of healing. Although Joaquín always preferred pure scientific research to actually helping people, he pursued the practice of medicine as more lucrative. The idealistic Abelin, who offers to organize and publish Joaquín’s many recorded observations and brilliant insights about his patients, ensures that Joaquín’s talent will have a benevolent effect. His work feeds Joaquín’s neurotic desire for a fame to rival Abel’s.

Joaquína Monegro Sánchez

Joaquína Monegro Sánchez (wah-KEEN-ah), Joaquín’s daughter, who inherits her mother’s temperament and her desire to win salvation for her tortured father. When she desires to become a nun and spend her life in prayer for that very reason, Joaquín hastily redirects her energies, begging her to marry Abelin and thus heal the rift between the two families.

Joaquiníto Sánchez

Joaquiníto Sánchez (wah-keen-EE-toh), the grandchild. His name was chosen not by anyone in the Monegro family but by Abel, the father-in-law, who becomes a regular visitor at the physician’s house. The aging Abel lavishes on his grandson the affection he never accorded to his own son. The child responds to the endless drawings that Abel makes for him and soon loves Abel much more than he does his more somber grandfather. When the elder Joaquín is about to die, he has the child brought to his bedside and begs his forgiveness. The child gives it readily enough, though he understands nothing about the dying man’s distress.

The Characters

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The character of Joaquin dominates the book. All others, even Abel,who gives the work its title, exist only to serve as reflections of or counters to him. Nevertheless, Joaquin is less a realistic character than an embodiment of his own envy and hatred. His monomania, which transforms him into a flat, representative character, is what makes the book into the fable that it is. It is less true to say that Joaquin is mad than to say that he is a symbolic embodiment of the madness of hatred. Even on his deathbed, he asks what has made him so envious, but there is no way to account for what has made him that way, any more than there is to account for the envy and hatred of John Milton’s Satan or William Shakespeare’s Iago. It is the mystery of Original Sin that Unamuno wishes to personify in Joaquin. Abel Sanchez is not a psychological study of an understandable or curable psychic disease, but a symbolic fable about man’s basic disease of hatred. Philosophy, not psychology, is necessary to understand the book.

Because the story is patterned after the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the characters are controlled by the role which they play in the narrative. Abel is the object of Joaquin’s hatred and little else. His being an artist is meant to emphasize the gap between his intuitive self and Joaquin’s coldly rational scientific self. No further psychological implications of these professional roles are explored in the novel. The children in the work, similarly, are merely ironic reflections of their respective fathers. Abel’s son becomes drawn to Joaquin and his medical profession, while Joaquin’s daughter becomes the sensitive and intuitive one concerned for her father’s soul. The wives are also only slightly drawn. Helena is little more than a stimulus for Joaquin’s envy, while Antonia merely plays the role of possible salvation for her husband.

Thesis, not character, is the center of interest in this work, for although he probes a psychological state, Unamuno is primarily interested in exploring a philosophical mystery—the mystery of hatred itself. Consequently, the novel is less realistic than it is allegorical; the characters represent unitary states rather than complex psychological personalities.


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Barcia, Jose Rubia, and M.A. Zeitlin, eds. Unamuno: Creator and Creation, 1967.

Marias, Julian. Miguel de Unamuno, 1966.

Mora, Jose Ferrater. Unamuno: A Philosophy of Tragedy, 1962.

Valdes, Mario J. Death in the Literature of Unamuno, 1966.

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