Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Joaquín Monegro

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...

(The entire section is 1075 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.