Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

Using as the background for the action the most uniquely Spanish theme, the bullfight, Blasco Ibanez traces the career of a talented and ambitious young bullfighter, Juan Gallardo, as he overcomes his modest origins and becomes a hero in the ring. Stardom soon comes to this artful and courageous matador. He receives the adulation of many, among them a wealthy and spoiled woman, Dona Sol, niece of an important and aristocratic breeder of bulls. The love affair that develops between the bullfighter and Sol is nothing but a diversion for the young woman.

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The bullfighter's humble birth, and even his profession, deny him from ever being a suitable mate for someone as socially prominent as Dona Sol. Gallardo, however, does not realize that class barriers are not easily removed, and that he is only a brief and insignificant interlude in her life.

The use of the bullfighter for the amusement of the wealthy, without regard for the consequences, is perhaps the most blatant statement that the book makes. This is true of the relationship between Sol and Juan and between the bullfighter and his adoring yet fickle public. Bullfighting, beautifully and painstakingly described in the novel, is also targeted for criticism. It is exposed as barbaric and cruel, and as a form of bloodletting unworthy of a civilized society.

Gallardo's spectacular achievements bring him fame and fortune. He is seduced by both, just as he is seduced by Dona Sol, and in his infatuation he abandons his common sense and clarity of vision. Fame, however, is ephemeral; it lasts only as long as the bullfighter excels. The slightest sign of weakness is enough to turn his fans into a jeering crowd. The only constant elements in the matador's life are the certainty of death and the most positive, the devotion of his long-suffering wife. When Gallardo's world starts to come apart, he is incapable of reclaiming his old self. One's roots should never be severed; they are the only truth in a person's life.

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