Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 659
Fray Lázaro (LAH-sah-roh), a novice in a Franciscan order in rural Chile. His name in the outside world was Mario. He chose to enter a Franciscan monastery after he was rejected by his girlfriend, Gracia. Although he has spent seven years at the monastery, he hesitates to take life vows as a friar because he worries that his vocation may not be authentic. He believes that he is wasting his youth and his potential (he enjoys writing), and the religious life is not giving him strong personal satisfaction. His daily routine of teaching and work in the monastery’s fields is boring and unrewarding. When he meets María Mercedes, Gracia’s younger sister, he finds relief from the tedium of his life. Every day, he feels more eager to see her. Fray Lázaro begins to suffer a severe religious crisis when he realizes that he is in love with the innocent woman. Although he struggles against physical attraction to María Mercedes, he recognizes sexual desire in his love for her. His internal debate is interrupted by Fray Rufino’s attempt to rape María Mercedes. Fray Lázaro assumes all guilt for the violent act, and the order transfers him to another monastery.
Fray Rufino (rew-FEE-noh), a Franciscan friar, old and feeble. Fray Rufino’s reputation as a saint has spread throughout the town, causing people to seek his company and counsel. His miracles include his ability to communicate with animals, his power to cure dying animals, and his restoration of the sight of a blind woman. In order to maintain humility, Fray Rufino takes on a heavy work load, adding to his own chores at the monastery the most menial tasks of his fellow friars. He also punishes his body by flagellation and by other physical ordeals, such as crawling on the stone floors of the church while carrying a heavy wooden cross. During a conversation with Fray Lázaro, Fray Rufino confesses that he is visited by the ghost of a former Franciscan monk. The apparition, Fray Rufino claims, reminds him of his human imperfections and of the animal desires that control his behavior. In a neurotic crisis, Fray Rufino attempts sexual abuse of María Mercedes, who is at the monastery seeking his advice. Fray Rufino blames the apparition of the Franciscan monk for this terrible action, claiming that it was the ghost’s idea, not his.
María Mercedes, a young woman living in the small town near the Franciscan monastery. Upon moving to the town and finding out that Fray Lázaro, an old boyfriend of her sister, is a novice in the Franciscan monastery, María Mercedes starts visiting him. She remembers Mario as a man full of life, and she is truly interested in knowing the reasons he chose a religious life. María Mercedes’ innocent questions provoke a spiritual crisis in Fray Lázaro. Eventually, María Mercedes falls in love with him. Desperate when her family forbids her visits to the monastery, María Mercedes asks Fray Lázaro to arrange an appointment for her to ask Fray Rufino’s advice. It is during that visit that Fray Rufino sexually attacks María Mercedes. Although the young woman tells her family that the attacker is Fray Rufino, they are convinced by the religious administrators that Fray Lázaro is responsible for the assault.
Gracia, a married woman, María Mercedes’ older sister. After rejecting young Mario’s romantic approaches, Gracia married a musician with an established local reputation. She attempts to stop María Mercedes from seeing Fray Lázaro, and it probably is she who starts the rumors of romance between them.
The Provincial, the superior who directs the monastery. He protects the monastery’s reputation by forcing Fray Lázaro to accept the blame for Fray Rufino’s attack on María Mercedes.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 204
Brown, James. “El hermano asno: When the Unreliable Narrator Meets the Unreliable Reader.” Hispania 71, no. 4 (December, 1988): 798-805. In-depth study of the various modern literary techniques displayed in the novel. Stresses the relationship between the reader and the novel’s narrator. Discusses the use of irony in the plot.
Foster, David William, and Virginia Ramos Foster. “Barrios, Eduardo.” In Modern Latin American Literature, edited by David William Foster and Virginia Ramos Foster. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. A survey study of Barrios’ work. Provides excerpts of critical studies by various critics. An excellent starting point to Barrios’ works.
Souza, Raymond. “Indeterminacy of Meaning in El hermano asno.” Chasqui 13, nos. 2/3 (Febrero, Mayo, 1984): 26-32. An in-depth analysis of Barrios’ literary craft and the treatment of rape as a literary motif. Focuses on women’s issues.
Walker, John. Gálvez, Barrios, and the Metaphysical Malaise. Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures 36, no. 4 (Winter, 1982/1983): 352-358. Comparative study of Barrios and novelist Manuel Gálvez; both authors were interested in metaphysical subjects. Stresses their interest in metaphysical issues as ways to improve contemporary society.
Walker, John. Metaphysics and Aesthetics in the Works of Eduardo Barrios. London: Tamesis, 1983. Studies the relationship between Barrios’ novel and his strong interest in metaphysics.