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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1777

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First published: La barraca, 1898 (English translation, 1917)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Locale: The country near Valencia, Spain

Principal Characters:

Batiste Borrull, a tenant farmer

The Roseta, his daughter

Bishop, Batiste’s youngest son, a little boy

Pimento, the bully of the district

The Story:

Batiste Borrull brought his family to a district near Valencia to take up a small truck farm that had lain idle for more than ten years. None of the Borrulls knew that other farmers in the district had vowed that the owners of the farm should never reap any profit from its rich soil. When Batiste and his family arrived, they knew only that the stares and lack of greeting meant that they were not welcome.

The former tenant of the farm had been a very meek old man named Barret, a farmer who would do anything to keep his land, which meant more to him than did his family. The owner of the farm, Don Salvador, lived in the nearby city of Valencia. He took advantage of Barret’s meekness and his love of the land and raised the rent year after year, always knowing that the old farmer would somehow find a way to get the money. Charging a large amount of interest, he even lent Barret money to buy a horse when the old one died of overwork. At last, the rent for the rich acres exceeded the income from the crops; Barret and his family sold all of their bits of finery and used up all of their savings to pay the rent, but such actions only postponed their inevitable ruin. At last, the time came when they could not pay the rent.

When that fateful day arrived, Barret was forcibly put off his farm by officers of the law. The old man went berserk that night and crept off into the canebrakes. The next day, he found Don Salvador alone on the road and killed him with a scythe. He also destroyed all the crops so that the heirs of Don Salvador would not gain anything by his labors. Old Barret was imprisoned for his deed, and his daughters became prostitutes in Valencia. The neighbors collectively vowed that no one should farm the place and thus make it profitable for the heirs of the hateful Don Salvador. Several people before Batiste Borrull had come to take over the place, but the farmers had rapidly driven off each newcomer.

Batiste and his family stayed on the farm and worked as busily as ants for many days. While they were on their own land, not even Pimento, the neighborhood bully, dared bother them, for the home was sacred to those simple peasants. In addition, Batiste was a very large and strong man. When he and his family ended their initial labors, the house was repaired and half of the land was under cultivation. Once again, the place looked prosperous, even more so than the fields around it. To the neighbors’ original prejudice was added envy.

Roseta, Batiste’s daughter, went to work in the silk mills of Valencia, returning to her home each night from the city. Many of the girls from the district worked in the factory, and Roseta quickly learned that she was not wanted in their company any more than her family was wanted in the district.

The three little boys of Batiste fared no better in school. The other boys picked on them and thrashed them at every opportunity, even though the young Borrulls gave no offense to the others.

Disaster almost overtook the family when Batiste was falsely accused before the water tribunal of taking water from the irrigation ditch when it was not his turn. He was fined heavily for that offense and was ordered by the court not to use any water for some time. The person behind the accusation was Pimento, the village bully. Batiste, however, refused to allow his crops and his family to be ruined. That same night, he took his shotgun and went to the water gates. Opening the gates, he took the water his land needed. He looked so fierce that no one disturbed him nor did anyone tell the authorities what he had done.

Although humiliated in little ways and insulted at every turn, the family prospered. They even felt that they were beginning to make some decent impression upon the farmers who hated them. One day, however, the schoolboys beat the smallest of Batiste’s sons and threw him into a water-filled ditch. The boy, whom the family called the Bishop because of his inoffensive manners and quiet attitude, became ill from exposure and died after a lingering illness. The entire district finally took pity on the family, the neighbors feeling that they were somewhat to blame for the little fellow’s death. Everyone attended the funeral, even though a few days before several of the men had wounded Batiste’s horse as it stood in the fields.

For several weeks after the Bishop’s death and burial, Batiste’s family seemed to fit into the community life; even the bully Pimento was pleasant to them. The harvest was ready, and Batiste’s acres yielded him a fine return for the labor and love he had bestowed upon them. The barn was filled with wheat and vegetables to carry the family through the coming seasons. During the festival days that followed, however, the people, envious of the fine harvest the newcomers had raised, began to turn against the Borrulls again.

During the festival, Pimento and two fellow rascals held a contest in the local inn to see who could sit and play cards the longest while drinking brandy. The contest continued for more than two days. Batiste, overwhelmed by curiosity and thinking he had only friends in the district, went to the inn to watch. As the contest drew to a close, with Pimento the winner, the bully saw Batiste standing among the spectators. Utterly drunk, the bully turned upon Batiste and ordered him to leave the inn and the district immediately. Batiste, knowing the matter had to be settled sooner or later, raised a heavy stool and attacked the bully. So fiercely did he swing the stool that no one bothered him. From that day on, Batiste carried his shotgun wherever he went.

One evening, while he was returning to his home, he felt that he was being followed. As he entered a dark lane, someone shot him in the shoulder. Wounded only slightly, Batiste pursued his attacker and saw that the man was Pimento. He followed the bully and finally wounded him seriously. Batiste, suffering from his wound, then crawled back to his cabin. No one bothered the family for several days, although the tumult a few days later told them that Pimento had died and was being buried in the local manner.

On the night following Pimento’s funeral, Batiste could not sleep well. He had weird dreams, in which it seemed that Pimento was victorious over him. At last, he awoke to find the cabin in flames. He and his family dashed outside, saving almost nothing but their own skins. They sat helplessly and alone by the side of the road and watched their belongings and their harvest go up in flames. Knowing that their neighbors had set the blaze, the Borrulls realized that they would be forced to leave at last, unless they wished to court death. They were surrounded by an insurmountable, undying hatred.

Critical Evaluation:

Although this novel presents a vivid and realistic picture of life in one corner of Spain, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez did not want himself to be cataloged as a regional novelist. Proud of his country and its efforts, he felt that he, his work, and his countrymen in general were often misunderstood, particularly by Americans. Like many other Spanish authors, also, he could not understand why Americans knew so little about Spain and its culture, and so much of his early fiction dealt with his native section of Spain. Even so, he did not want to be thought of as associated with any one district or as the chronicler of the manners of any one region. Many of his novels achieved greater popularity, but most critics believe that THE CABIN was his major contribution to the art of the novel.

As is obvious in THE CABIN, Blasco Ibáñez had both superficial and deep qualities as a novelist. His superficial qualities can be seen in the THE CABIN’s occasionally slovenly style, its spotty characterization, and attendant minor defects. The novel’s virtues are numerous, however, and they stem from Blasco Ibáñez’s storytelling skill, his strong descriptive ability and knack for selecting topics that are perennially fresh and timely. Still magnetic today are the novel’s basic themes of the land, human malice, and the heroic tenacity of Batiste, who never surrendered. Even THE CABIN’s handling of the key rural problem of water rights represents one of the infrequent treatments of this topic in world literature, although water rights have been historically a crucial factor for ranchers throughout the world, including in the American West.

THE CABIN has a firm structure. Artistically brilliant, its clear plot is not cluttered with secondary plots, and it gives one of the best pictures of peasant life in any language. Some of the characterizations live with the reader (for example, Batiste), and the peasant is portrayed as a product of the land. In keeping with Blasco Ibáñez’s belief that the novelist should observe things closely and clearly, both the pathos and the harsher emotions of the Valencian peasant are drawn, especially his stubbornness and durability. Readers also see the whitewashed houses, green fields, and blue coastline of the area so clearly that the author’s use of color and sheen has been compared to the canvases of Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), the noted Valencian painter and friend of Blasco Ibáñez.

Shortly before his death, Blasco Ibáñez advised those youths who were excessively impatient for literary glory to reflect on the history of THE CABIN and its almost accidental publication. He also commented that despite his apparent haste in writing, he composed novels in his mind slowly, over a long period of time, before writing them down at a furious pace. All novels, he added, are actually something seen through an individual temperament, or comparable to a mirror passing down a road. The best critic of the true literary worth of a novel, he insisted, is the public, not other novelists or literati.