Camilo José Cela Analysis

Start Your Free Trial

Camilo José Cela Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Download Camilo José Cela Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Camilo José Cela had an inimitable way with language, a personal style that is instantly recognizable after minimal acquaintance, thanks to his characteristic handling of the estribillo (tag line), alliterative and rhythmic prose, parallelistic constructions, grotesque caricatures with moments of tenderness, unabashed lyricism with ever-present irony, and the incorporation of popular sayings or proverbs, vulgarities, and obscenities in the context of academically correct and proper passages. His art more closely approaches the painter’s than the dramatist’s, and it is far removed from the adventure novel.

With the exception perhaps of The Family of Pascual Duarte, Cela’s novels have little action and a preponderance of description and dialogue. As a painter with words, one of whose favorite subjects is language itself, unflaggingly aware of its trivializations and absurdities yet fascinated with nuances, examining and playing with words, Cela produced ironic conversations, incidents, and scenes that often could very well stand alone. This characteristic, usually one of his virtues as a writer, becomes at times a vice, for he tends to repeat himself and also to produce novels in which there is little if any character development and often no sustained or sequential action—no plot in the traditional sense. The reader whose interest in a piece of fiction is proportional to “what happens” may find Cela’s short stories more rewarding than his novels.

Because it inspired many imitations, Cela’s first novel, The Family of Pascual Duarte, is considered the prototype of a novelistic movement called tremendismo, an allusion to its “tremendous” impact upon the reader’s sensibilities. Tremendismo—a modified naturalism that lacks the scientific pretensions of the French movement, and to which expressionistic ingredients were added—was characterized by depiction of crimes of sometimes shocking violence, a wide range of mental and sexual aberrations, and antiheroic figures. Frequently repulsive, deviant, and nauseating acts, as well as an accumulation of ugly, malformed, and repugnant characters, were portrayed against a backdrop of poverty and social problems. To this naturalistic setting were added expressionistic techniques including stylized distortion and the use of caricature and dehumanization (reduction of characters, or acts, or both, to animalistic levels). Tremendismo had links with postwar existentialism in the absurdity of the world portrayed, the concern with problems of guilt and authenticity, and the radical solitariness and uncommunicative nature of its characters. In part, the movement was inspired by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, providing an outlet for outrage when overt protest was impossible.

Not all of Cela’s early novels fit this class: The accumulation of violent and sadistic or irrational crimes that are found in the prototypical first novel disappeared in its successor, Rest Home, which is set in a tuberculosis sanatorium, an environment the author had occasion to know well. Rest Home uses the diary form, excerpts from the writings of several anonymous patients. The sense of alienation and despair that results from helplessness pervades this novel as the victims battle not only their disease but also the indifference of the world at large and the callousness or cruelty of medical personnel; this insensitivity to death, humanity’s cruelty to others, is the “tremendous” element in this otherwise quiet, hopeless, almost paralytic novel. In The Hive, it is the overall tone or atmosphere (there is only one crime, an unsolved murder), an atmosphere of defeatism, cynicism, and sordid materialism, that is characteristic of tremendismo. Still, although critics continue to talk of tremendismo in The Hive, it is so modified and attenuated that there is a legitimate question as to whether the world portrayed in the novel can rightly be so described.

The Family of Pascual Duarte

Pascual Duarte, theprotagonist and...

(The entire section is 4,843 words.)