Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 934
Matías Alvear is transferred by his government employer from Málaga, where his children were born, to Gerona. Though Matías is indifferent to religion, his wife Carmen is very devout and gives her children a strong religious upbringing. Ignacio enters the seminary when he is ten but after a few years decides that he does not want to be a priest. He goes to work in a bank while going to high school at night. In the meantime, César enters another seminary when he is old enough. During this period, Spain becomes a republic in 1931.
After being reproached by Ignacio for being indifferent to the poor, César learns how to be a barber, shaving and cutting the hair of the disabled and the poor. He teaches the slum children reading and arithmetic, but he is forbidden by the railroad workers to teach them the catechism. Ignacio begins studying with David Pol and his wife Olga, a very modern couple. His anarchist cousin José visits from Madrid and gets involved in heckling at conservative political meetings. José and Ignacio are involved in a riot disrupting a dance called to distract attention from a strike.
Ignacio is upset after visiting the insane asylum and finding that the inmates are fed spoiled food. He is expelled from an anarchists’ meeting when he objects to destroying the printing press, housed in the local orphanage, on which the conservative paper is printed and which provides the orphanage with much of its income. Doña Amparo, wife of the policeman Julio García, seduces Ignacio.
The anarchists destroy the orphanage’s print shop and are arrested, but they are released since no one can prove their guilt. Ignacio passes his examinations and, while vacationing at the seashore with his family, meets Ana María. She is of a higher social class (her father is a businessman) but tired of the señoritos (little gentlemen) and finds Ignacio refreshing. After the summer visit, Ignacio does not answer her letters but instead has an affair with the prostitute Candela, from whom he contracts a venereal disease. After his recovery he reforms, makes a good confession, and is forgiven by his family.
Catalonia declares autonomy from the Spanish central government. A general strike in Gerona called to support this autonomy is countered with martial law. Soldiers storm a meeting of autonomy supporters, and the major is shot by the deputy Santeló. Those at the meeting are imprisoned, among them David, Olga, and Julio García. Mosén Alberto ministers to those imprisoned but most reject his efforts. While the Costa brothers are in jail, their sister Laura institutes reforms in their industries, such as a clinic and a child-care center, under the guidance of Mosén Francisco. Major Martínez de Soria tries those imprisoned and tells Julio that he will be shot if the real culprit is not disclosed. Information from Barcelona implicates Santeló, who is executed. The other prisoners are released, but Julio loses his post as police chief.
Mateo Santos organizes a cell of the Fascist Falange, while Cosme Vila quits his job at the bank to open Communist Party headquarters. Ignacio falls in love with Marta Martínez de Soria, whose brother joins the Falange and is killed in Valladolid. The Popular Front, a merger of all leftist parties, wins a violence-plagued election. Julio returns as chief of police, while David and Olga become commissioners of education and forbid the clergy and nuns to teach while wearing religious habits. The anarchists call a general strike; when it is broken, they set off bombs. To discredit them, the Communists bomb the Diocesan Museum, killing one of Mosén Alberto’s maids. At a meeting in the Albéniz theater, the Communists state their demands, including a Workers’ Militia and Julio being replaced. The Socialists and liberals demur. After Julio rejects most of the Communist demands, the Communists proclaim a general strike, burn a Christian Brothers church and school, and lynch the sexton. Mateo and his Falangist comrades beat up Dr. Relken, a German archaeologist whom they suspect of being a spy, and go into hiding.
The general strike spreads. The Communists get food for the strikers from the tenant farmers, who withhold the share due their landlords, but give the food only to Party members. The Workers’ Militia begins to drill but is sent home by the police (headed by Julio). Cosme Vila is arrested but rescued by the truckers bringing food for the strikers. Gerona becomes polarized between Left and Right. The assassination of the Rightist leader José Calvo Sotelo triggers a civil war in Spain that began with a military insurrection in Africa. Major Martínez de Soria and the Falange occupy Gerona and release the landowners who were imprisoned for owning firearms. When the military in Barcelona is defeated and surrenders, those in Gerona follow orders and yield. Julio and the Loyalist officers arrest Major Martínez while the Communists and Anarchists storm the barracks and get arms. Since Julio will not let them murder the officers who surrender, the militia burns churches, commandeers cars and garages, and arrests suspects.
A revolutionary committee organizes a series of executions. The Alvear family is guarded by a militiaman to whom Ignacio once gave blood, but they are unable to save César, who returns from Collell and is arrested while trying to protect communion wafers from desecration. He and several others are executed; his last view is that of Mosén Francisco, who disguises himself as a militiaman and gives those executed the last rites.