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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567

Perhaps the most overarching theme that emerges in Doña Perfecta is concerned with the eternal conflict between tradition and modernity. The tension between these two elements is specifically highlighted in the relationship between Doña Perfecta and Pepe Rey. Perfecta is a family-oriented woman who loves her daughter dearly and is willing to do anything necessary to ensure her happiness and the continued security of her home. Don Inocencio and the Catholic church in Orbajosa exerts tremendous influence over her, causing Perfecta to constantly adjust and readjust her values and sense of moral grounding. Although the author portrays her as a cunning and hypocritical woman, much of the animosity she gradually develops toward Pepe stems from her devotion to her daughter’s well-being, which Perfecta believes can only be guaranteed through strict education, a proper, religious upbringing, and adherence to traditional family mores and social contacts.

Pepe, on the other hand, represents youthful exuberance and the spirit of non-conformity. In his many conversations with Orbajosa’s villagers, Don Inocencio, and Perfecta, Pepe reveals that he is unwilling to succumb to superstition, be convinced by faith, or recognize the benefits of Orbajosa’s insular worldview. In chapter 8, Rosario even expresses to Pepe why his unorthodox nature does not suit him to life in Orbajosa:

“What I think," said Rosario, looking at him with eyes full of affection, "is that you will not find yourself at home among us.”

You come from a different place, from another world, where the people are very clever, and very learned, and have refined manners, and a witty way of talking, and an air—perhaps I am not making myself clear. I mean that you are accustomed to live among people of refinement; you know a great deal. Here there is not what you need; here the people are not learned or very polished. Everything is plain, Pepe. I imagine you will be bored, terribly bored, and that in the end you will have to go away.

It is Pepe’s adventurousness, his acclimation to a world of books, letters, debate, and sharp thinking, which makes him a poor complement for Orbajosa’s simplicity. This contention, between liberal, progressive thinking and parochial traditionalism, is the driving force behind essentially all of the conflicts that subsequently arise in the book. Pepe loses favor in Perfecta’s eyes because of the disrespect he shows to the church, his dismissal of Orbajosa’s charm, and his unusual city mannerisms and thoughts.

Doña Perfecta also plays on the theme of love, its indomitableness, and love’s ability to render a character resolute in their decisions, even if it comes at great personal risk. Perfecta’s love for her daughter convinces her that Pepe is no good match for her, and drives her to scheme to have Pepe thrown out of the city. Despite his knowledge of an ongoing plot against his life, Pepe’s love for Rosario compels him to remain in Orbajosa until he can convince the girl to flee the city with him, ultimately resulting in his own death. Finally, Rosario’s affection for Pepe causes her to eschew the timidity that her strict family life had instilled in her and abscond with Pepe, only to go mad after he is killed. Love serves as a powerful, generative force that can enable characters to break beyond their inner reservations and take drastic action.

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