The Family of Pascual Duarte

by Camilo José Cela

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Family of Pascual Duarte is a novel about a seemingly ordinary man of rural Spain in the early twentieth century. It purports to be the confessions of Pascual written over a period of time after he has committed a series of crimes, with the story culminating in his own mother's death.

The story is told in stages in which the character's progressive descent into deeper crimes is narrated. Pascual informs us at the start that he is from a village in the province of Badajoz, not far from the Portuguese border. His parents, especially the father, are abusive to him as he is growing up. His younger brother Mario dies from conditions of abuse and neglect, and his sister Rosario becomes a sex worker. All of this is told in a matter-of-fact way that partly indicates rural poverty is such that people in this milieu do not expect much good to come out of life.

Pascual marries a woman named Lola, but she miscarries their first child after being thrown from a horse. He then savagely kills the horse with his knife. Pascual's cruelty thus begins with his treatment of animals; at another point he shoots his dog because he doesn't like the way the dog is looking at him. Another child dies at only eleven months. Pascual is unable to bear the presence of his wife and mother, abandons them for a long period of time, then returns to find his wife is pregnant by the man who had been his sister's procurer called Stretch. Pascual kills him, is sent to prison, but his worst crime and final undoing occur after his early release from jail.

In summary, one has to ask what has motivated Pascual to commit these actions, and what does his story tell us about human nature? Or, is it a random picture of a life gone wrong?

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