Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Family of Pascual Duarte Study Guide

Subscribe Now

This novel, like all literature, can be analyzed in different ways, but a common thread among most readers' interpretations would be that of the randomness of life's events and their destructive effects. The central character, Pascual, is a man whose story is shot through with misfortune and crime. His parents are abusive to him. His younger brother dies basically as a result of neglect, and his sister becomes a sex worker. Pascual himself appears at first as a weak innocent in the midst of this, but his own behavior has a streak of cruelty leading to murder.

One cannot be sure if Cela is presenting Pascual as a figure like Meursault in Camus' The Stranger, a man alienated from the world and its traditional values; or if the novel is a more conventional form of social criticism, showing that the randomly cruel conditions of life in rural Spain are such that Pascual's descent is inevitable. Pascual narrates his story in a matter-of-fact tone, acknowledging the sins and crimes he has committed but telling us, at the very beginning, that "I am not, sir, a bad person." It is possible Pascual is a sociopath, except for the fact that he says he regrets his crimes, and he feels remorse, though if this is genuine, one wonders why he has deliberately and even methodically committed such acts. It is as if an uncontrollable force has urged him on, almost like Macbeth, except that Pascual unlike Macbeth has nothing to gain by killing. Perhaps, then Cela's ultimate theme is that it is simply an unknown quantity of the cosmos that is responsible for criminal behavior.

It's significant that in the novel's postscript we are told that Pascual does not go to the gallows calmly, but first passes out, and then

....he began carrying on so about not wanting to die and its being a terrible thing to do what they were doing to him, that he had to be dragged along and put down on the stool by force....he ended his days spitting and stamping, with no thought for the persons around him, in the most abject and the vilest way a man can die, letting everyone see his fear of death. [p. 166, trans. Anthony Kerrigan]

It's a far cry from the existential calm of Meursault, who on the last page of l'Étranger quietly wishes that at his execution there will be a great crowd who will greet him "with howls of hatred."

Places Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605

Duarte home

Duarte home. Modest house in the village of western Spain’s Torremejía region, where Duarte grows up and twice marries. His home receives a more extensive description than any other location in the novel. His account is both apologetic and nostalgic. Although Duarte portrays his home as generally cramped, unclean, and poorly constructed, he also conveys many positive memories of the warmth and comfort of its kitchen. These conflicting images effectively represent his uncertainty as to whether or not his upbringing is primarily responsible for his subsequent crimes.

The environs of the house are unwholesome. The well is polluted, the stench from the adjacent stable is noxious, and ravines in the vicinity are full of dead animals. The creek that flows past the house is downstream from the estate of a wealthy landowner, and its filthy, odorous water symbolizes the relative social position of the Duartes, as well as the extent to which they see society as caring about their well-being.


*Torremejía (toh-RAY-may-hee-zha). Spanish village located in the province of Badajoz near the border with Portugal. Whereas the Duarte’s water is polluted, the village’s fountain has been dry for years, and communal life is correspondingly desolate. The clock in the town hall’s tower has stopped, the road through the village is barren of traffic, and one of the town’s few social amenities is a raucous tavern in which drunken arguments lead to deadly knife fights. The village’s cemetery is, ironically, one of its liveliest locations. Death is a frequent occurrence in the village, and the funerals of five of Pascual’s family members, as well as his first murder victim, all take place here. The cemetery is also the site of his seduction of his first wife, in a scene that graphically links the physical consummation of desire with the survivors’ need to affirm life in the midst of death.


*Almendralejo (ahl-mehn-drah-LAY-hoh). Town about six miles from Torremejía. Although its lights are visible from the Duarte home, they are to Pascual a symbol of the indifference with which the rest of the world regards him and his kind. As he sees it, the residents of Almendralejo—and by implication Spain as a whole—have turned their backs on the likes of the Duartes, with the latter remaining outsiders looking on enviously at the places where more fulfilling lives can be pursued.


*Merida (meh-REE-dah). City where Pascual and his first wife spend their honeymoon. This is the only joyous episode in the novel, and it is a short but compelling one. The young couple glimpse the possibility of a better life in the spacious atmosphere and pleasant furnishings of their hotel room, which Pascual states has subsequently remained with him like the memory of a faithful friend. This idyll is unfortunately cut short by a misunderstanding with the local police, as society once again makes it clear to the Duartes that fate has something other than happiness in store for them.

*Chinchilla prison

*Chinchilla prison (chihn-CHEE-yah). Institution in which Duarte serves the sentences for his crimes. Although the penitentiary is represented as a gloomy and depressing place, after he is released Pascual finds the outside world just as repressive and prisonlike.


*Madrid. Spanish capital. After receiving an early release from his first term of imprisonment, Pascual spends a year and a half in Madrid attempting to make enough money to pay for his passage overseas. His inability to obtain anything better than menial jobs, and thus barely earn enough to support himself, serves as further evidence of society’s prisonlike character.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 209

Foster, David W. Forms of the Novel in the Work of Camilo José Cela. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1967. Analyzes Cela’s constant tinkering with the narrative structure and intent of his novels and his seeming lack of satisfaction with previous efforts.

Hoyle, Alan. Cela: La familia de Pascual Duarte. London: Grant & Cutler, 1994. One of a series of critical guides to Spanish texts, it is a good first introduction to the work. Written in English with Spanish quotations.

Kirsner, Robert. The Novels and Travels of Camilo José Cela. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. Discusses the narrative techniques used in Cela’s novels and travelogues in which the line between the two genres is often blurred. A good analysis of the treatment of landscape in The Family of Pascual Duarte.

McPheeters, D. W. Camilo José Cela. Boston: Twayne, 1969. The best and easiest introduction to the early work of Cela, with special emphasis on The Family of Pascual Duarte.

Spires, Robert C. Mode of Existence and the Concept of Morality in “La familia de Pascual Duarte.” Ames, Iowa: Orrin Frank, 1968. Analyzes the moral climate of the time as well as that of the novel. Good discussion of how Pascual sees the world and how the world sees him.


Critical Essays