Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Camilo Jose Cela's La Familia de Pascual Duarte has several subtopics that stem from a central, main topic: the inevitability of fate.
Pascual Duarte, a man imprisoned for murders which include that of his own mother, as well as that of his wife's lover, tells his story from behind bars. The theme of the "inevitability of fate" is immediately perceived when we learn that Pascual's life would have never stood a chance for progress or change. His journey only went from bad to worse--he does not get to choose what family he will be born into, he ends up as part of the most toxic family unit imaginable, and one event cycles into the next and his life continues into a non-stop circle of chaos.
The true tragedy of it all is asking ourselves the question: Had Pascual Duarte been born into a different, healthier family, would his fate be different?
Theme- Toxic parenthood:
The reason why this novel is titled The Family of Pascual Duarte instead of The Life of Pascual Duarte has everything to do with the central theme of the story that we've just discussed. This is because his family is directly connected to his tragic fate. Each family member, and extended family members, are tremendously flawed in a big way. Each of them carries karmic chaos on their own. Their actions build Pascual Duarte into the person that he eventually becomes.
The key player in Pascual's tragedy is his mother, an abusive alcoholic who was also unfaithful to her husband.
On the other hand, his father is also abusive, but would only show restraint when commanded by his daughter, Rosario, Pascual's sister. Clearly, the Duarte family roles are crisscrossed, disrespect is rampant, and nothing good can come out of that. Eventually, Rosario leaves the home to become a prostitute. The fates of Duarte and Rosario are therefore the products of toxic parenthood.
Theme: Influence of motherhood
Duarte's life began in chaos and continued in that cycle until Duarte finally went straight to what he felt was the source of all of his tragedies: his mother--namely, her toxic, evil influence in his life. Is his life a product of nature, nurture, or plain karmic chaos? To add insult to tragedy, the death of his mother, by his hand, something that can be seen as a crime against nature, and God , is what sets Duarte "free" from what would be his inherited karma.
Gender based abuse and infidelity:
Arguably, men and women equally abuse one another verbally and psychologically throughout the novel, but Pascual's life is more affected by female-to-male abuse in the form of infidelity. He suffers from it vicariously when his mother openly cheats on his father, and then when his wife eventually does the same to him.
Emptiness in life:
Duarte is not a hero. The only redeeming quality one could possibly see in him is that his life has been horrible. He has literally committed all the sins imaginable, from lust, to gluttony (alcohol), murder, lying and so on. Arguably, he went through life trying to fill the void left by a chaotic parenting. Therefore, this is not the story of a repentant soul. This is a tale about someone who shows how chaos can follow one's life until the end. Pascual tries to figure out how in the world things happen the way that they do. We suspect that getting rid of his mother would have filled that void, but would it really? That is the big question.