The Family of Pascual Duarte Summary
by Camilo José Cela

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The Family of Pascual Duarte Summary

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.

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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?

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sentenced to death, Pascual Duarte decides to write a history of his life to serve as a warning to others, or so he implies. Pascual was born to a poor Extremaduran peasant family and raised in an atmosphere of hate and resentment. Both parents were abusive drunkards, and his younger brother Mario was mentally disabled, unable even to walk. The only saving grace of the family was Rosario, his sister, but she left home to better her situation by becoming a prostitute. She returned home once, ill with fever, but left as soon as she was well. Fifteen years after Rosario, Mario was born. Two days before his birth, Pascual’s father, Esteban, was bitten by a rabid dog. The family, afraid of being attacked, locked Esteban in an armoire, where he died on the day of Mario’s birth, screaming, driven mad by the disease.

Mario, scorned by everyone except Rosario, crawled and lived on the floor with the pigs and dogs. One day, the pigs ate his ears, and, from then on, it was hard for the family even to look at him. Generally unresponsive, Mario would go into shrieking fits at the sight of pigs. During one of these episodes, Don Rafael, who may have been the boy’s father, kicked the child into unconsciousness, blood gushing from the boy’s ear cavity. Pascual’s mother laughed, but although Pascual, fearing to be called soft, also did nothing, from that day forward, his active hatred of his mother grew. Shortly afterward, Mario was found drowned in a vat of oil, perhaps murdered by Rafael.

Pascual fell in love with, and raped, Lola. On discovering that she was pregnant, he married her. On their wedding day, their horse injured an old woman, a bad omen that presaged Lola’s fall from that same horse on the day they returned from their honeymoon. The fall caused a miscarriage. Pascual was not with her. He was celebrating with friends in a bar, on a drinking spree that ended in Pascual’s seriously wounding a friend who taunted him.

Pascual was always given to violence. When he learned of his wife’s miscarriage, he blamed the horse and stabbed the animal to death. One day, while sitting in his favorite spot with his only friend, his dog, nearby, he seemed to read reproach in the animal’s eyes and repeatedly shot the dog to rid himself of that look....

(The entire section is 1,111 words.)