In this work, Fuentes presents an extended character study of Jaime Ceballos, an adolescent attempting to rebel against the hypocritical society in which his family lives. In the long run, he accepts his fate as a bourgeois and conforms to the wishes of his family.
The setting of the novel is Guanajuato, Mexico, a provincial city in which every citizen is “a practiced, talented, certified hypocrite.” Jaime’s family lives in the social mainstream of this city of “pure compromise,” where appearance and conformity govern the actions of all good people. Soon after Jaime’s birth, his father, Rodolfo Ceballos, is relegated to a secondary position in the family household. The house is now run by Jaime’s aunt, Asunción Ceballos de Balcárcel, and her husband, Jorge Balcárcel, who have recently returned from England, where they had sought haven from the perils of the Mexican Revolution. Jaime’s mother, Adelina López de Ceballos, has been banished by Asunción, who considered her brother’s wife socially inferior, unfit to bear the Ceballos name. Also important in Asunción’s decision to remove Adelina is Asunción’s sterile husband’s inability to provide her with a child of her own. With Adelina gone and Rodolfo supplanted as head of the family, Asunción and Jorge see the young boy as “moral raw material.”
Though Jaime is reared to be a dutiful child in the calm and ordered household, he feels lonely and isolated. He finds solace in reading and religion, at one point even wanting to become a priest. When this idea is quickly snuffed out by his uncle, Jaime’s withdrawal into himself is assured. He turns to masturbation. Profoundly dissatisfied with the world that surrounds him, and wishing to commune with Christ, whom he believes will not abandon him, he masturbates at the feet of the bloodstained image of the Savior...
(The entire section is 761 words.)