Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
Baltasar Espinosa, a medical student in Buenos Aires, is invited by his cousin Daniel to vacation at a ranch in the district of Junin in the final days of March, 1928. Gutre, who is the overseer of the premises, lives there with his son and a girl of questionable paternity. All three are notably primitive in appearance and in their ability to express themselves verbally. In that environment, Baltasar is to learn lessons about life that he has never before suspected.
A few days after arriving, Daniel must leave for the capital, but Baltasar chooses to stay behind with his textbooks. No sooner is Daniel gone than the stifling heat gives way to a cold rain and the river overflows its banks. Many animals are drowned, and when the overseer’s quarters are threatened, Baltasar lodges him and his family in the main house. It is thus that the four come into close contact with one another. They eat together, but because communication is strained, Baltasar reads to them, first from Ricardo Guiraldes’s work Don Segundo Sombra (1926; Don Segundo Sombra: Shadows on the Pampas, 1935) and the document of the Gutre family history, both of which they receive rather unenthusiastically, and later from the Bible, specifically the Gospel of Mark, which conversely sparks an unexplained interest.
In the meantime, Baltasar has become cognizant of certain changes in his own physiognomy and attitude that have taken place during his stay at the ranch. Matters that he would formerly have considered trivial have come to acquire significance. Furthermore, he grows nostalgic for Buenos Aires and his family, from which he feels increasingly separated.
One day, the girl brings to Baltasar an injured lamb that he cures using medicine rather than the spiderwebs she had intended to apply to the wound. Mysteriously, the family thereafter begins to follow Baltasar, both figuratively (they follow his orders) and literally (from room to room). They clean away his crumbs at the table, speak of him with respect, and provide him with coffee. When they ask him to reread the Gospel, he reflects that they have asked him to do so because they are like children who prefer repetition to variation and novelty.
On Tuesday, Baltasar dreams of the Flood, and on Thursday, the girl comes to him and loses her innocence. She says nothing to him nor does she kiss him. For some reason, he knows that he will not relate this episode to anyone in Buenos Aires. The following day, Friday, the father asks questions about Christ that Baltasar answers, albeit with uncertainty. After a final rereading of the Gospel and a sleep interrupted by hammering and vague premonitions, Baltasar is crucified by the three Gutres.