The Hive Summary
Camilo José Cela’s 1950 novel is set in Spain in the early years of the Franco regime, when the country is mired in poverty just after the Civil War. Martín Marco, the protagonist, is a disillusioned, dissipated freelance writer who cannot earn a living because of the general poverty and his past support for the Republicans. Although he has not abandoned his liberal thinking and concern for the class struggle, Martín has largely shelved politics in favor of survival. He lives mostly by frequenting Madrid’s bars and brothels and freeloading off his friends and family, even staying rent-free with his friend Pablo.
The novel follows Martín for a few days as he wanders through the city. Ejected from a cafe one night for not paying his bill, he traverses the city seeking friends who can lend him money and then drinks it away. Among the characters he encounters are his sister, Filo, at whose home he stops to eat; his friend Pablo who is equally obsessed with news; and an old friend La Uruguaya, who is with a client. After having a drink with them, the police stop him in the red light district but find his papers sufficiently in order and so do not detain him. He spends the night in a brothel with a different prostitute/friend.
The next day, Martín’s meanderings resume as he contemplates finding work. In sequence, he runs into two more friends, Ventura and Nat, both of whom lend him money. Planning to buy Nati a gift, he heads for a bookstore but gets delayed having a drink in the café out of which he had been thrown yesterday. There he spends some of the money on drink and loses the rest.
The story picks up several days later, with Martin leaving Pablo’s house and heading for the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave. His friends go looking for him, as they became concerned after finding a newspaper article that he seems to have written and which could put him in trouble with the censors. They are torn about hiding him in Madrid or sending him to what they hope is safety in Barcelona. Martin, who seems oblivious to the threat, plans to look in the newspaper at the employment wanted ads.
One cold December afternoon in 1943, four years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the waiter in Doña Rosa’s café, La Delicia, throws out a pale, feeble, poorly dressed man who is unable to pay his tab. The waiter disobeys Doña Rosa’s orders, however, to beat the man as a lesson for his impudence. The wretch is Martín Marco, a freelance writer down on his luck. After having offered to leave a book in payment, Martín continues on his customary nightly wandering though Madrid. Everyday existence is hardscrabble and bleak for the people of Spain ever since the Fascist dictator, Generalísimo Francisco Franco, assumed power after a bloody three-year conflict that ravaged the country and left its citizenry deeply divided. Stopping before a show window of toilet fittings, Martín reflects on the gross class disparities of his day. He idealistically ponders the unlikely possibility of a socialist utopia. Tired, cold, and hungry, and with his brain in turmoil, Martín purchases a few chestnuts with his remaining pocket money. He proceeds to the apartment of his poor but sympathetic sister, Filo. Since her husband, Roberto González, has yet to arrive, Martín is sure to be able to eat at least one fried egg that she will lovingly prepare for him. The two discuss Martín’s good fortune in arriving while González is still at work, for the brothers-in-law have long disliked each other. Hurrying out to avoid encountering the man he always refers to as “that beast,” Martín meets his friend Paco, and they exchange reading material.
Later that night, Martín bumps into an old acquaintance, La Uruguaya, a prostitute in the company of a free-spending client. He accepts their invitation to have a drink reluctantly, for he finds the woman vaguely repugnant. Subsequently, he continues on his way through Madrid. Passing through one of the...
(The entire section is 1,153 words.)