Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566

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The most pervasive theme of the text of La Regenta, the interpenetration of life and literature in the society of Vetusta, is evident in Alvaro’s cynical self-identification with the Don Juan figure and in Victor’s immersion in the Golden Age dramas. A significant part of the novel is devoted to a portrayal of the minor characters who gather in the public meeting places and spend much of their time discussing the literary works that they have read. Consciously or unconsciously, they form concepts of themselves in relationship to the literary creations. Saturno Bermudez, for example, combats his innate shyness by idealizing himself as a romantic hero platonically enamored of married women.

The interplay of life and literature is most evident in the scene in which Ana and Alvaro sit together watching a performance of the Romantic drama Don Juan Tenorio. As the play’s action unfolds, paralleling to a large extent the events taking place in the reality of Vetusta, Ana identifies with the tragic protagonist of the play, Ines, while Alvaro concentrates on finding the right moment to touch Ana’s leg as the first step in seducing her.

The different perspectives of Ana and Alvaro on the action of the play, her romantic idealization of her predicament and Alvaro’s pragmatic opportunism, are related to the theme of power that is developed throughout the text. Much of Ana’s conflict is a result of the disadvantaged position of women with respect to a society that allows men much more freedom to satisfy their needs and still remain within the bounds of social acceptance. It is very clear in the novel that Ana is a typical nineteenth century woman in that she is dependent financially and emotionally on men. Her choices are all male oriented: a continuation of her barren marriage to Victor, an affair with Alvaro, or a celibate, devout subjugation to the influence of Fermin. The theme of power is further developed in the treatment of Fermin’s conflict. His attempt to save Ana from her impending doom, though rooted in his own sexual feelings for her, is primarily a struggle to maintain and increase his influence in Vetusta and in the Church. When Ana falls, Fermin’s vengeance is not only because of his jealous rage but also because of the public humiliation of his failure to preserve her devotion to the moral values of the Church.

The themes of power and the interpenetration of life and literature are part of the larger theme of the novel, the search for individual freedom within the restrictions of society. Alas portrays Vetusta as a social world made up of mediocre, hypocritical individuals trapped in their own boredom, escaping their environment by idealizing their existence according to the fictional world that they find in literature. The two characters in the novel who have the potential of rising above the mediocrity, Ana and Fermin, are defeated by their emotional responses to their predicament. Ana succumbs to Alvaro’s advances because she sees the adulterous relationship as the triumph of love over the restrictiveness of a situation that she cannot change. Fermin compromises his aspirations to power by allowing his feelings of love for Ana to interfere with his duty as her confessor. Because his commitment to his religious vocation is primarily a quest for power, he becomes the instigator of Ana’s ultimate destruction.

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