Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1367
Lazarillo’s surname comes from the peculiar circumstance of his birth: His mother happened to stay the night at the mill where his father was employed, and Lazarillo was born on the mill floor just over the river Tormes, after which he was named. He has reached his ninth year when his father is caught taking flour from customers’ sacks. After being soundly punished, the father joins an army that is preparing to move against the Moors. He becomes a mule driver for a gentleman soldier and is killed in action. Lazarillo’s mother opens an eating house near a nobleman’s estate, where she soon makes the acquaintance of Zayde, a black groom. Zayde begins to visit the widow and her son frequently; at first Lazarillo is afraid of the black man, but he quickly learns that Zayde’s visits meant food and firewood. One consequence is a bit displeasing: Lazarillo acquires a small, dark brother to look after.
The nobleman’s steward begins to notice that horseshoes and brushes, as well as other supplies used in the stables, are going missing. When he is asked directly about the thefts, Lazarillo tells all that he knows of Zayde’s peccadillos. In punishment, Zayde is soundly flogged, and boiling fat is poured on his ribs. To avoid further scandal, Lazarillo’s mother sets up a new eating house in a different neighborhood.
When Lazarillo is fairly well grown, his mother apprentices him to a blind man who wants a boy to lead him about. The elderly blind man is shrewd and tough. As he and Lazarillo are leaving the city, they pass by a stone statue of a bull. The blind man tells the boy to put his ear to the statue and listen for a peculiar noise, and when Lazarillo obeys, the old man knocks the boy’s head sharply against the stone, hard enough so that his ears ring for three days. Lazarillo is thus forced to learn a few tricks for himself in order to survive.
Lazarillo notices that when the two of them squat over a fire to cook a meal, the blind man keeps his hand over the mouth of his wine jug. Surreptitiously, Lazarillo bores a tiny hole in the jug so that, lying down, he can let the liquid trickle into his mouth. He then plugs the hole with beeswax. The old man grows suspicious, and when he feels all over the surface of the jug, he finds the hole because the wax has melted. Giving no sign of what he has discovered, the next night he again puts the jug in front of him and Lazarillo again lies down next to it, expecting to drink wine once more. Suddenly the old man raises the jug and brings it down on Lazarillo’s face with such great force that all the boy’s teeth are loosened. On another occasion, Lazarillo seizes a roasting sausage from the spit and substitutes a rotten turnip. When the blind man bites into what he expects to be sausage, he roars with rage and scratches the boy severely with his long nails.
Lazarillo resolves to leave his master. Guiding the old man along the shores of a brook, Lazarillo positions him behind a stone pillar and then tells him that he must run and leap to clear the water. The old man gives a mighty jump, cracks his head on the stone, and falls down senseless. Lazarillo leaves town quickly.
His next master is a penurious priest who engages Lazarillo to assist at Mass. Unfortunately, the priest watches the collection box like a hawk, and Lazarillo has no chance to filch a single coin. For food, the priest allows him an onion every fourth day. If it were not for an occasional funeral feast, the boy would starve to death. The priest keeps his fine bread securely locked in a chest, and eventually Lazarillo is lucky enough to meet a strolling tinker who makes him a key to open the lock. To avoid suspicion when he eats the priest’s bread, he gnaws each loaf to make it look as if rats had gotten into the chest. The alarmed priest nails up all the holes in the chest securely, but Lazarillo makes new holes. Then the priest sets numerous traps for the rats, from which Lazarillo eats the cheese. The puzzled priest is forced to conclude that a snake is stealing his bread.
Fearing a search while he is asleep, Lazarillo keeps his key to the chest in his mouth while he is in bed. One night the key shifts, and as he breathes he blows air through the keyhole. The resulting whistle wakes the priest, who, seeing the key, seizes a club and breaks it over Lazarillo’s head. After his head has been bandaged by a kind neighbor, Lazarillo is dismissed. Hoping to find employment in a larger city, he leaves to seek further fortune in Toledo.
One night in the city, while his pockets are full of crusts he has begged on the streets, a careless young dandy, a real esquire, engages Lazarillo as a servant. Thinking himself lucky to have a wealthy master, Lazarillo follows the young man to a bare, mean house that has scarcely a stick of furniture. After waiting a long time for a meal, the boy begins to eat his crusts. To his surprise, his master joins him. The days go by, both of them living on what Lazarillo can beg.
At last the esquire procures a little money and sends Lazarillo out for bread and wine. On the way, he meets a funeral procession. The weeping widow loudly laments her husband and cries out that the dead man is going to an inhospitable house where there is no food or furniture. Thinking that the procession is going to take the corpse to his esquire’s house, Lazarillo runs home in fear. His master disabuses him of his fear and sends him back out on his errand.
At last the master leaves town, and Lazarillo is forced to meet the bailiffs and the wrathful landlord. After some difficulty, he persuades the bailiffs of his innocence and is allowed to go free.
His next master is a bulero, a dealer in papal indulgences, who is an accomplished rogue. Rumors begin to spread that his indulgences are forged, and even the bailiff accuses him publicly of fraud. The wily bulero prays openly for his accuser to be confounded, and forthwith the bailiff falls down in a fit, foaming at the mouth and growing rigid. The prayers and forgiveness of the bulero are effective, however, and little by little the bailiff recovers. From that time on the bulero earns a rich harvest selling his papal indulgences. Lazarillo, wise in roguery, wonders how the bulero has worked the trick, but he never finds out.
Four years of service with a chaplain who sells water enables Lazarillo to save a little money and buy respectable clothes. At last he is on his way to some standing in the community. On the strength of his new clothes, he is appointed to a government post that will furnish him an income for life. All business matters of the town pass through his hands.
The archpriest of Salvador, seeing how affluent Lazarillo has become, gives a woman from his own household to be Lazarillo’s wife. The woman makes a useful wife, for the archpriest frequently gives them substantial presents. Lazarillo’s wife repays the holy man by taking care of his wardrobe; however, evil tongues wag, and the archpriest asks Lazarillo if he has heard stories about his wife. Lazarillo discloses that he has been told that his wife had borne three of the archpriest’s children. The archpriest advises him sagely to think of his profit more and his honor less. Lazarillo is content, for surely the archpriest is an honorable man.
Lazarillo eventually becomes so influential that it is said that he can commit any crime with impunity. His happiness increases when his wife presents him with a baby daughter. The good lady swears that the infant is truly Lazarillo’s child.
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