Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Known for his unorthodox approach to fiction, particularly in his construction of the antinovel, Unamuno y Jugo may be considered to have written an antistory in “The Madness of Doctor Montarco.” Anthony Kerrigan, who translated the work, questions whether it is a story at all, and some scholars have called it a “story-essay.” It appears, indeed, to be a dialogue, first between the narrator and Montarco, and then between the narrator and Atienza. It has a well-plotted progression of Montarco’s demise, however, and a development of contrasting characterizations.

The dialogic and essayistic progression of “The Madness of Doctor Montarco” is marked by the technique of antithesis, which is found in all of Unamuno’s writing: science and art in Abel Sánchez (1917; English translation, 1956); faith and unbelief in “San Manuel Bueno, Mártir” (1933; “Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr,” 1956); madness and sanity in his many essays on Don Quixote de la Mancha and in “The Madness of Doctor Montarco.” Forms of antithesis provide rhetorical configuration for Unamuno’s stress on the objective and subjective modes, for example, the opposition of intellect and will and, ultimately, of mortality and immortality. Montarco’s struggle is, in the main, against mortality toward immortality, and the struggle is perpetuated by his will in opposition to his intellect in antithetical commitment to all or nothing. If, as most critics claim, this story is analogous to Unamuno’s own resistance to demands that he conform to social customs, it must also indicate the author’s recognition of his own deleterious impatience.

Antithesis is underscored by various rhetorical figures of opposition, such as antonymy (for example, sanity and madness), oxymoron (for example, practical delusion), and chiasmus, which is the reversal of a sequence. The conclusion of the story is an excellent example of chiastic technique. Montarco’s dying wish is that his manuscript be burned without being read; the narrator does not know whether Atienza has resisted the temptation to read it or actually burned it. The chiastic opposition (burned—read—read—burned) is followed by another, the narrator’s wish that Montarco rest in peace because Montarco deserves peace and rest. This second chiasmus (rest—peace—peace—rest) dramatizes the narrator’s wanting for Montarco the antithesis of what Montarco himself wanted—struggle and activity.