Miguel Delibes Delibes, Miguel (Vol. 18) - Essay

Miguel Delibes Setien


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Delibes, Miguel 1920–

Delibes is a Spanish novelist whose work incorporates many of the influences in his life. My Adored Son Sisí reflects his close relationship with his own father. However, his constant fear as a child that his elderly father would die imbues much of his work with the theme of death. His Castilian birthplace, Valladolid, forms the background for many of his novels. Remaining in that city, somewhat removed from the Spanish literary circles, Delibes is an independent writer, reflecting the concerns of the twentieth century but not the trends and fads of contemporary Spanish literature. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

Ernest A. Johnson, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

El camino, published in 1950, is the third novel of Delibes and shows the author's ever renewed interest in perspectives on Man's struggle to understand his own nature in relation to the lives and events around himself. In his first novel, La sombra del cipres es alargada, published in 1948, the theme is pessimistic…. As though to counteract this unhappy determinism, Delibes' second novel, Aun es de dia, published in 1949, presents a gentle character of unbounded generosity and optimism, who has no material reason for being so, since his body is twisted, his surroundings depressing, and even the women he married evil. Thus the first two novels show the author's early, somewhat awkward efforts to portray first the destructive power of environment, and then the victory of Man's spirit over environment. Significantly, both books indicate Delibes' interest in the early formative years of his heroes.

El camino benefits greatly by what the author learned in these previous literary explorations. The protagonist Daniel, son of the town's cheesemaker, is a normal, active boy of eleven, whose large, inquisitive eyes earn him the nickname of Mochuelo, "owl." His father, Salvador, has determined that his son will have a better life than he and is sending him off to the city to school. The novel starts and ends in those fatal hours that mark the end of the old life and the beginning of the new. It asks the reader to question which way is better. (p. 748)

[The] novel makes no explicit judgment on the rightness or wrongness of improving oneself in order to have more status in society. It does make evident the struggle between the instincts and the demands of civilized conformity. And it does this through the real experiences and words of its characters. Expressed another way, El camino makes evident the struggle between forces affirming life, and others that deny it. The vulgar word which symbolizes the former in text is eso

Here eso refers to the...

(The entire section is 841 words.)

Dorothy Ewing

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A salient characteristic of Miguel Delibes' novels is the tone of religious faith and moral values they reflect. While some of his works clearly depict moral corruption and vice, the author invariably presents basic religious ethics as the desirable way of life. Such is the case, for example in Mi idolatrado hijo Sisí. In spite of the apparent tone of pessimism in the novel, the reader is left with the distinct impression that many of the unfortunate incidents and the accompanying unhappiness could have been avoided if the characters had conformed to the religious teaching of their social milieu.

This religious ideology, a basic characteristic of each of Delibes' works, is perhaps nowhere more clearly stated than in Las ratas, the short novel of Nini and his life in a small Castilian village. The author early intimates the religious nature of the character portrayal of his child protagonist, el Nini, by the use of a verse from the Bible as a sort of preface…. With [a] quotation from the eleventh chapter of Mark the novelist introduces to the reader one of his most poignant child creations. (p. 492)

In his identification of el Nini with all forms of nature, Delibes is revealing something of a mystic concept of life, such as one finds among the early mystic poets.

Since Nini identified so closely with nature, he was repulsed by the destruction of life in any form. Although el abuelo Ramón hunted rabbits and el Tío Ratero mice, the child knew that they killed only of necessity; it was their way of earning a livelihood. Matías Celemín, el Furtivo, on the other hand, hunting at night and in the snow, aroused a feeling of hatred and repugnance in el Nini, who knew instinctively that one of the moral precepts of man is that "thou shalt not kill."

Although Nini was repulsed by the wanton destruction of life, dying, to him, was as much a part of nature as is any other phenomenon of existence. Death, one of the major themes of Delibes, plays a prominent part in most of his novels, and the children, particularly Pedro in La sombra del ciprés es alargada and Daniel in El camino, are greatly affected by the death of a loved one. However, Nini, who symbolizes Christian faith, is not distressed by the death of human beings but accepts it in the natural course of events. (p. 493)

In spite of his docile nature, Nini was not without righteous indignation. He, like Jesus, who overthrew the tables of the money changers in the Temple, sometimes felt impelled to act upon his conviction of right and wrong. This is revealed in an incident with Columba, el Justo's wife. During a conversation with the boy, la Columba had slapped him. That...

(The entire section is 1123 words.)

Janet W. DíAz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


La Sombra del ciprés es alargada (Long Is the Cypress' Shadow) and Aún es de día (Still It Is Day) may be treated together not only because of their proximity in time (the first was published in 1948 and the second in 1949), but also because of many stylistic similarities. Rhetorically, both are ponderous and at times ornate, with long sentences, much introspection, and lengthy paragraphs with limited dialogue in comparison with most later works…. They are opposites in terms of the dominant psychology of the respective protagonists: Pedro, in the former, is characterized by enduring pessimism, and Sebastián, in the latter, often exemplifies an optimism quite out of keeping with his circumstances…. [Both] novels share a common religious solution to, or sublimation of, problems raised therein, and are largely philosophical and moralistic, even if one agrees that the philosophies are in some respects opposed. This basic polarity is reflected by the imagery of the titles, one emphasizing darkness and the other, light. (p. 38)

Delibes' first novel [Long Is the Cypress' Shadow,] like many novelists' first efforts, has a considerable autobiographic content, although it is definitely not an autobiography. The protagonist resembles his creator in the preoccupation with death, fear of losing those he loves, and in his pessimism. However, while Delibes' pessimism is not the result of conditioning events in his childhood, there are many determining factors in the protagonist's (Pedro's) youth which combine to convince him of the rightness of a pessimistic outlook and the necessity of his philosophy of nonengagement, or noninvolvement with others, in order to minimize personal suffering. (p. 39)

The cypress of the novel's title is a tree found primarily in cemeteries in Spain, so it automatically evokes funereal associations, and in the novel its shadow represents both the eternal darkness, and the obsession of death for the protagonist. He visits a cemetery on two occasions in the first part, upon the death of a young classmate, and for the burial of Alfredo. Alfredo felt a particular horror of the cypress, and asked to be buried beneath a pine, which thereby acquires a life symbolism. For the purposes of the book, the pine's shadow is considered to be spherical, round, and emblematic of plenitude, while the shadow of the cypress is elongated, needlelike, and inseparably linked with pessimism, melancholy, withdrawal, and nothingness. A parallel symbolism attributes similar qualities to the shadows of men: those of optimists are round, and those of pessimists, like that of the cypress. (p. 42)

[While] still young but approaching middle age, [Pedro] meets an Irish-American girl, Jane, with whom he falls in love despite himself, and deserting his creed of nonengagement, marries her…. [The death of his wife and the] abrupt loss of family and future stuns him; time becomes meaningless. He resumes his existence on the former basis, believing that it was a mistake to have forsaken his philosophy, but treasuring his grief and loneliness, which become his reason for living.

Perhaps the novel should have ended here; it might have been less satisfactory for the author, but would have carried more psychological conviction. In the final pages, however, Pedro experiences a sudden and rather poorly motivated but overwhelming desire to return to Avila [where he spent his youth], which he finds covered with snow, as was Jane's body when last he saw her. He begins to identify her with Avila, and afterward, en route to the cemetery, links her with Alfredo, whose tomb he visits and into which he casts her wedding ring, an act from which he derives a mystic comfort. Then, although he has not remembered them in years, he leaves the cemetery thinking fondly of his tutor and Don Mateo's family, which fills him with surprising plenitude. "And besides, there was God," the closing words, are likewise somewhat unconvincing, as this religious sublimation or "conversion" is somehow more of a surprise for the reader than Pedro's renunciation of his solitude which had apparently become too much of a burden to be borne alone. While the intervening motivation is insufficient, it would seem that the novelist did not mean the final change of attitude to be a complete surprise, for in a sense Pedro completes a cycle or circle as he comes back to the cemetery and Alfredo's grave, where he first embraced the philosophy of noninvolvement, to reject it. Psychologically, Pedro has somehow returned to the moment of Alfredo's death, which he originally rebelled against, finally accepting it as God's will, and the pending reunion with the tutor's family also symbolizes a return to the beginnings. (pp. 42-3)

Delibes was far from advocating [Pedro's] policy of noninvolvement, despite the convincing exposition of his protagonist's initial adoption thereof. Even though the novel's close is insufficiently motivated, it is evident that the author intended that Pedro should ultimately realize that his philosophy was in effect a death-in-life, as is clear when he returns to Alfredo's tomb and embraces the pine, symbolizing life, with their two names carved upon it, and then goes forth from the cemetery like one risen from the dead. (p. 44)

The protagonist [of Still It Is Day], Sebastián, a poor, deformed, and dwarfish hunchback in his early twenties, is the incarnation of almost incurable optimism. He lives in sordid surroundings, with an alcoholic mother (the vulgar former servant of his deceased father), and thirteen-year-old Orencia, his mother's daughter, born eleven months after his father's death…. A marriage is arranged for him by his mother, as Aurora, the ugly daughter of a rather wealthy black marketeer, is pregnant and needs a husband. When faced with betrayal, the discovery of the falseness of his mother and fiancée, he retreats into religion, and while at the conclusion he accepts a measure of reality, he does so with spiritual armor between himself and his surroundings. (p. 45)

The entire action of the novel, exclusive of flashbacks and retrospective material, occupies some five months. While there is considerable external, and even extraneous action, the most important action is internal, the analysis of Sebastián's inferiority complex, his suffering at the cruel jokes of comrades, and the almost complete lack of others' understanding. Also very significant are his feelings of having been exploited emotionally, and deceived by his mother and Aurora. All of this leads or contributes to a religious experience of sorts, the climax of Sebastián's struggle. (p. 49)

[There] are scenes in the novel which can be classified as naturalistic in their detailing of repugnant details and events, but Delibes' emphasis is on Sebastián's spiritual evolution, and this alone excludes deterministic intent. True, most of the action takes place in an environment that is physically and sometimes morally depressing, somber, and occasionally disgusting…. Nevertheless, Sebastián continues for the most part his optimistic outlook, despite a momentary crisis when, having broken with Aurora, he feels the passing attraction of suicide, not because he loved her enough to justify this, but because he is humiliated, disillusioned, and tired of struggling.

The situation at the close of the novel suggests that some progress is possible, that in Sebastián's situation one can make strides toward rehabilitating an alcoholic mother or bringing light into the sister's joyless life. In other words, he can give his own life the value he chooses to impart by the ethical principles he follows. The pessimism some observers have attributed to Still It Is Day is very relative: it consists in admitting that some people live in extremely difficult circumstances, not all of which can be voluntarily remedied, or which lie beyond the means of one person to change. At the same time, Delibes makes it quite clear that even under the worst conditions, one has a broad range of alternative attitudes among which to choose. (pp. 49-50)

Delibes' third novel, El camino (The Path), shows an intensification of the refining and simplifying process begun in Still It Is Day. It is much shorter, perhaps half the length of its predecessors, and while flashback material covers several years, the action as such takes place in one night, as the eleven-year-old protagonist and central consciousness, Daniel, sleeplessly awaits the morning when for the first time he will leave his native mountain village for school in the "city" (presumably a nearby provincial capital). During this last night at home, memories crowd his mind, and through his eyes the reader becomes acquainted with a gallery of picturesque characters, most if not all the village's inhabitants, with their histories, and major events in Daniel's life. Little more can be said of the plot or structure, for plan and action have been subordinated to interest in character presentation, and to the portrayal of a special environment. Upon this slender thread of plot are hung a large number of anecdotes, some verging on the tragic, others comic, some lyric, and others grotesque. (p. 51)

[In] The Path, Nature looms very large, really coming to the fore for the first time, and the contact with death is one of young Daniel's most decisive experiences. Related to both Nature and death, the figure of the hunter also makes its initial appearance.

The first extensive use by Delibes of the "tag line," thenceforth something of a trademark of his style, is likewise found in The Path. Each character has a nickname, or a reference to his appearance, profession, or peculiarities, repeated with nearly every mention of his name…. While this has been seen as an idiosyncrasy of Delibes and even considered a stylistic abuse, it is also an aspect of realism…. Use of the first name or nickname is characteristic … of children and adolescents, and logical in a work whose principal characters are of this age. First-name usage is frequent in the face-to-face relationships of rural areas and small towns, as well. Whether or not Delibes abuses repetition of tag-lines and nicknames is a question of individual taste; however, it should be remembered that part of his purpose is humor, and part recreation of the village atmosphere, both of which ends are served by this repetition.

Another technique employed extensively by Delibes for the first time in The Path is caricaturization. Many characters are presented only in certain rather narrow dimensions, usually with two or three outstanding traits or quirks, often exaggerated, mentioned whenever the character appears. This has the limitation of not allowing psychological profundity, but is a useful device for differentiating characters, especially when many are treated in a relatively short space. (pp. 54-5)

The use of caricature in the novel may be a defense against sentimentalizing; in any case, with Delibes it is not cruel or sarcastic, but a gentle, smiling irony. Nor is life in the countryside idealized, for even if it is a refuge from mechanization and the...

(The entire section is 4614 words.)

Roberta A. Quance

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Parábola del náufrago (Parable of the Drowning Man)] is at once a parable about modern man's plight in an oppressive, dehumanizing society and a parable about the language which that society manipulates, in every sense of the term. Specifically, Parábola describes the world of a huge bureaucratic Spanish firm, at whose head looms the inflated figure of a despot. At the same time, it broaches a larger sphere, opening onto a vista of the modern totalitarian State, which seeks typically to determine not only what its citizens do but also what they say and, ultimately, what they think…. At the heart of Parábola lies the problem of incommunication: it constitutes an insurmountable barrier for...

(The entire section is 2095 words.)

Phyllis Zatlin Boring

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Delibes' first novel, La sombra del ciprés es alargada …, the author introduces several of the same aspects of childhood which he later developed in El camino: close friendship between boys, the boy's initial dislike of a younger girl, the private world of the boys of which the adults are unaware, the child's growing awareness of sex, the child's insight into the weaknesses of the adults, the death of a friend. Delibes' handling of these themes in La sombra … is heavyhanded and lacks the humor and greater realism of the later novels…. Moreover, the characterization of Pedro in La sombra … is disturbing because of his obsession with death. He knows that Alfredo will die long...

(The entire section is 782 words.)