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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.)
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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 mother-child relationship as it symbolizes the force of life creating life generation after generation. Elsewhere in the text eso stands for the different aspects of sex and the life instinct which young boys explore in their curiosity to find out what life is all about. (p. 749)
In the pleasant valley which is the scene of El camino, the champion of the forces denying life is unquestionably Doña Lola, the Guindilla mayor. This peppery spinster earns her nickname early for her tireless and tiresome efforts to force every one within her reach to adhere to a rigid and inhumane morality. In her the repressive, deadly nature of the town culture is painfully represented….
The instincts have their champion in Paco, the blacksmith, who exemplifies most perfectly eso , defined as the urge to live. Weekdays he concentrates his energies at the forge in order to survive in society. But holidays and weekends his Herculean figure vents its dionysiac...
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But Paco, the blacksmith is the father of Roque, el Moñigo, and not the father of Daniel. Consequently, Daniel finds himself in his own home face to face with the repressive reasons of his own father, Salvador, the cheese-maker. Salvador is a Promethean figure, seeking something better, trying to create culture at the price of pain. The irony of his name is immediately suggestive, since one must wonder for what purpose he is trying to "save" his son. (p. 750)
The absurdity of repression for conformity's sake—if not sufficiently clear here or in the personal example of Doña Lola, the Guindilla mayor—is demonstrated in many ways. First, nicknames. The town with its readiness to coin apt nicknames suggests the absurdity of the solemn, civilized convention of baptism. Even if their Christian names are also significant, the words Mochuelo, Moñigo, Tiñoso are much more descriptive of Daniel, Roque, and Germán…. Another absurdity is the pretension of grown-ups that they are wiser than children. When Salvador puts a bullet in Daniel's cheek while hunting, or when "Peón" has his pupils hold the Bible for punishment, their actions seem as foolish as the boys'….
Thus the values of the boys' world are upheld. The forces affirming life naturally lived are approved. Possibly, despite the final tears, there may still be hope for Daniel as he sets off for the city…. Perhaps he can protect against all reason the aspiration of his integral fulfillment. Besides, Daniel is not called "Daniel" or "Mochuelo" to no purpose. Like the owl he resembles, like his Biblical predecessor, he has eyes that can "see," perhaps command. Given a chance, Daniel may subdue the lions of repressive civilized reality. (p. 751)
In conclusion, if we were asked to state in a word what El camino is about, we would be tempted to say that it speaks positively, however vaguely, for eso. Trust the life instinct, whatever it is. (pp. 751-52)
Ernest A. Johnson, Jr., "Miguel Delibes, 'El Camino'—A Way of Life," in Hispania (© 1963 The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 4, December, 1963, pp. 748-52.
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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 night Nini poured gasoline into her well. He did this, not as a mischievous prank as Daniel and his friends in El camino might have done, but as just retribution for her having slapped him. The act reveals his role as administrator of justice and punishment, a power reserved for the gods. (p. 494)
Apparently Delibes' purpose in writing Las ratas is to epitomize in his child protagonist the true essence of Christian living. While most of the children portrayed by Delibes in his novels evince varying degrees of interest in religion, Nini seems to be the very personification of religious faith. Although the child makes no reference to God nor to his own spiritual convictions, the trust that others place in him and in his actions and attitudes, together with the Biblical quotation, leads to this impression. Through his actions rather than through his speech Nini comes to symbolize religious faith for the people of the village as well as for the reader. His characteristic imperturbability results not so much from a firm belief in the wisdom of God as from the fact that he himself is that divine wisdom at work among men. With this assumption one can understand the quiet, unpresuming personality of this child, whose chief aim in life seems to be that of helping others.
Nini's innate calmness when disaster threatened amazes the people of his village and again reflects his trust and resignation before nature. (pp. 494-95)
The child's serenity in the face of conditions he was powerless to prevent or change is a manifest expression of his attitude toward life…. This serene attitude of the child toward all phases of life is one indication of the author's purpose to reveal in Nini the true concept of religious faith. (p. 495)
Sensitive to the feelings of others as manifested in his general actions, the child clearly felt that each man is truly his brother's keeper. His attitude reflects the religious dictum that men should love one another, and again reinforces the religious theme of the novel.
In his character portrayal of el Nini, Delibes makes a few direct allusions to Biblical events. La Sabina says, for example, that when she saw the child talking to the men of the village, she was reminded of Jesus in the Temple, seated among the doctors. For the most part, however, the author permits the reader to see the parallelism for himself. (pp. 495-96)
Throughout the novel the author makes similar oblique references to incidents from the Bible that point out resemblance between the life of Nini and that of Jesus…. Delibes' use of these events cannot be considered a mere coincidence. The author is purposely giving a religious aspect to his character portrayal, climaxing it with Nini's final feeling of rejection by the people whom he had sought only to help. As the author ends his account, one feels that, as indicated by the Biblical quotation, the child was willing to give himself unstintingly in the service of others and that like Jesus, whose life he unconsciously emulates, he saved others, he could not save himself.
Although Las ratas is one of Delibes' shortest novels, it is one of his best works written to date. It is also the one that best reveals the writer's own religious faith. By constant allusions, both direct and indirect, by repeated parallels with Biblical incidents, and through other stylistic devices, Delibes creates a Christlike figure in the person of a village child. Through the medium of this child, with his serene personality, his self-effacement, and his perfect confidence in himself, Delibes seems to be reaffirming his faith in the eternal goodness of God and in the wisdom of choosing a life in harmony with the humanitarian sentiments which the author expressed in terms of his own religious beliefs. (pp. 496-97)
Dorothy Ewing, "The Religious Significance of Miguel Delibes' 'Las Ratas'," in Romance Notes, Vol. XI, No. 3, Spring, 1970, pp. 492-97.
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JANET W. DÍAZ
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 negative side of civilization, it is also remote from the positive content of progress, which the novelist quite clearly realizes. The Path, perhaps in part because of its setting, differs from many twentieth-century novels of adolescence in the more positive and innocent portrayal of the protagonist, and in that the discovery of life's mysteries does not provoke a psychological crisis, premature debauchment, or disillusionment…. In any case, Delibes' work implies that it is still possible to enter adolescence without serious trauma, at least in the remote and rather pastoral environment selected. (p. 58)
In [Diario de un cazador (Diary of a Hunter)], as in The Path, formal plot has been all but totally suppressed in favor of the development of a character, central consciousness, or perspective, thus revealing to the reader a series of anecdotes, without a clear beginning or definitive end, simply a "slice of life" in a given time. (p. 87)
The novel is a prime example of naturalness and simplicity, well composed in spite of a surprising limitation of material and resources. This causes a deceptive impression of facility. The hunter-narrator is in no way an exceptional personality; there is nothing outstanding or singular about Lorenzo, his life, or even his hunting prowess. Nor does anything unusual or startling happen; the events are part of everyday life in any class or country. In fact, Lorenzo is the type who normally makes little or no impression upon others, yet despite a certain psychological ordinariness and commonplaceness, he amuses, captivates, and overflows with vitality. His life is humble, his preoccupations simple, his problems elementary, his aspirations prosaic, and his love life ingenuous, with all these things told in the unpretentious and popular speech of the man in the street, the conversational style of the nearly illiterate. (pp. 88-9)
[The Diary is] difficult reading, for many of the expressions used by Lorenzo are unfamiliar even to the native speaker of Spanish. His lexicon includes many localisms, sayings peculiar to the country people with whom he talks during hunting trips, slang and colloquialisms, a few vulgar and occasionally profane terms, popular proverbs and folk sayings, and of course the language peculiar to the hunt itself. (p. 90)
[Delibes' use of anecdotes gives] the sensation of the ebb and flow of life from day to day, with enough repetition or interlocking of entries to allow the reader to feel that he knows what has happened in the day not covered. There is thus an impression of continuity, though the presentation is discontinuous. Delibes has achieved a strong integration of personality and atmosphere which conveys unity to the other material. (p. 92)
For the person with time to read only one work of Delibes, the one which would unquestionably give the most typical and authentic picture of the novelist and his preoccupations is [Viejas historias de Castilla la Vieja (Old Tales of Old Castile), a] brief portrait of backgrounds and surroundings without which no work of Delibes can be fully understood.
The first-person narrative is told from the perspective of a former inhabitant of a village…. The old man has returned after forty-eight years to find everything exactly as he left it, with the dust from the last threshing still on the adobe walls. While the prose expressing his recognition is lyric, this is a statement of the fact that time, in the meaningful sense, does not pass in Castile's forgotten villages; they have somehow been left at the margin of history, and to enter them is to step from the twentieth century into the Middle Ages. And this may be picturesque for the person who does not have to live there, who is unaware of what it means in terms of suffering and the loss of human potential, but Delibes is aware—perhaps more so than the villagers themselves, brutalized by conditions and ignorant that anything better exists. At the same time, he is able to perceive the peace offered by this type of life, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern, mechanized civilizations, and to appreciate the stolid virtues of the villagers. He understands the enormous attraction of the soil, the locale of their ancestors, which the spot of origin exercises for those born in the villages, and this imparts an occasional lyricism to descriptions of the poverty and decay.
Under the guise of the memoirs or recollections of the narrator-central consciousness, Delibes presents many typical characteristics of the villages. (pp. 121-22)
While the returning native son may rejoice to find that time has left so little mark, it should not be concluded that this is Delibes' attitude…. [Confusion] may result from a certain ambivalence in Delibes himself. He does not condemn the conditions described in the villages, although not from blind optimism or because of being a pro-government propagandist…. (pp. 125-26)
Delibes recognizes the positive aspects of rural existence, the relative peace of mind, the preservation of old-time virtues, traditional values, and simple pleasures. Nevertheless, he does not feel that these should be purchased at the price of an empty stomach, privation, and suffering, conditions which only progress can eradicate. (p. 126)
The "discovery" of Castile as a literary theme is usually considered the achievement of the Generation of '98, with perhaps the most significant discoverers being Azorín, Unamuno, and Antonio Machado—none of them Castilians….
There are numerous differences in Delibes' vision of Castile and that of his predecessors, an obvious but important one being the nature and depth of individual acquaintance with the subject. None of the previous writers most eloquent in descriptions and interpretations of Castile was born there, and they saw Spain's heartland with eyes quite different from the native son's. (p. 127)
Castile was not viewed [by Delibes' predecessors] in terms of the here and now, realistically, but somewhat platonically, as an abstract, spiritual concept, intuited more than observed.
Delibes, despite occasional idealization of aspects of the simple country life, sees Castile with the utmost realism, neither as the link with a once-glorious past, nor as distilled essence of Spain. His Castile is a concrete, geographic, socio-economic complex, problematic in many ways, very much within the here and now. The Castilian landscape is not a literary motif for him, nor an aesthetic perspective, but a lived reality, inseparable from the men who inhabit it, and whose destinies it controls. (p. 128)
The first impression caused by reading Cinco horas con Mario (Five Hours with Mario) is that of a radical change in direction, a "new" Delibes. This is due to several factors. Technically speaking, the novel is almost entirely one long interior monologue: the thoughts of Mario's widow, Carmen, during the night before burial, as she sits beside his body. (p. 140)
Thematically, too, it might appear that Delibes has done an about-face, for while previous works seemed uniformly to uphold the institution of the family, this novel definitely implies an attack upon the sacrosanct Spanish wife and mother. The realistic, objective world, city-country, nature, popular types, and nearly all physical detail have been submerged in the subjective, replaced by the psychological exposé of Carmen from within. No previous novel by Delibes has been devoted entirely to psychological probing, and this is the first time that a female receives his primary attention. With the exception of Desi in The Red Leaf, the women created by Delibes have played unimportant, secondary roles, and are frequently caricatures or stereotypes.
Formal plot structure began to disappear from his works with The Path, but subsequent writings did follow a loose, anecdotal plan. In Five Hours with Mario, even anecdotes have been suppressed or so fragmented that often the reader must reconstruct them from pieces gleaned throughout the novel, putting together Carmen's disjointed thoughts and near-ravings. This is essentially a novel without action, but some sensation of movement is conveyed by the rapid time shifts in Carmen's mind from present to multiple pasts. It might be said that further movement occurs as her mind jumps from one association to another within different periods, but this "action" is essentially the same as the first, mental, emotional, and internal. Thus there is ample reason for believing that Five Hours with Mario represents a new artistic orientation, or at least an experiment with hitherto untried techniques. (pp. 140-41)
There is some question as to what degree it may have been Delibes' purpose to attack the commonly-held stereotype of the idealized Spanish wife and mother. While Carmen comes off badly—she is a hypocritical social climber with a martyr complex; a frivolous, empty-headed, domineering egotist; a vain flirt possibly unfaithful to her husband—it may be that her sex is of strictly secondary importance. Delibes could also be attacking the mentality she personifies, a mentality that contemporary Spanish intellectuals seem generally to consider typical of the bourgeoisie, a conservative or reactionary fixation on status symbols, class distinctions, and privileges, almost total unreflectiveness, lack of insight and foresight, selfishness, materialism, hypocrisy, false or purely negative virtues, intolerance, insincerity, and self-deception. (p. 142)
The novel achieves other ends which could also justify its composition. It is a study of marriage and marital misunderstanding, of a near-total diversity of interests, and incompatibility of personalities. This is what eventually destroys Mario, regardless of the official cause of his death. (pp. 142-43)
Concern with the problematic nature of the individual's relationship to society is present in one form or another in Delibes' novels from the first to the most recent, sometimes only implicit, but often as a major theme. The novelist's general attitude seems to have changed from an initial relative optimism to progressively greater pessimism or fear. In The Cypress, Pedro represents an affirmation of individual principles and rights, even to extremes of isolationism, an exaggerated egotism which the narrator does not support, but seemingly understands. Sebastián in Still It Is Day struggles with the conflict between his own rights and needs and the necessities of others, arriving at some sort of synthesis whereby he satisfies himself through service to those around him. In The Path, Daniel suffers from the divergence between his own desires and the demands and expectations of society (education, material success) as represented by his father. Cecilio Rubes [Mi idolatrado hijo, Sisí] (My Adored Son Sisí), another extreme egotist, is utterly lacking in civic conscience or sense of responsibility to community and nation. (p. 149)
The emphasis is shifted in [La hoja roja] The Red Leaf from the individual's relationship to society to underscoring society's responsibility to individuals, specifically the aged and underprivileged. [Las ratas] The Rats presents a clash between primitive individualism and a more modern, although backward and defective society. The individual is destroyed, not by society alone but by the forces of nature, and the character of tío Ratero himself, all contributing to his downfall. In Five Hours with Mario, one principal cause for dispute between Carmen and her husband was the issue of social responsibility. Carmen is incapable of real altruism, and her interest in others is conditioned exclusively by their reflections upon herself: What will society (the upper class) think of her? Mario in some respects may be an alter ego of Delibes, a strong social conscience, relatively impervious to public opinion, who devotes a good deal of time and energy to bettering the lot of the proletariat, at least in the measure of one man's capacity.
[Parábola del náufrago (Parable of the Drowning Man)] represents the total crushing of the individual by the collectivity, dehumanization and the loss of liberty as a result of the progressive encroachment by the state upon areas of the personal conscience and beliefs. Two symbolically dehumanized individuals undergo physical metamorphoses (representing spiritual degradation) as a result of punishment received for daring to question the omniscience of an all-powerful bureaucratic organization. This first appears to be economic in nature, but later proves more complex, probably representing the totalitarian state. (pp. 149-50)
[Genaro's] history is revealed in fragments, by means of Jacinto's thoughts, mostly interior monologue, occasionally a sort of dialogue with himself…. During the course of the novel, Gen's fate increasingly obsesses Jacinto, combining with the menace to his own personality and subtly foreshadowing Jacinto's eventual downfall. The final metamorphosis of the protagonist into a sheep is handled in slow, indirect fashion, emphasizing his vague sensations of the physical changes undergone, so that only when the transformation is complete is its nature clear. (pp. 150-51)
The principle of metamorphosis, the nightmarish and delirious atmosphere, a mixture of reality and the possible fantastic, as well as the nature of the mysterious bureaucracy and the utter solitude of the protagonist, all suggest Kafka. (p. 151)
Much of the novel is written as a stream of consciousness, with extensive interior monologue. Delibes has pursued the direction of the technical innovations developed in Five Hours with Mario, advancing even farther in modifications of syntax, in stylistic change particularly suited to psychological probing and dissection, or exposition. Parable is frequently characterized by extremely long and complicated sentences, a confusing agglutination of cumulative phrases. The punctuation is deliberately arbitrary and capricious, at times almost nonexistent and at others excessive, so abundant as to interfere with the readers comprehension. The protagonist, desperately attempting to salvage some shreds of personality, has invented an artificial language (actually characteristic of certain severe neuroses and psychoses). Part of this novel … utilizes his language, one of whose characteristics is the foreshortening of words, perhaps reflecting the influence of abbreviations, common in today's nomenclature and advertising, or of telegraphy or shorthand, since the protagonist is obviously menaced, among other things, by those forms of progress which restrict or minimize individuality. (p. 152)
Delibes' purpose is of course to enable readers to experience the confused and disoriented sensations of Jacinto, something of the "feel" of a personality in disintegration. The same devices underscore the artificiality of the setting and the thoroughly conventionalized, regimented existence, bereft of all naturalness and spontaneity. By such means, and especially in the language invented by Jacinto, Delibes achieves another purpose: the satire of certain modern literary theories involving the breakdown or destruction of the language. (p. 153)
During his most intense fear and panic, Jacinto imagines the plight of a sailor, trapped in a sunken ship slowly filling with water. Knowing that he is doomed, he nevertheless clings desperately to life, continuing to swim as water fills the cabin, holding his face above the rising water, avidly swallowing the last gulps of air. This "parable" of the fight for survival, the instinct of self-preservation functioning in even the most hopeless situation, clearly applies to Jacinto, whose physical survival is purchased at the cost of his human condition…. Some aspects of the novel might be seen as a more generalized attack on contemporary civilization, but this is of secondary importance. Like Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses, Delibes is concerned not merely with the physical survival or comfort of the individual, but with the mass psychology and the quality of life in our times. His Parable is a lesson, a warning, and perhaps a cry for help, help in saving that which is most human in humanity. (p. 158)
From conservative beginnings within the realistic movement, Delibes has evolved as a narrator, incorporating in his literary repertoire many of this century's important technical and structural innovations. His style, initially florid and overly ample, was progressively pruned and polished, becoming more direct, conversational, and precise. (p. 159)
The most characteristic notes of Delibes' mature writing are his use of nicknames and tag lines, repetition, caricature, and portrayal through manias and quirks. Particularly striking is his frequent use of the abnormal or subnormal mentality, the primitive or elemental character, and the hunter. He frequently utilizes the technique of perspective or point of view, situating the reader within the consciousness or perceptions of the primitive (or otherwise abnormal) mentality. Also characteristic of most of the works composed after The Path is a peculiar, personal brand of humor, a mixture of understatement and exaggeration, ranging in intensity from light, almost imperceptible irony, to sarcasm, exacerbation, and the grotesque.
Themes preferably treated by Delibes include those concerning childhood and adolescence, old age, death, nature and the hunt, social inequities and economic problems, the plight of rural Castile, the city-country dichotomy, the problem of emigration, internal and external, the individual in his relation to others, the menace of mechanization and of other aspects of contemporary civilization, the dangers inherent in the society of masses, the difficulties of communication, the need for (and lack of) human warmth, the isolation and solitude of man in the twentieth century. (p. 160)
Delibes has produced at least half a dozen novels worthy to be counted among the best of this century, several of them with excellent chances of outlasting the present era and enduring among the classics of the language. (p. 162)
Janet W. Díaz, in her Miguel Delibes (copyright © 1971 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of Twayne Publishers, a Division of G. K. Hall & Co., Boston), Twayne, 1971, 183 p.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2095
[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 Jacinto, the protagonist, who is increasingly confounded by the language of his contemporaries, and, to the extent that this insignificant little man "viene a ser un hombre del montón" … [comes close to being a face in the crowd], it is symbolic of the situation of all men, and thus becomes a problem of formidable scope for the reader as well. Moreover, the language which frames Jacinto's reality embraces ours too: whenever language is the subject under scrutiny, the speculations made and the alterations ventured inevitably implicate our own tongue in the consequences. Language is everybody's property and everybody's concern. To talk about it is to enter the domain of the universal, where anyone might justly claim a voice in the discussion. Delibes has done just that through his main character and, more covertly, through the means he has chosen to describe Jacinto's problematic reality. What is particularly striking about this novel's treatment of the subject of incommunication is its apparent participation in the manipulative linguistic vices it would purport to condemn. (p. 119)
One abuse of language which permeates Delibes' fictional society most noticeably has to do with the reduction of meaning—the neutralization or denial of differences in signification between given words, or more generally, the attempt to confine a word or succession of words to one precise, arbitrary definition. What inevitably results is such a proliferation of slogans (or slogan-like phrases) that thought itself becomes codified. From there it is only one step to the veneration of these summaries of a reductive thought process as social and moral imperatives….
Language becomes a kind of shorthand or algebra, in which every signifier corresponds to one—and only one—meaning, selected at will for its political utility from a host of possible associations. Only after a word has thus been molded and stripped of all its ambiguity can one perform such mathematical operations on it. (p. 120)
Implicit in this operation is the severing of all "non-essential" meaning, so that a signifier is also stripped of its inherent ambiguity. The mania to pare a word down to a minimal signification paradoxically represents an intent to render it immutable, unvarying. The reduction is nothing less than an attempt to reify language or to pretend that it consists of a fixed material substance not open to argument: it simply exists. To live in a world surcharged with dense, cryptic language, as Jacinto does, is like finding oneself walled in by a collection of objects every bit as impregnable as the overgrown "seto" [hedge] which threatens to engulf him at the end of the novel.
Sloganeering of this sort accurately reflects the aims of a totalitarian society in that such a society strives for uniformity of point of view among its citizenry. Ambiguity in language (by this I mean the multivalence of almost every word in any language) leaves too much room for dissent, for a variety of interpretations of reality. To tolerate the expansion of the possibilities for thought would be tantamount to promoting an anarchy of divergent views. Jacinto correctly adjudges language to be that which orders—or disorders—thought, but he is too infected by his society's way of thinking to perceive that the problem of communication lies with a decline in the complexity of language instead of an overabundance; or that it is only the discrepancy between his words and everyone else's which sets him apart from his neighbors. (p. 121)
This tendency to direct and thereby narrow the bounds of meaning manifests itself in the most basic principles of society. If language is overdefined, so, too, are many aspects of a man's life. For example, a man is his job, however specialized or trivial that occupation might be, so much so that the description of Jacinto dwells as much or more on the character of his handwriting and the pen or script he happens to employ as on his physical and mental attributes; it seems as if these are the traits which, ironically, must individualize him for the reader. He is his script—or his addition…. (p. 122)
A second linguistic abuse of this society has to do with a more radical distortion of meaning and is most evident in the description of social relations. Delibes has created a dehumanized fictional world, a world which has suffered a total corrosion of any humanitarian ethics it may once have had. The ultimate measure one can derive for the worth a society places in a human being lies in the standards of conduct which that society upholds between one of its members—literally a subject in this novel—and another. In the upside-down reality of Parábola del náufrago, one man's pain not only counts for little but also generally dominates the heights of savagery to become another man's pleasure. We can see this succinctly posed in the insoluble dilemma Jacinto faces whenever he plays cards with his friend Doña Presenta, who likes to lavish a little punishment on the losing players by repeatedly slapping them on the hands…. Jacinto is stymied because he cannot please anyone else, seemingly, without allowing injury to be done himself. The Christian ethic is stood on its head…. Paradoxically, while it would seem that the ego, given completely free rein, occupies a position of paramount importance, its value is really null: it may always be violated, without sanction, even with jubilation, by another ego. So, the human being really counts for little, and good and bad are completely subjective and variable terms, applied only as expedience requires. Man, instead of regarding himself as both subject and object, is perceived to be always only one or the other—either pure subject or pure object. Obviously, then, any attempt to gratify someone else's wishes, when those wishes are not mediated by regard for the other, could entail the risk of injury to one's own person, as Jacinto learned in the situation described above. And, as time goes on, it becomes clear that there is no middle ground to be occupied. (pp. 122-23)
Given that this society operates according to a code ostensibly the opposite of that of the readers, Delibes faces an imposing linguistic problem: his task is to convey to us a convincing account of life in an alien reality without inventing the entirely new language it would seem to demand…. The only avenue open to him is the device of irony. Ironic discourse seems to signal two things at once, but really means only one, and that is understood to be the opposite of, or at least other than, what is written on the page. But there are difficulties in reading Parábola del náufrago ironically, precisely because two conflicting meanings assert themselves at the same time. Delibes is working both within and against the normal meanings of words. When we read the word "compañeros" in the above context, we cannot be sure whether the word "compañero" is being redefined to include what we ordinarily think of as hostile behavior or is intended ironically to be read as "victimizers." (Certainly Delibes is commenting on the notable lack of solidarity among men supposed to be comrades.) Again, the difficulty can be understood in terms of the necessity of presenting an inversion of our values as the norm of a new society. The only way to "translate" the activity in question is through language recognizable to us as our own, but then, it is pushed so far to the limits by its context that it appears to be a self-contradiction. As a vehicle for alien meaning, such language tends to define itself through a novel application in the text (what we perceive as a discordance) and serves as an unselfconscious statement of the new meaning; but as our language, it always carries an implicit criticism of that alien reality, since one cannot avoid comparing the new usage with our normal application of the word.
In Parábola, Delibes uses straightforward language only when projecting Jacinto's point of view, rooted as it is in an obsolete order, as the protagonist tries to puzzle out the meaning of events going on around him. At other times, irony is the prevailing mode. Thus, through the shifts in language and tone, Delibes can accentuate the vast distance between Jacinto and the world in which he lives. There is a reality as he perceives it in his mind, a reality frankly cruel, and there is the dominant order around him, appropriating our language and Jacinto's to conceal its inhumanity. (pp. 123-24)
While this discussion may seem to suggest the presence of two divergent tendencies—first, the restriction of meaning, and second, the comprehension of antithetical concepts under one signifier—in reality they constitute but a single process. Both tendencies drastically reduce or even seek to eliminate the crucial differences between words. And words, of course, are grounded in the concept of difference: each one can boast a unique identity or existence only insofar as thought continues to support that uniqueness. The ironic language of Parábola so strains meaning that it must either supplant the original meanings of the words in question or end by obliterating all meaning. For example, one word that is consistently twisted beyond all recognition is "juego" [game]. It may be called upon to cover anything from playing cards to cracking someone's skull; it includes our meaning, which is ethically charged, since we consider a game to be a voluntary pastime of no deliberately harmful consequences to the players, and the opposite meaning engendered by a new society. But far from being richer for its expanded reach, the word has actually been impoverished, because it can no longer serve to classify or differentiate one kind of activity from another. Worse, by insinuating that there might even be a common grounding for the different significations, it impedes the possibility of clear thought. The word is so ambiguous it is empty, so full that it is hollow. Just as effectively as "sloganeering," this procedure denies at the outset potential differences in perspective, point of view, or opinion. It, too, after all, is characteristic of a society in which everything is foreseen, subsumed, one-dimensional. (p. 126)
To communicate Jacinto's isolation from society, Delibes employs a variety of metaphors, all of which mingle with one another and fuse with apparently "real" events to create a constantly shifting, limbo-like reality in the novel. Foremost is the "seto" [hedge] …, whose malignant, exploding growth imperils Jacinto's survival at the end of the novel. Yet another is the image of the "náufrago" [drowning man], he who has tried futilely to live "contra corriente" [against the current]…. This image appears as a metaphor for an already metaphorical condition, for Jacinto's efforts to disentangle himself from the overgrown hedge are suddenly transmuted into a struggle to stay afloat…. His gradual metamorphosis into a sheep, at the novel's close, is a metaphorical alternative to his death under a stifling regime. In addition to its connotations of meekness, this final metaphor fits into the overall, ironic Biblical frame, which originates in the novel's title. In this "parable" Don Abdón becomes the Divinity, Genaro's expulsion becomes the Fall of Man ("Genaro" suggests the word "género" [gender]), and Jacinto, the Lamb of God, who sought to redeem his friend—that is, have him reinstated at Don Abdón's—a schema which points to a grotesquely inverted, redefined vision of paradise (as many totalitarian regimes, literary or otherwise, are fond of styling themselves). Here, as with the language in Parábola, the ironic structure is ominously ambiguous, and it deliberately undermines any confidence the reader might have in language's necessary apprehension and guarantee of truth. (p. 127)
Roberta A. Quance, "Language Manipulation and Social Order in Delibes' 'Parábola del náufrago'," in Essays in Literature (copyright 1976 by Western Illinois University), Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 119-30.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 782
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 before the other boy falls ill; he then grows into adulthood with the thought of this death constantly in mind. This response to death is not typical of the young. (pp. 473-74)
La sombra is an unsuccessful portrayal of the world of children in another respect. In the first section of the novel, Delibes is trying to convince us that a young boy is telling the story, recounting his own experiences in the first person. But he has the child express himself on a level far beyond his years. In El camino, on the contrary, Delibes has carefully captured the speech and thought of children.
El camino is dominantly presented to us from the child's perspective…. Structurally the novel is intended to be the memories of Daniel during his last sleepless night before being sent off to boarding school. The nature of his memories is episodic: tales of various of the townspeople, adventures with his friends, overheard conversations between his parents, etc. Some of the stories of what went on in the town, particularly before his birth, are stories that Daniel simply could not know. For example, the author allows us to hear a conversation between the Guindilla sisters when the younger sister returned home after running off with a man. This is a conversation that only an omniscient narrator could relay to us. With the exception of a few such episodes, however, Delibes maintains the illusion that we are seeing the town through the eyes of the children. Their appraisal of the various people with whom they come in contact is therefore quite different from the version we would hear from an adult. They admire Roque's father, the strong blacksmith who is not religious and who drinks too much. They play jokes on the serious and upright Guindilla mayor. They are fond of Quino, el Manco, because he lets them touch the stump of his arm and talks to them as if they were grown up.
Delibes' novel is reminiscent of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in its effort to capture the perspective of the child and in its humor. Both novels focus on the adventures of a trio of boys: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper in the American novel and Daniel, Roque and Germán in the Spanish work. There is a noticeable parallel between Roque and Huck, for both have fathers who drink too much and neither is being subjected to the same rigorous formal education that Tom and Daniel are. In both novels, the natural enemy of the boys is the schoolmaster. There are also episodes in the two works that are quite similar in tone. Such is the case of the boys' discussion of scars in El camino and of warts in Tom Sawyer or the episodes in both novels which deal with the mistreatment of cats. Absent from Delibes' novel, in contrast with Tom Sawyer, are the more grotesque notes of murder and villainy. In Daniel's little town, no one is basically bad and no crimes take place. Tragedy does strike when Germán dies as the result of an accident, but this is quite different from the murder that Tom witnesses. On the other hand, Twain and Delibes do coincide in a treatment of first love. (pp. 474-75)
Delibes' novel is noteworthy in the author's ability to maintain dominantly the perspective of the child. (p. 475)
[In El Camino] the characterizations of the children are psychologically sound. In [this novel], the adult world … forms the backdrop, as the world of childhood moves to center stage. The juxtaposition of the two worlds remains, however, and the reader finds himself judging adult values from the perspective of the child. The result is both a reappraisal of those values and a greater appreciation of the sensitivity of children. (p. 479)
Phyllis Zatlin Boring, "The World of Childhood in the Contemporary Spanish Novel," in Kentucky Romance Quarterly (© University Press of Kentucky; reprinted by permission of Kentucky Romance Quarterly), Vol. XXIII, No. 4, 1976, pp. 467-81.∗