The Obscene Bird of Night Summary
by José Donoso

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The Obscene Bird of Night Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Humberto Peñaloza is a man of humble origins who resolves to improve his station in life and be like Jerónimo de Azcoitía—a rich, good-looking man who belongs to the aristocracy. To achieve his goal, Humberto follows his father’s advice to become a lawyer and a writer. By chance, Jerónimo ends up hiring Humberto to be his secretary and to write a biography of the Azcoitía family. One of Jerónimo’s main concerns is to have a son to perpetuate the Azcoitía name. To achieve this, he marries Inés, a beautiful lady from the aristocracy.

Inés has an old nursemaid named Peta Ponce, who is the incarnation of two other beings: A witch and a fabled figure called the Yellow Bitch. The Yellow Bitch is a witness to all that Inés does, in particular her sexual acts with her husband. Humberto, who is attracted to Inés, tries to sleep with her, and Peta arranges for the encounter to be in her own room. However, at the moment of the act, Humberto realizes it is not Inés but rather Peta who is in bed with him; nevertheless, he sleeps with Peta.

Inés becomes pregnant and conceives a monstrous baby who, according to doctors, will not survive. His face is totally deformed and he has a hump that disfigures his body. They name him Boy because he is not worthy of receiving a proper name. His father is faced with the dilemma of either letting him die or doing all that is possible to save him. He chooses the latter and hires Dr. Azula, a Swiss specialist surgeon, to take care of his son.

Jerónimo, who finds his son repulsive, decides to hide him from society. He asks Humberto to supervise La Rinconada, the country estate to be set aside just for Boy and his keepers. In such an environment, Boy will appear normal and never know of the outside world. Dr. Azula manages to help Boy with special food blends and a number of surgeries to improve his face. Jerónimo and Inés come to understand that there is no chance they will be able to perpetuate the Azcoitía name. Boy receives no visits from his parents, and Humberto becomes the intermediary between Jerónimo and his son.

In an attempt to provide continuity to the Azcoitía name, Inés decides to travel to Rome to beatify a past ancestor, but she fails in her efforts. Humberto and Jerónimo’s cousin Esmeralda remain in charge of La Rinconada and fall in love with each other. Ready to marry, Humberto becomes ill and has surgery with Dr. Azula. It seems that Azula had operated on other areas of Humberto’s body as well, including his throat, leaving him almost voiceless. Humberto escapes and is found by the gate of Casa de los Ejercicios Espirituales de la Encarnacíon, home of the old ladies, the five orphans, and Mother Benita. They take Humberto in and take care of him as if he were a baby. At the casa he becomes his alter ego, the Mudito, or the “mute child,” and the helper of Mother Benita.

Upon her failed attempt in Rome to sanctify her relative, Inés decides to move to the casa, too, because she does not want to face her husband. Although she knows Jerónimo loves her and cares for her, she chooses to stay among the old ladies to avoid the pressure to conceive a new son. In the casa is a teenage orphan named Iris Mateluna. She is the incarnation of Inés’s pious cousin and, to the eyes of the old ladies, the embodiment of purity. Nevertheless, Inés has a double life.

Inés leaves the casa, assisted by Mudito, and has sex with the Giant, a masked ne’er-do-well who waits for her outside the casa. Mudito wants to have sex with her, too, so he asks Giant for his mask. A masked Mudito has sex with Iris, who becomes pregnant. Giant learns to use the mask to prostitute Iris; she apparently does not know she is having sex with different men, including Jerónimo. Mudito sees Jerónimo and Iris having sex, but he does not mind because he is certain that he is the real father of Iris’s future son. The ladies in the home realize that Iris is pregnant, but they wholeheartedly believe...

(The entire section is 1,211 words.)