Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412
Our Friend Manso is at once the story of misguided love and an incisive social critique. For Benito Pérez Galdós, the changes occurring in the Spanish society in which he lived were unsettling and not all positive. Although he maintained a critical stance toward the ancient, aristocratic hierarchy of which upper-class Spaniards were proud, he was also dismayed by some of the newer developments. His protagonist, Máximo Manso, is not only a teacher but a meek, misguided soul who is out of touch with social reality. Máximo's misadventures not only prove costly (even fatal) to himself but also represent the pitfalls that endanger the entire nation of Spain.
As the loss of almost all its colonies in the first two decades of the nineteenth century decimated the Spanish Empire, thousands of long-standing noble and wealthy families experienced great reversals of fortune. In contrast, the mid-late century became the age of the self-made man (and occasionally woman), as entrepreneurism partly replaced birthright as a way to gain fame, fortune, and ultimately power.
Máximo lives in an idealistic world. A gifted teacher who is truly dedicated to improving his students' minds, he is nonetheless blind to the many negative forces that shape his world. A child of the Enlightenment, he sticks with his deep-seated commitment to rationality as the guiding light. The paradox of Máximo is that, in regarding himself as a realist, he proves himself an idealist (another fundamental Spanish type, the quixotic hero).
Unable to see the irrationality of his own position, he steadfastly refuses to believe that human beings are actually motivated by greed, lust, or the desire for power. Sadly for him, both his own brother and his former student serve as the instruments of destroying the bubble in which he is encased.
The combination of characters and the factors that are introduced through them extends beyond the brother and the symbolic son who topple him. Women are important forces in showing Manso that the world is a bleak, corrupt place. Candida—a wicked old lady who is willing to act as a procuress for her own niece—epitomizes this corruption as well as represents all the worst features of the ancient regime that the author condemns.
Although the former student, Manuel, wins both the girl Irene and a seat in Parliament, he represents the author's guarded optimism about his country in which the despicably greedy, lecherous brother is thwarted in his lascivious plans.