Our Friend Manso

by Benito PérezGaldós

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

Intellect and Emotion

In the novel, Benito Pérez Galdós establishes a contrast between a highly rational man and the irrational, emotional world around him. This central theme of the opposition of intellect and emotion shapes the whole novel. The author suggests that emotion, primarily love, is a stronger motivator than intellect.

As a person heavily invested in the world of the mind, Máximo Manso not only earns his living as a teacher but is guided by his conviction of the human rational nature. Uncomfortable in social situations, he has become middle-aged without marrying or having experienced true love. The plot revolves around his becoming interested in a beautiful young woman who, at age 19, is committed to finding an appropriate husband—this is a necessity for Irene, an orphan who depends on her impoverished aunt Candida. With her shrewd calculations, Irene has figured out what kind of young lady would make a favorable impression. She aims always to appear demure, sensible, and reasonable. Máximo falls for this act, but a schoolteacher husband is not what she had in mind.


Another theme offers a contrast to his lofty ideals is the centrality of power, and the human desire for it, in shaping society. A closely related theme is society’s corrupting influences.

A strong contrast to the mild-mannered teacher is his former student, Manuel Peña, who is young and handsome. Although he is far from poor, he did not grow up in elite society. Like Irene, he is determined to climb the social ladder. Manuel is also interested in power and connections. His ascent in politics shows the importance of craving power.

Irene’s aunt is also adept at manipulating the system. As an elderly widow, she knows that her best hope of a comfortable old age will be achieved through Irene’s position. However, she is willing to have her niece compromise her reputation in order to achieve that. Máximo’s brother José María, who craves power and control, is interested in an illicit affair with Irene and cannot offer her more because he is already married. Both through learning of Irene’s true character and suffering the pain of losing her to Manuel, whom she marries, Máximo is shattered when he realizes that the world is not the place he thought it was; his broken heart proves fatal.


In addition, as Máximo Manso, the protagonist, is a teacher, the theme of education also plays a central role. Convinced that the human being is primarily a rational creature, Manso also believes that education is the most important part of society’s obligation, and he devotes himself to cultivating his students’ intellects.

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