The Outsider Summary (Ernesto Sábato)

Ernesto Sábato


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Outsider is an intense psychological novel concerning a passionate crime narrated in the first-person-singular form, using techniques found in detective fiction. The opening line of the novel unveils the outcome of Juan Pablo Castel’s desperate attempt to reach out of his inner confinement through a total physical and spiritual communication with María. The direct opening statement, “I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed María Iribarne,” takes the reader through the sordid labyrinth of the protagonist’s convulsed mind. The plot of the novel unfolds in a very simple way: A tormented artist enters into a passionate affair with the wife of a wealthy blind man. Frustrated by his inability to experience María’s absolute love or to possess her, Castel murders her. The protagonist confides the recollection of his story to the readers in a direct, personal style, forcing them to enter his tunnel of absolute isolation.

The painter first sees María at one of his art exhibits. She is the only person who discovers a minuscule detail of a painting entitled Maternity. Although the artwork centers on the figures of a mother and child, there is a small window in the upper left-hand corner of the painting. Through that window, one can see a scene in which an anxious woman on a desolate beach seems to be waiting for someone’s response. Castel observes María’s attraction to the remote scene and is certain that finally someone equal to him understands his cry for communication. While he is lost in a web of meditations, however, she leaves the gallery without giving a clue regarding her identity. The reader is then thrown into Castel’s frantic search for María throughout the endless streets of Buenos Aires. By this time, one realizes that the anecdote is being told from the point of view of what could be considered a madman, the protagonist, and that his recollections are probably distorted images of an uncertain story. The series of hypotheses, questions, and digressions that go on in Castel’s mind, however, intrigue and hold his interest through the last line of the novel. The next encounter with María, as well as subsequent ones in Plaza San Martín, La Recoleta, and the painter’s studio, confirm the tumultuous nature of Castel’s personality. The intense and cruel interrogation which María is forced to undergo at every meeting reveals the futile struggle of Castel to possess her. She seems reluctant to surrender to Castel’s passion, fearing to cause him more harm. The only common thread between them seems to stem from the mutual understanding of Castel’s art, specifically, the interpretation of spiritual isolation implied in the scene of the little window. From this point on, María’s actions are presented in a blurred, incoherent way, increasing the mystery about her real self to Castel and to readers.

Her sudden departure for the country leaves Castel in greater depression. He is told by her maid that María has left a letter for him. Anxiously, the painter goes to her fashionable apartment on Posadas Street. While waiting in the library, Castel is confronted by the inexpressive stare of the eyes of María’s husband, Allende. He acts courteously toward Castel and hands him the envelope. The extreme discomfort of the situation for Castel comes from the discovery that María’s husband is...

(The entire section is 1374 words.)