Ramón Pérez de Ayala by Ramón Pérez deAyala

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Ramón Pérez de Ayala Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ramón Pérez de Ayala’s novels can be divided into three categories: the four interrelated autobiographical novels (Tinieblas en las cumbres, A.M.D.G., The Fox’s Paw, and Troteras y danzaderas), the transitional novels of Spanish life (Prometheus, Sunday Sunlight, and The Fall of the House of Limón), and the mature works that focus on major themes (Belarmino and Apolonio, Honeymoon, Bittermoon, and Tiger Juan). Despite the author’s development between the composition of his early novels and that of his later ones, several features remain constant: the tragic sense of life and the humanistic spirit that inform his work, the classical vision that conceives of the universe as an ultimately harmonious confluence of antitheses, and the narrative techniques that are necessary for expressing the complexity of such a worldview.

Pérez de Ayala’s novels reflect the various influences that were brought to bear on them. At the basis of his vision is the excellent foundation he had in the classics of Greek and Latin literature. His novels abound in allusions to classical heroes and mythological figures, and he often gives their names ironically to rural characters singularly devoid of grace. More important, however, is his classical conception of the universe as an assemblage of warring elements. Individuals, from their limited perspectives, can discern only the discontinuity of the parts rather than the harmony of the whole. Because the perception of cosmic unity is beyond the grasp of the rational mind, the happy coexistence of contradictory truths may approach expression only in aesthetic orders. Thus, the task of the novelist is to challenge constantly the partial truths that constitute the individual perspective and open them up to new vistas.

Pérez de Ayala’s technique is, on the whole, Jamesian. It serves his belief in a multifaceted reality and his advocacy for the virtue of tolerance. By providing multiple points of reference and juxtaposing conflicting opinions, Pérez de Ayala reminds readers of the inadequacy of the individual perspective and of the necessity to expand the mind to encompass alternative realities. In Troteras y danzaderas (mummers and dancers), a spokesman for the author insists that all so-called golden ages have been social states brought about by a few conspicuous thinkers who believed in the compatibility of intelligence and strength, art and money, science and religion, philosophy and arms. By way of encouraging such marriages, Pérez de Ayala constantly reminds his readers that what they perceive as truth is merely one side of a coin. For example, in the prologue to the stories of El ombligo del mundo (1924; the umbilical center of the world), the narrator explains that everything that happens in the world is equally a cause for laughter and tears. The comic and the dramatic, he asserts, depend on one’s perspective. Pérez de Ayala’s own worldview as presented in the novels is tragicomic.

Pérez de Ayala’s literary friends and associates, among them many prominent members of the Generation of ’98, had a hand in shaping his views on art and life. Among his acquaintances were Antonio Machado, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. An outspoken admirer of Darío’s poetry, Pérez de Ayala appears to have been affected by his sense of the burden of consciousness. Pérez de Ayala’s early novels bring to mind lines from Darío’s well-known poem “Lo fatal” (“Fatality”): “For there is no greater grief than the grief of being alive/ No greater affliction than conscious life.”

Unamuno’s basically existentialist philosophy and his “tragic sense of life” also exerted an undeniable influence on Pérez de Ayala, whose humanism, like Unamuno’s, arose from his knowledge of pain and his sympathy for the suffering that is the lot of all people. These feelings were no doubt intensified by the historical events of...

(The entire section is 5,151 words.)