Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591
The main character, Manolo Olivar, is the son of Juan Olivar, a famous bullfighter whose statue adorns the town square. Because Manolo looks like his father—dark, thin, with a long nose (considered a mark of bravery) and sad, brooding eyes—everyone expects Manolo to behave just like his father. But Manolo refuses to make himself into the bullfighting hero that the townspeople of Arcangel envision.
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Manolo struggles to follow his personal ambitions and desires but faces pressure from a community deeply entrenched in the rituals surrounding bullfighting. For example, six men, dedicated bullfighting fans called aficionados, share one determination: to prepare Manolo for his destiny as a bullfighter. One of them, the seventy-yearold Count de la Casa, lives in France but comes to Spain once a year to see his olive groves and observe the testing of the young bulls and heifers. Respected by the citizens of Arcangel, the Count sees Manolo each year, and it is he who decides that Manolo will begin his bullfighting career at age eleven, instead of at age twelve as his father did.
Jaime Garcia is Manolo's best friend. Only when he is with Jaime can Manolo forget about bullfighting and enjoy going to movies, fishing, climbing roofs, and setting carrier-pigeons loose. Jaime tells Manolo about his bull-fighter brother, Juan, who goes to the pastures in the dark to cape the bulls because he is too poor to have the bulls readied for him. Manolo and Juan meet, and as the time approaches when Manolo must fight his first bull, Juan coaches him. Juan also takes Manolo to visit "El Magnifico," a boy who has been gored by a bull, and while they are there, a doctor arrives to attend to the wounded boy. Manolo assists the doctor, and while doing so decides, "This is what a man should do with his life: cure the wounded, bring health back to the sick, save the dying."
Manolo's mother, Senora Olivar, a strong, proud, quiet woman, allows her son to make his own decisions. She tells him about the private side of his famous father, confiding that this renowned bull-fighter enjoyed the winters and being sick because these things provided respites from the usual training and fighting. She says he died honorably, in the ring. Through her understanding and support, Manolo's mother helps to free him from his fear of not living up to expectations.
Alfonso Castillo, a famous bull-fighter critic, also educates Manolo about his father. He shows Manolo a portrait of his father, Juan Olivar, the famous matador, and "Patatero," the bull who pierced Juan Olivar's heart when Manolo was only three. Castillo tells Manolo that before a boy becomes a man he has to make some choices: "to do the right thing or the wrong thing, to please himself or to please others; to be true to his own self, or untrue to it." He also helps to free Manolo from fear. Manolo looks at the picture of his father and vows that he, too, will become a daring man.
The theme of a young boy reaching maturity is the thrust of Shadow of a Bull Manolo prepares himself as best he can to fight the bull. His dilemma of choosing between loyalty to his heritage and loyalty to himself, combined with his longing for understanding, creates a powerful conflict in the story. Manolo wrestles with the fear of being labeled a coward, but he manages to conquer this fear when he realizes that honor and nobility can be achieved in many ways.