The Tree of Knowledge Themes
by Pío Baroja

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Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Andres is on a quest that will end in self-destruction because his intellectuality makes him unable to survive in an environment ordered by the baser instincts. From his philosophical readings, he concludes that existence consists of the inverse relationship between will and knowledge. Like the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, there are two modes or levels of being, completely different from each other. The significance of the Tree of Life is depicted in the novel through Spanish society in the late nineteenth century. In both urban and rural settings, Andres observes an array of behaviors and personalities motivated by self-interest. An intrinsic component of the human species and unlikely to disappear altogether, self-interest can be transcended through development of the intellect. With truth as the ultimate, indisputable measure of all things, unnecessary and counterproductive emotions can be controlled, the veil of illusion is lifted, and civilization can progress. Thus oriented, Andres finds himself incapable of regressing to a more primitive condition. He is a seeker of knowledge, a “scientist” and therefore unfit to deal with the sordid circumstances of his time and place. Unlike Montaner, who resigns himself to failure, or Aracil, who is distracted by the accumulation of material possessions, Andres must find a genuine, permanent means to resolve his dilemma. His suffering intensifies continually; he grows increasingly cynical, depressed, and bitter. When he least expects it, however, he experiences love and happiness with Lulu, only to lose it again. His only alternative is to abandon a life which had long since abandoned him.