Washington Irving

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What is the theme or message Irving conveys in “The Adelantado of the Seven Cities”?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short story "The Adelantado of the Seven Cities" by Washington Irving bears resemblance to Irving's famous tale "Rip Van Winkle" in that the protagonists of both stories find themselves propelled into the future by unknown mystical powers.

At the beginning of "The Adelantado of the Seven Cities," in the early fifteenth century, a shipwrecked pilot returns to Portugal with a tale of discovering an island inhabited by Spanish Christians who centuries previously had fled the Moslem invasion of Spain. Seven bishops had led seven groups to establish seven cities on this island. A young man named Don Fernando de Ulmo spends his fortune outfitting two caravels to find this lost island. The king grants him a commission that if he finds the lost land, he will become its Adelantado, or ruler, as long as he gives a percentage of the profits to the king.

Don Fernando promises to be true to his fiancé Serafina, and then he sets sail. After a storm at sea, his ships discover an island where the inhabitants proclaim him Adelantado and invite him to a feast. At the feast, he becomes enamored with another woman. After he returns to his ship and falls asleep, he awakens aboard another Portuguese vessel, where he is informed that he is the survivor of a ship lost at sea.

When Don Fernando returns to Portugal, he discovers that 100 years have passed. His fiancé Serafina is long dead, and nobody remembers him or his family. He books passage to the Canary Islands, where the inhabitants have heard of his mystical island. Every day for the rest of his life he climbs a high peak and searches for the Island of the Seven Cities, which the inhabitants of the Canaries call the Island of St. Brandon, but he never finds it.

Irving primarily wrote "The Adelantado of the Seven Cities" as an entertaining fantasy, and any themes or messages that can be derived from it are subject to individual interpretation. For instance, some people might assume that the main message is that the world is far stranger than we imagine and that supernatural events really happen. Others might look at Don Fernando's foolhardiness in spending his fortune on this dangerous voyage and conclude that the message is that he should have stayed where he was and enjoyed his fortune and his love Serafina. Still others might perceive that his unfaithfulness to Serafina in giving her ring to the woman he meets on the island is what causes his downfall. After a careful reading of the story, you can decide for yourself what you think the main theme or message is.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial