Lazarillo de Tormes is a very whimsical literature piece that is also very satirical. It helped expose many of the problems that were happening in society as well as the hypocrisy among different groups of people.
Reproducción de la portada de Lazarillo de Tormes (1554). Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
This is an anonymous piece. DO NOT put someone as the author on the test. There are various people that are speculated to be the author, but none are recognized as the author by College Board or have been confirmed.
One important context for the author is that the author could have decided to remain anonymous because of what the message of Lazarillo de Tormes is. It is a satire piece that is through the perspective of a young boy 👦 that is innocent, but is being tricked and manipulated by the society that he lives in. During this time, the Spanish Inquisition was happening.
📜 Historical: Lazarillo de Tormes was written in 1554. During this time, the Spanish Inquisition, a judicial system ⚖️, led to a stronger monarchy of the just newly unified Spanish Kingdom with very brutal methods. People that were not Catholic and were rather part of religious minorities, including the Jewish and Muslim communities from this time period in Spain, had to convert to Catholicism to stay in the country and if they did not convert, they would be kicked out. It was more probable, however, for those that did not convert to be either burned to death or killed in some other way. Many minority groups, although they did convert to Catholicism, only converted to not be killed and continued to practice their actual religion in private, away from the Catholic church. ⛪
🗺️Geographic: Lazarillo de Tormes originated in Spain but was quickly banned within this nation after its release. This did not stop the book from circulating though and it moved all across Europe and was eventually translated into both French and English for people to read! This meant that although the Spanish tried to eradicate this piece of literature, it still succeeded—as it should!
👑Political: Lazarillo de Tormes was meant to call out the hypocritical actions that were present in society. It is important to remember that the political time was during the Spanish Inquisition, which was supposed to target certain corruptions present in Spain, but it only led to a larger power benign for the monarchy. There were very harsh methods that were used to achieve this and ultimately, the Catholic church in itself was very corrupt. It tended to control a lot of people both socially and economically. Many that were supposed to be seen as morally correct were not.
🧑🏽🤝🧑🏻Socio-economic: During this time, King Ferdinand and Isabella had done everything they could to ensure that the Catholic religion was the prominent religion and even went directly against people of the Jewish and Muslim communities in the area. Eventually, by the fourteenth century, there was really only Granada that was left for the Moors, Muslim people, but it was unfortunately taken from them by the Spaniards in 1492. There then continued to be more attacks against the people that weren’t Catholic.
People that became a different religion were known as Moriscos, Spanish Muslims, and Conversos, people that continued to maintain their Jewish faith in secret. There were also social and economic classes in Spain with Moriscos being considered a lower-level class and having jobs and positions that were not respected. They would also be punished harder than their Christian counterparts for any wrongs that they did. This can be specifically seen in Lazarillo de Tormes when his stepfather who was a Morisco stole food and he is more violently punished than Lazarillo’s mom.
He is the main character in this book, and his parents gave him the name "Tormes" because he was born beside the Tormes River. Lazarillo and his family, who are a representation of the lower class of the time, rely on the small wages his father receives from his job at the mill. Lázaro's mother decides to give him to a blind guy who needs someone to help him after his father, and then stepfather, pass away because she cannot care for him on her own.
Due to his constant hunger, he did not have the proper nutrition so Lázaro is short and thin but is a fun character for the audience and is always very alert. He is on his own for survival and only depends on himself. He uses his abilities to get food and other resources he may need.
The parents of Lazaro are Tomé González and Antona Pérez. Tomé, the father of Lazaro, was a mill worker that was punished for taking some grain for Antona and Lazaro to eat. He was sentenced to serve time away from home before dying in combat with the Moors.
Antona starts out working as a laundress and a cook. She then meets Zaide who becomes Lázaro's stepfather. Zaide was then incarcerated and punished after being caught conducting a robbery. Because Antona can no longer sustain him, Lázaro's mother decides to give him to a blind man in need.
El ciego impacts Lazarillo the most and is his first master. He teaches him how to be crafty, clever, and tricky. Lazarillo learns how to acquire food and some cash for the blind man as a result.
Some of El Ciego's traits included being greedy and selfish. He didn't give Lázaro much food and as a result, Lázaro came up with various schemes to steal food from El Ciego, but the blind man always caught him. Eventually, one day, when Lazarillo was stealing wine from him, the man hit the boy in the mouth with it, permanently denting his tooth. Lazarillo decided to leave his owner and look for a new home after realizing that he cannot be happy or satisfy his own needs with El Ciego.
El clerigo is Lázaro's master after he leaves El Ciego and the author uses him to illustrate the corruption and greediness of the clergy during this time period. He had a lot of money but kept his food locked in a chest. He only gave Lazarillo the food that he didn't enjoy and that was in bad shape.
El escudero, Lázaro's third master, is different from the other characters in Lazarillo de Tormes because he takes great pride in himself and cares a lot about his looks. He even pretended to be wealthy after being abandoned by his family. He portrays the lesser nobility during this time period.
Lázaro learns that he is not actually wealthy and that he is not really able to feed himself, thus instead of being dependent on him as he had been made to think, El escudero now depended on Lazarillo. Lazarillo goes back to the streets to find a new master.
Lázaro has El Frailes de la Merced as his fourth master. El Frailes de la Merced knew some of Lázaro's former master's neighbors, which is how he came to know Lazarillo. El Frailes de la Merced looked kind and was somewhat a little more generous than Lazarillo's previous masters and even gave Lazarillo his first pair of shoes. He was corrupt nonetheless and did not treat Lazarillo fairly.
Lázaro decides to leave El Frailes de la Merced and continue searching for a location where he may find food and happiness after realizing that his needs are not met here either. The monk spends considerably more time with ladies than performing his tasks and taking care of himself.
Other characters that you may want to familiarize yourself with include:
Las sociedades en contacto
In Lazarillo de Tormes, the two main communities are those that are wealthy and those that aren’t. He “learns” something different from each one. The different contacts that he makes with society are through the different types of people he interacts with and their backgrounds. For example, his second master, with the first having been a blind man, is a priest. The priest here was meant to try and expose the different corruptions and show how at this time, it was not uncommon for people of higher social statuses to take advantage of the less advantaged.
Las divisiones socioeconómicas
One of the largest divides seen is between Lazarillo and the other people that are taking care of him. He is poor and does not have many resources—which is why he looks at other people to try and get what he needs. People that are wealthier than Lazarillo, however, are the ones that tend to take advantage of him. Rather than thinking of what they can do to help Lazarillo, they focus on what they can get out of him.
Las relaciones sociales
Lazarillo de Tormes had been banned because of what was exposed in society. Unlike a lot of other literature pieces that claimed to expose the truths in society, the truths of society were exposed in this situation by someone that was impacted by all of it. They did not have many resources nor were they in a high social class. This helps show how although people may have believed that Spain was fine and fair, at least the people that were well off, this was far from the reality and people of different social classes did not treat those “below” them fairly or with respect.
Las relaciones familiares
Lazarillo de Tormes ends up with the ciego at the start because his stepfather had been captured and his mom could not take care of Lazarillo. Therefore, his mom gave him to the blind man that needed help. Through this, we can see that the struggles the mother faced were heavy. She was willing to give up her son and not have to support him, which also shows how family may not have been super important during this time or exposes the hypocrisy of the idea of family.
El individuo en su entorno
Lazarillo is trying to find someone that will help him. Therefore, he moves from one person to another when he finds another person that he believes is a better fit. Lazarillo represents innocence and has a unique point of view in which he has had a less fortunate life than those around him but also, because of various factors, tends to have an extreme perspective of things at times. This, at least for the audience, helps develop a stronger construction of the plot and the development of the mind of Lazarillo and his thinking process as he ages.
Other themes that are similar to the ones mentioned above that are included in this literature piece as well are:
Irony is used in Lazarillo de Tormes to emphasize the unfairness of social and religious structures. It is often used to show the hypocrisy of those in power and to illustrate how the powerless are often mistreated and taken advantage of. For example, when Lazarillo is sold by his father to become a servant to a blind man, it is ironic that he is expected to provide for and take care of someone who cannot even see his plight.
Satire is used in Lazarillo de Tormes to criticize the social and religious inequalities of the time. It is often used to make fun of the powerful and to highlight how the powerless are mistreated and taken advantage of. For example, when Lazarillo is mistreated by the upper classes and is treated with disdain, it is used to mock the unfairness of class differences and the lack of respect for the poor in Spanish society.
Humor is used in Lazarillo de Tormes to lighten the tone of the narrative and to make it more entertaining. It often highlights the absurdities of the situations that Lazarillo finds himself in and provides comic relief to the otherwise serious tone of the text. For example, when Lazarillo is sold to the blind man, he talks about how the man often trips over his own feet and walks into walls, which serves to lighten the tone of the narrative and provide some comic relief.
What does the novel explore?
The novel explores the life of a pícaro and his struggles to survive in a society ruled by oppressive aristocrats. It also explores themes of social class, economics, and justice. Furthermore, the novel serves as a critique of the Spanish society of the time and its hypocritical values.