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5.1 San Manuel Bueno, mártir – Miguel de Unamuno

9 min readjune 14, 2023

Sylvia Rodriguez

Sylvia Rodriguez


AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
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This is a piece that is about faith and the inner conflicts someone may face with it. It is the first required text of unit 5!

Context Behind San Manuel Bueno, mártir

The context here is super important because of the religious themes and messages that are carried throughout this literature piece.

Author Background

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a Spanish writer, philosopher, and academic. He was one of the most influential intellectuals of the early 20th century in Spain, known for his literary works and his philosophical ideas, which often focused on the conflict between faith and reason.
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Image Courtesy of Getty Images

Time and Place

📜Historical: The novella San Manuel Bueno, mártir was written by Miguel de Unamuno in 1931, at the height of the Second Spanish Republic. This was a time of political and social upheaval in Spain. The rising secularism and modernization, as well as the tensions and conflicts between traditional religious ideals, are reflected in it.
🗺️Geographic: The novel takes place in Castile and León, a mountainous region in northwest Spain, in the little fictional community of Valverde de Lucerna. The isolation and introspective demeanor of the village's residents are a result of their distant location, which highlights their battle with existential and religious difficulties.

Societal Context

👑Political: The publication of Unamuno's work coincided with a period of profound political change in Spain. Conservative elements opposed the Second Spanish Republic, which sought to modernize the nation. This resulted in social tensions. The contradiction between traditional Catholicism and the altering political climate is shown in Unamuno's portrayal of the troubled priest San Manuel Bueno.
🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏻Socio-economic: The settlement of Valverde de Lucerna is an example of a rural, underdeveloped area where the bulk of the people rely on agriculture for a living. The peasants' socioeconomic hardships worsen their sense of helplessness and their need for spiritual comfort, which San Manuel Bueno fills despite his own uncertainties and internal difficulties.
🎭Cultural: The profoundly established religious and cultural traditions of rural Spain are explored in Unamuno's novella. The novella highlights the protagonists' experiences with Catholicism and their struggle to balance their faith with life's reality. The cultural setting emphasizes the pervasiveness of religion and its effects on personal identity and group cohesiveness.

Need to Know About San Manuel Bueno, mártir

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Image Courtesy of A to Z Books

Characters in This Novella

These characters add to the novella's investigation of religious and existential topics by bringing their unique worldviews, viewpoints, and relationships with faith to bear. The complexity of human nature and the quest for meaning and purpose in life are shown via their relationships and internal conflicts.
  • San Manuel Bueno: The story is centered around San Manuel Bueno. A charming and compassionate priest, he has dedicated his life to serving the Valverde de Lucerna community. San Manuel appears to have faith and compassion, but in reality, he secretly struggles with questions about the afterlife and the purpose of his own religious obligations. Even if it means losing his own inner serenity, he feels a profound need to offer solace and hope to the locals.
  • Angela Carballino: The story's narrator and the main character is Angela. She has a strong bond with San Manuel Bueno and holds him in high regard. As a devout Christian, Angela finds it difficult to comprehend San Manuel's spiritual dilemma. She turns into a supporter of him, attempting to make sense of his skepticism in light of her own unwavering faith in the Catholic Church's teachings.
  • Lazaro: San Manuel Bueno's good friend, Lázaro, is Angela's brother. Lázaro is a logical thinker who frequently challenges religious convictions, unlike his sister. He engages in intellectual discussions and questions San Manuel's faith while looking for rational scientific explanations for religious experiences. Lázaro's doubt stands in contrast to the other characters' unshakeable commitment.
  • Blasillo: Blasillo is a mentally disabled person who admires San Manuel Bueno greatly. He is shown to be innocent, sincere, and utterly committed to his faith. Blasillo's innocent faith in San Manuel's teachings serves as a potent representation of unwavering faith. His presence draws attention to the contrast between the adult characters' complex struggles and the simplicity of faith.
  • Don Manuel: Don Manuel is the late parish priest of Valverde de Lucerna and the uncle of San Manuel Bueno. Given that he spent his entire life performing religious activities, he is regarded as a saintly person by the villagers. As San Manuel struggles with his own uncertainties and strives to uphold the standards set by his uncle, Don Manuel's reputation and the high expectations he left behind present a considerable obstacle.

Literary Terms and Devices

Some literary terms that you should be aware of for this novella include:
  • Flashbacks: In San Manuel Bueno, mártir, the narrator, Angela, reflects on earlier occasions and memories to give background information on the people and their relationships. These flashbacks help readers comprehend the story's themes and character motives on a deeper level.
  • Ambigüedad: The novella examines ambiguity in San Manuel Bueno's persona. His outward presentation as a devoted and selfless priest is dubious, however, because of his inward struggles with faith and doubt. Unamuno deliberately presents readers with a blank slate to consider the ambiguity around San Manuel's beliefs.
  • Personaje: The novella's main character is San Manuel Bueno. He represents the psychological struggle between religious obligation and personal doubts, which gives him a complicated and multifaceted personality.
  • Narrador fidedigno o no fidedigno (Narrator trustworthy or unreliable): Because she relates the events and the viewpoints of the people as she sees them, the story's narrator, Angela, can be regarded as a trustworthy narrator. Her presentation of the story, however, may be subject to change due to her personal convictions and level of emotional investment.
  • Símil: Unamuno uses similes to improve the description of the characters' feelings. For instance, Angela emphasizes San Manuel's moral appearance and the respect he inspires in others by comparing his face to that of a saint.
  • Metáfora: Metaphors are used in the novella to amplify its symbolic meaning. For instance, the lake in Valverde de Lucerna is a metaphor for the peaceful façade of the town and the hidden turmoil and spiritual unrest that exists within.
  • Símbolo: The lake plays a key role in the narrative, standing in for the outward tranquillity and quiet that San Manuel Bueno tries to uphold despite his internal conflicts. The issue of appearances against reality and the complexity of human existence are both reflected in it.
  • Punto de vista (Point of view): Angela Carballino, the story's first-person narrator, tells the tale. Readers can see the events and emotional struggles from her point of view, which sheds light on her respect for San Manuel and her own battle to comprehend his religious crisis.
  • Trama: The psychological battle that San Manuel Bueno is going through, his attempts to offer spiritual counsel to the locals, and the effects his uncertainties have on Angela and Lázaro are all key themes in the drama San Manuel Bueno, mártir. It explores topics like faith, uncertainty, and the quest for purpose in life.
  • Desdoblamiento: The literary device of segmenting or slicing a character's personality into various facets is referred to as desdoblamiento. San Manuel Bueno's personal conflicts, though not mentioned in the novella, can be viewed as a type of desdoblamiento as he battles his secret misgivings and disenchantment with his public persona as a devout priest.
  • Metaficción: Metafiction is the self-reflexive examination of the nature of fiction itself, and San Manuel Bueno, mártir does not actively engage in metafiction. Instead than making a statement on storytelling, the novella focuses primarily on the themes of faith and existential anguish.
  • Yuxtaposición: Unamuno uses yuxtaposición, or juxtaposition, to juxtapose San Manuel Bueno's outward religiosity with his inner problems. His outward reputation as a beloved priest and his inner doubts stand in stark contrast, adding complexity and intensity to the story.

Summary of San Manuel Bueno, mártir

San Manuel Bueno, mártir is a novella by Miguel de Unamuno, published in 1930, that tells the story of a Catholic priest, Don Manuel Bueno, who is struggling with doubts about his faith. Don Manuel is a beloved figure in his rural village, where he is known for his wisdom, compassion, and kindness toward his parishioners. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he is tormented by his own lack of belief in the teachings of the Church, particularly in the existence of an afterlife. Despite this, he continues to carry out his religious duties and provide comfort to his community.
Unamuno employs various literary devices, including symbolism, irony, and metaphor, to convey Don Manuel's internal conflict and his struggle with faith. The novella is narrated by Don Manuel's close friend, Ángela, who serves as a witness to his doubts and struggles, and as a means for the reader to understand his innermost thoughts and feelings.
The novella explores themes of faith and reason, the nature of belief, the importance of community, and the search for meaning and purpose in life. Don Manuel's struggle with his faith is not only personal but also has an impact on the people around him, and the novella depicts the way that the community is affected by his doubts and eventual revelation. Through Ángela's reflections at the end of the story, the novella emphasizes Don Manuel's impact on the village and his legacy as a compassionate and caring figure, despite his internal struggles.

Themes in San Manuel Bueno, mártir

These are the themes to keep to try and analyze the literature piece towards.
La dualidad del ser
San Manuel Bueno, mártir addresses the innate duality in people, especially in the character of San Manuel Bueno. He presents a nuanced portrait of human nature and the struggles between competing sides of oneself by embodying the contrasting forces of faith and doubt.
La espiritualidad y la religión
The contrast between organized religion and spirituality is explored in the novella. While devoted to his religious duties, San Manuel Bueno struggles with the spiritual principles that underlie his religion and the institutionalized traditions of Catholicism, inspiring thoughts on the real significance of spirituality than merely following religious rituals.
La imagen pública y la imagen privada
San Manuel Bueno's public persona and internal hardships are contrasted in Unamuno's piece. Although he is regarded and respected by the locals as a saintly figure, he battles doubts and a crisis of faith in private, illuminating the gap between the projection of oneself on the outside and the interior conflict.
La introspección
The novella explores themes of contemplation and introspection, particularly via the persona of San Manuel Bueno. His internal conflict and existential uncertainties cause him to doubt his own convictions, which sparks a profound exploration of the nature of identity and the desire for meaning.
El tiempo lineal y el tiempo circular
Unamuno contrasts linear and circular ideas to experiment with the idea of time. The cyclical pattern of themes and San Manuel Bueno's ongoing battle obstruct the events' chronological flow, stressing how existential conundrums are perennial problems.
La naturaleza y el ambiente
The story is set against the backdrop of the natural world, particularly the mountains and lake that surround Valverde de Lucerna. It depicts the calmness and beauty of the outside environment in contrast to the character's interior struggles and spiritual discontent.
La asimilación y la marginación
Assimilation and marginalization are topics that are addressed throughout the novella, particularly via the perspective of San Manuel Bueno. His personal troubles and doubts set him apart, underlining the isolated experience of feeling excluded inside one's own spiritual community, even while he is recognized and accepted by the locals for his deeds of charity.

Significance of San Manuel Bueno, mártir

San Manuel Bueno, mártir is regarded as a masterpiece of Spanish literature and one of Unamuno's most significant works due to its profound philosophical inquiry. The novella's exploration of the conflict between faith and reason resonates with contemporary audiences, as people continue to question traditional beliefs and look for meaning and purpose in their lives. Furthermore, the novella's nuanced portrayal of the role of religion in society highlights the importance of religious institutions as sources of comfort and guidance, while also acknowledging the potential harm that can result from blind faith.
San Manuel Bueno, mártir is also notable for its depiction of the impact of doubt on individuals and communities. Don Manuel's struggle with his own beliefs and his efforts to reconcile his doubts with his public role as a religious leader raise important questions about the relationship between personal beliefs and social responsibility. The novella's portrayal of the way that doubt can erode the foundations of a community and the role of friendship in supporting individuals through difficult times underscores the importance of understanding and empathy in navigating complex ethical questions.
Overall, San Manuel Bueno, mártir remains a powerful and thought-provoking work that continues to resonate with readers and scholars alike. Its exploration of fundamental questions about faith, morality, and the human condition offers a timeless reflection on the complexities of the human experience.
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