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Literature / Lazarillo de Tormes

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"Aprende, necio, que el mozo del ciego un punto más listo ha de ser que el diablo." Translation 

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and its fortunes and adversities (known as Lazarillo de Tormes for short) is an anonymous 16th-century Spanish novel, written in the first person and in epistolary style (as a single, long letter), whose earliest known editions date back to 1554. In it, the titular Lázaro de Tormes, who's an adult at the present, tells his life from his miserable childhood until his wedding in a message to another person. It's considered the precursor of the picaresque novel and one of the greatest inspirations of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.

Lazarillo de Tormes is an ironic and ruthless sketch of the society of the moment, showing its vices and hypocritical attitudes, especially those of clergymen and religious. There are different hypotheses about its authorship; the author was probably sympathetic to Erasmus ideas. This motivated the The Spanish Inquisition to prohibit it and, later, to allow its publication, once it was expunged.

A similar work was written around this time too by urchin-turned-privateer Alonso de Contreras. It's at times more idealistic and at times even nastier.

Lazarillo de Tormes provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Lázaro.
  • Arc Words: After giving Lázaro a mean-spirited Zen Slap, the Blind Man gives out a line that summarizes his whole character.
    "Yo oro ni plata no te lo puedo dar, mas avisos para vivir muchos te mostraré." Translation 
  • Bad Boss: The Blind Man mistreats Lázaro in ways that range from tough but harmless to absolutely savage. Naturally, when Lázaro finds the chance to bite back, he takes it with gusto.
  • Battle of Wits: Lázaro has two with the Blind Man and Cleric, respectively.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Played for laughs but also commented upon. Lázaro's mulatto half-brother, a toddler at the time, is scared of his own dad Zaide, who is a black man. This is because the child has never looked at a mirror, and therefore doesn't know he is black too. Lázaro finds it ironic.
  • Corrupt Church: The entire work seems to be a critic against the Spanish church's hypocrisy at the time, with two of Lázaro's masters (the Cleric and Papal Bull Vendor) being corrupt clergymen. Many scholars have suggested that this is why the book was published anonymously, with the writer (correctly) expecting the Inquisition to come out against it.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lázaro's father went to war and never came back.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When the Blind Man finds out Lázaro was secretly drinking his wine through a hole in the wine jar, he smashes the heavy jar itself on the boy's face, breaking his teeth and probably a couple of facial bones too.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After so much abuse, Lázaro gets his revenge against the Blind Man by making him jump against a pillar, knocking him out.
  • Guile Hero: Over the course of the first three chapters, Lázaro uses his wits to survive.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lázaro's third master, the Hidalgo, is a nobleman who, while wearing decent clothing, is in far worse life conditions than Lázaro was at the time. Being unable to pay his rent makes the Hidalgo leave Lázaro and escape once his landlords come after him.
  • Innocence Lost: One of the book main themes.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Blind Man is surely wise in his interactions with his clients, but he grabs the Villain Ball with both hands by abusing Lázaro, his only aide and eyes, eventually making him turn against him.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Lázaro tricks the Blind Man into jumping against a column for all the mistreatment he has endured.
  • Son of a Whore: It's implied Lázaro's mother worked as a prostitute at one point, at least until hooking up with the black man.
  • Street Smart: Lázaro.
  • Stupid Evil: The Blind Man, who is, well, blind, mistreats his only guide until turning him against the master.
  • The Trickster: The Blind Man, and eventually, Lázaro as well.
  • Trickster Mentor: The Blind Man, in a pretty harsh way.
  • Zen Slap: One of the most iconic moments of the novel is when Lázaro arrives with his first master, the old Blind Man, to a bridge with a stone statue of a bull. The Blind Man then tells him to put his ear against the bull, because he will hear a great noise inside it. Lázaro does as he says... and then the Blind Man proceeds to bash his head against the stone. The master then tells him that he can't provide him with many luxuries, but he can give him ample lessons, and Lázaro also recalls this moment as the one that teached him the most important lesson in his live: to be smart about who to trust, and to make use of his guile to survive.