The events in the story take place in Valverde de Lucerna, a small Spanish village where a priest named Don Manuel lives.
Narrator and Point of View
The narrator is Angela Carballino, and the story is told from a first-person perspective.
Tone and Mood
The tone of the nivola is often reflective and spiritual, while the mood is often tragic. The subject of the nivola deals often with death and the meaning of life, or possibly the lack thereof.
Protagonist and Antagonist
The protagonist of the story is Don Manuel. Lazaro serves briefly as an antagonist when he returns from the New World with anticlerical ideals, but quickly grows to agree with Don Manuel's personal philosophy towards religion.
The primary conflict within the story is between the different approaches to religion and belief held by Angela, Lazaro, and Don Manuel. While Angela initially believes that truth is the most important virtue when it comes to religion, Don Manuel believes that the truth must sometimes be hidden in order for people to remain happy.
The climax occurs when Angela learns the truth about Don Manuel's religious beliefs through Lazaro. This moment occurs at nearly exactly the center of the story, as 6142 words (49.9% of the total) precede the scene and and 6163 words (50.1%) follow it. Everything that occurs after this point in the story is the falling action, from Angela confronting Don Manuel about his beliefs to Don Manuel and Lazaro eventually dying of old age.
In the scene where Lazaro is brought into the religious community in Valverde de Lucerna, a rooster crows because it is dawn. This rooster crowing, however, also alludes to Peter's three lies in the Bible. In this way, the rooster foreshadows the reveal that both Lazaro and Don Manuel are in fact lying about their religious beliefs.
There are many allusions in the story, nearly all of them biblical in nature. Most significant are references to Jesus Christ, including the miracle at the sea of Galilee, the temptation in the desert, and the crucifixion. There are also references to other biblical figures, such as Lazarus, Moses, Joseph, and the Devil.
A non-religious allusion in the story refers to Karl Marx, who is cited as "a leader of the Social Revolution."
The primary paradox of the story is invoked at the very end of Angela's memoir, where she says, "I believe the good Don Manuel and my brother Lazaro died thinking they did not believe, but...actually did believe, in an active and resigned desolation." What does this mean? Simply put, Angela thinks that by believing so firmly that there was no God and no afterlife, Don Manuel and Lazaro actually did believe in something after all. In any case, their belief that the truth about the world was so terrible that the villagers of Valverde de Lucerna must never find out; as such, through their religious facade, Don Manuel and Lazaro caused religion to be true for many others.
The story draws many parallels between its characters and figures of the Bible. Most important is the parallel between Don Manuel and Jesus Christ; both are humble men who work hard to serve their people. In fact, they both work to lead their people to salvation. However, the crucial difference between Don Manuel and Jesus is that while Jesus truly believed in his theology, Don Manuel hid his true thoughts on religion in order to protect his villagers from what he saw as "the terrible truth." In the end, their actions had similar effects; however, the story urges readers to ponder whether one should be judged based on the results of one's actions alone, or by the spiritual and philosophical beliefs behind those actions.
Metonymy and Synecdoche
San Manuel Bueno, Martyr Questions and Answers
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