The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes

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Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Social and Religious Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Poverty, Crime, and Violence Theme Icon
Mercy and Compassion Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence Theme Icon

Through telling his life story, Lazaro portrays the society he lives in as one in which deception is the essence of every interaction. Born to one thief and then adopted by another, it is clear from the outset that young Lazaro belongs to the class of people who depend on lying and cheating to survive. Leaving his family at a young age to fend for himself, Lazaro goes on to serve many masters who exploit the ignorance of others to make their living. Lazaro quickly learns the art of deception himself through a series of insufferable jobs in which survival and loss of innocence are revealed to be two deeply entangled processes.

Although Lazaro sets up his story with the stated purpose of bringing the truth to light, the process of growing up makes him willfully ignorant of or complicit in various acts of deception. After suffering months of abuse as the blind man’s servant, and taking revenge whenever the opportunity arose, Lazaro’s final betrayal of the blind man represents a moment of the student surpassing the master in the art of deception. Later on, during his time spent serving the priest, Lazaro’s survival depends upon his ability to maintain the illusion that the bread he steals is being eaten by mice. Years later, Lazaro marries the archpriest’s maid and discovers, after some time, that she and the archpriest have carried on a secret sexual relationship under his nose. Lazaro is angry at first but then makes an arrangement with the archpriest allowing this infidelity to go on as long as both he and the archpriest continue to benefit from it. Lazaro is content that this arrangement works to his financial benefit and seems flatly unconcerned with the moral questions it poses.

Against the backdrop of the Inquisition, even the credibility of Lazaro’s account is, in the end, made somewhat uncertain, as it becomes clear that the impetus for telling the entire story had been to supply an explanation — and perhaps also a defense — of the arrangement he has made with the archpriest concerning his wife. Lazaro seems to suggest that the only truth that can be known with any certainty is that of the absolute rule of deception. The book’s anonymous author, by contrast, is perhaps more optimistic about what can be achieved by striving to expose the truth and illuminate hypocrisy, since the book itself stands as a sharp piece of social criticism which he risked his life to have published.

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Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence appears in each Chapter of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence Quotes in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes

Below you will find the important quotes in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes related to the theme of Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence.
Prologue Quotes

And therefore nothing of this sort should be destroyed or thrown away unless it is utterly detestable, but on the contrary such things should be brought to the knowledge of everyone, especially if they are utterly harmless and even likely to bear some fruit.

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker)
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:

This sentence is written by Lazaro in reference to the story he is about to tell, but could just as easily have come from the mouth of the book’s anonymous author. Lazaro is preparing his reader for the harsh realities he will present in his life story, but this passage can be read to have a coded double meaning, in which the author is defending his right and responsibility to tell the ugly truth about the hypocritical society he lives in, despite the consequences. Indeed, writing a book so critical of corruption and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church was a controversial act that could have gotten the author killed—due to that, it seems reasonable that the author might seek to defend his actions. That bringing such knowledge to light might even “bear some fruit” is a nod to the author’s apparent hope that, by openly criticizing the Church, meaningful reforms might result. Because little is known about the author, it’s through passages like these that the reader is able to see beyond the character of Lazaro to glean some understanding of what the author’s opinions and motivations may have been.

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If it were otherwise, there are very few who would write for just one reader, because it is hard work, and those who undertake it hope to be rewarded, not in money, but in having the efforts seen and read and, when possible, praised. That is why Cicero says: “Honor is the nurse of the arts.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

There are two levels of subtle irony to this passage. Lazaro, the speaker, is explaining that he hopes the hard work he has put into writing his life story will be rewarded with praise and wide recognition—for why else, he asks, would somebody do such hard work, if not for the honor? On one level, this is ironic because the story Lazaro is about to tell is not honorable; it proves only his own duplicity, cruelty, and complicity in corruption. Even Lazaro’s direct impetus for writing—to explain, in a letter, the circumstances of his being cuckolded—is an admission of something which would have been seen as highly dishonorable. Thus, Lazaro’s pursuit of honor through writing his story seems about as superficial and deluded as the squire’s attempt to appear wealthy. On another level, this statement is ironic because of its relationship to the book’s author. The author, simply by publishing the book anonymously, provides his own answer to Lazaro’s question: telling the truth is a moral act and therefore it has an inherent value which is entirely unrelated to the honor or recognition it may bring. If, in other passages, the voice of Lazaro is indistinguishable from the author’s own perspective, here the author cleverly and subtly puts distance between himself and Lazaro, who seems unable to fathom the rationale for undertaking a dangerous and difficult writing project anonymously.

Chapter 1 Quotes

It seemed to me that at that moment I awoke out of the simplicity in which I had remained like a sleeping child. And I said to myself, “He’s right. I’d better keep my eyes open and my wits about me, for I’m on my own, and I’ll have to figure out how to manage for myself.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The blind man
Related Symbols: Horns
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, following the incident in which the blind man knocks Lazaro’s head against the stone bull, Lazaro reflects on the blind man’s admonishment of him for his stupidity and he resolves that he will learn everything he can from the blind man about what it takes to survive on his own. This incident and the realization it produces in Lazaro will prove to be a major turning point in the development of Lazaro’s character—what Lazaro once would have seen as an unjustifiable act of cruelty, he now sees as an exercise of power and cunning that he would do well to imitate. That this shift occurs only after Lazaro is the victim of an act of deception and violence suggests a broader sociological point: that violence begets violence. Being a victim makes Lazaro less empathetic and less compassionate, as he believes that such betrayals are the norm and that he must himself become hardened in order to survive. Considering the book’s portrayal of society-wide corruption and brutality, this passage seems to indicate that abuses of power can rot a whole society from the top down. Lazaro’s determination to learn from and adopt the blind man’s deceptive ways marks the end of Lazaro’s childhood and the beginning of the end of his innocence. From this moment forward, Lazaro is responsible for his own fate.

“Oh wicked object, the fruit of worse behavior! How many there are who would like to see you on their neighbors’ heads, and yet how few want to have you for themselves, or even want to hear you mentioned in connection with them! … It’s a bad dinner and supper I’ve got in my hand here, but I’ll give it to you one of these days… What I’ve said is true. You’ll see, if you live long enough.”

Related Characters: The blind man (speaker), Lazaro de Tormes
Related Symbols: Horns
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

The blind man utters these cryptic but prophetic words at the inn in the town of Escalona, after he has rested his hand on an animal horn that is mounted to the exterior wall of the inn. At this time in Spain, horns were a common symbol for a cuckold, or a man with an unfaithful wife. Therefore, by reacting to the presence of a horn as a bad omen, the blind man is repudiating the practice of cuckoldry by cursing the horn which symbolizes it. The blind man’s statement that many people wish their neighbors would be cuckolded but would not want it for themselves echoes the prevalence of cruelty and hypocrisy throughout the book. While Jesus asked Christians to love thy neighbor, the blind man suggests that most people would rather that their neighbors suffer. While the blind man’s suggestion that Lazaro will some day himself be cuckolded (“I’ll give it to you one of these days”) seems, in this context, to be an illustration of a person wishing ill on their neighbor, Lazaro will remember these words years later in Toledo after the blind man’s prophecy has come true.

Chapter 2 Quotes

“I’ve had two masters. The first one nearly starved me to death and when I left him I took up with this one who’s virtually brought me to the edge of the grave. If I quit this one now and land myself with another one who’s even worse, there’s only one thing that can happen to me: I’ll die.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The priest
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Lazaro is speaking to himself here, lamenting his bad fortune and reasoning with himself as to why he can’t leave the priest. In fact, as Lazaro will find out, his luck can and will become worse, but not in the way he anticipates in this passage; instead of a master who gives Lazaro too little, his next master goes so far as to take bread from his own servant. So the pattern of “bad to worse” that Lazaro articulates in this passage does, in fact, continue. The fear and hopelessness in Lazaro’s speech is expressive of the extreme difficulty faced by the poor, which this book depicted honestly, as few books before it had. This passage also bodes poorly for Lazaro’s moral future, as Lazaro must become more hardened and cunning in response to his worsening fortunes.

So it went on, and we kept it up at a great rate, fulfilling the old saying that “Where one door shuts another opens.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The priest
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Lazaro is describing the process of stealing bread from the priest by making holes in the priest’s locked chest, only to have the priest discover the holes and cover them up. This has become a cycle of, night after night, Lazaro creating holes and the priest patching them. To illustrate his point, Lazaro invokes a biblical proverb, but to unintentionally humorous effect. The meaning of the proverb Lazaro quotes is that God provides for those in need, but Lazaro turns the proverb on its head and casts it in a cynical light by interpreting it literally—Lazaro must “open doors” to steal the bread, and once the priest closes these doors, Lazaro is forced to open more in order to avoid starvation. It’s notable here that Lazaro replaces God as the opener of doors—this underscores the notion that the poor are, in fact, on their own, and it contributes to the sense that such crimes of desperation are justifiable rather than sins. The quote is yet another example of the author taking an element from Christianity and twisting it by showing it in an improper or unfavorable light; it would have been seen as offensive to take a passage from scripture and use it to justify acts of vandalism and theft.

Chapter 3 Quotes

“He’s poor,” I said to myself, “and nobody can give what he hasn’t got. Whereas that miserly blind man and that niggardly skin-flint of a priest had both done alright for themselves in the name of God, the one with his hand-kissing and the other with his line of patter, and they starved me half to death. So it’s perfectly fair to be down on them and to take pity on this one.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The blind man, The priest, The squire
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Lazaro says this to himself in the squire’s bedroom one night after having looked through the squire’s pockets to see if he has any money. Upon discovering that the squire has not a single blanca in his purse, Lazaro takes pity on the squire, recognizing that his poverty makes him worthy of compassion. Here Lazaro, more directly than anywhere else in the text, speaks to the religious hypocrisy of his first two masters. Although the sequence of events in Lazaro’s life until now has been “from bad to worse,” it is noteworthy that Lazaro’s response to learning that he has been deceived by the squire is one of mercy and compassion, as distinct from the hatred he felt toward his prior masters. This chapter overall is the highpoint of Lazaro’s moral behavior, and this quote marks Lazaro’s most morally self-aware and compassionate moment,

Chapter 5 Quotes

When they tried this out the first time, I must admit to my shame that I was frightened by it like most of the others, and thought it was just what it appeared to be. But afterwards, when I saw how my master and the constable laughed over the affair and made fun of it, I realized that it had all been worked out by my industrious and inventive master.

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The seller of indulgences
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

After the first episode in which the seller of indulgences conspires with the constable to trick the townspeople, Lazaro admits that he was initially fooled by the pardoner’s theatrics, but he later recognized his master’s genius for collaborating with the constable in this act of deception. While the act of preying on Catholics’ fear of damnation in order to make money through false promises of salvation is shameful and depraved, Lazaro expresses shame only in the context of having been deceived by his master’s trick like everyone else. This is consistent with Lazaro’s goal to become as cunning and duplicitous as his cruel masters in order to ensure his survival—just as Lazaro felt naïve instead of angry after the blind man slammed his head into the bull statue, Lazaro is ashamed rather than outraged by falling prey to the seller of indulgences’ trick.

Though this passage implies that Lazaro is innocent of any complicity in the con, this is perhaps the first instance in the book in which the reader may have reason to question the truth of Lazaro’s narrative. Later, Lazaro claims that he allowed these tricks to continue out of fear for his master, but this master isn’t cruel to Lazaro—in fact, he’s the first one that feeds Lazaro appropriately. Lazaro’s admiration for his master’s cunning is apparent here, and between that and the material security that Lazaro experiences while in his service, it’s not hard to imagine that Lazaro cooperated for his own gain—behavior that seems entirely consistent with Lazaro’s changing values.

Chapter 6 Quotes

I did so well at this trade that at the end of the four years which I spent at it, by carefully putting aside my money I’d saved up enough to outfit myself decently in a suit of second-hand clothes…. Once I was respectably dressed I told my master to take back his donkey because I didn’t want to follow that trade any more.

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), The squire
Page Number: 111-112
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Lazaro refers to the time he spent working for the chaplain, at the end of which he was able to afford a cloak and a sword just like those that belonged to the squire he served. That Lazaro spent his very first financial savings on clothes is a subtle but clear indicator that a remarkable transformation has occurred in the years since he served the squire, during which time Lazaro derided the squire’s superficial value system. Specifically, Lazaro had looked with pity on the squire’s obsession with maintaining the appearance of a nobleman when he hadn’t the wealth to match the image. Yet here Lazaro himself is doing exactly that—donning the wardrobe of a wealthy man, and spending all his money to maintain the false appearance. Throughout the book, readers have been led to expect that wealth doesn’t lead to virtue, and this passage seems to confirm it. While Lazaro once gave away his only bread to the starving squire out of generosity, now that Lazaro has real money he uses it neither virtuously nor wisely.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“I’ll swear by the consecrated host that she’s as virtuous as any woman living within the gates of Toledo, and if any man says otherwise, I’m his enemy to the death.”

Related Characters: Lazaro de Tormes (speaker), Lazaro’s wife
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

These words are some of Lazaro’s last in the book. He writes them about his wife, whom he has been given every reason to believe is the mistress of the archpriest. This passage shows the willful blindness that Lazaro has chosen to show toward his own wife’s infidelity, the misconduct of the archpriest, and his personal disgrace that results from their behavior. Lazaro has made a steadfast resolution by the end of the book to deny the reality of his circumstance—and to kill anyone who dares to remind him of that reality. It’s also possible to read Lazaro’s cynicism into what appears to be an indignant denial of his wife’s infidelity. Note that Lazaro doesn’t strictly claim that his wife is virtuous; he says instead that “she’s as virtuous as any woman living within the gates of Toledo.” Lazaro’s experiences since setting out with the blind man have taught him that almost everyone is corrupt, particularly those (like members of the Church) who profess to be virtuous. In this way, Lazaro might not even believe that he is lying—if nobody is virtuous, then his wife can’t be seen as being any worse. This is in keeping with the social critique at the center of Lazarillo de Tormes: growing up in a corrupt society molds impressionable young people into accepting the kinds of moral compromise that harden the heart and encourage otherwise compassionate people to turn a blind eye to their own wrongdoing.