Lazaro’s story, marked by milestones of learning and loss of innocence, is a story of a boy growing older. But Lazaro’s process of coming of age is unlike many other examples in literature, distinguished above all by the character’s development of a deeply cynical worldview and his loss of a sense of morality. His mother’s parting words—a prayer that Lazaro should “learn his worth”—loom over the entire story. If it is true that Lazaro has, in fact, realized his worth at the end of the book by settling down as a lowly town crier and a cuckold, then perhaps his mother’s words are an omen that the essential worth of a human is very little indeed.
Lazaro himself foreshadows his own loss of innocence early on in the text when he remarks that he has much to learn from the cruel and conniving blind man if he hopes to survive. Lazaro’s time serving the chaplain years later marks a major pivot point in the text, as Lazaro begins to find financial security for the first time. However, his decision to spend his first savings on nicer clothes and a fine sword is reminiscent of the figure of the squire, who was concerned above all with appearances. This also marks the end of the streak of compassion Lazaro showed for the squire, and it foreshadows a shift in his values, from merely striving for survival and helping others when he can to having an interest in self-betterment.
In the final chapter, the narrator changes his name from Lazarillo (-illo being a diminutive ending in Spanish) to Lazaro. This change of name reflects a shift in identity, cementing a loss of innocence and signaling the moral transformation that has occurred. This shift is evidenced, for example, in the deal Lazaro strikes with the archpriest to turn a blind eye to his own wife’s infidelity. Here, again, coming of age and finding one’s place in the world are synonymous with moral corruption. Ultimately Lazarillo de Tormes is the life story of a poor boy who is subject to one brutal violence after another until he grows up to become a passive, unfeeling, and immoral person, doling out the same injustices he suffered as a child in exchange for a bit of money or power.
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Growing Up Quotes in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes
I was very small at the time but I was struck by what my little brother had said, and I thought, “How many there must be in the world who run away from others because they do not see themselves!”
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.”
“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.”
“Oh Lord, how many of this sort must there be scattered through the world, suffering things for the moldy misery they call honor which they would never suffer for thee!”
“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.”
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.
“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.”