Though instances of mercy and compassion in the text are few and far between, these moments serve as important guideposts for the reader. Characters acting with mercy and compassion help the reader to understand the richness of the social critique being leveled throughout the text because they provide a rare example of virtue in a world otherwise rife with cruelty and vice. Virtually the only figures that are portrayed as compassionate in Lazaro’s story are the neighbors he had while living with the squire. The neighbors, cotton-spinners who are quite poor themselves, give Lazaro food, shelter, and safe harbor when he is afraid, and they defend him against townspeople who falsely accuse him of stealing from the squire. The neighbors’ generosity is also particularly noteworthy because, while they are the most giving figures in the text, they are also the only characters in the text who are identified as poor.
The moral highpoint for Lazaro’s character comes during his time with the squire. Lazaro shows compassion for the pitiful squire by sharing with him what little Lazaro is able to earn by begging. This kindness is remarkable not just because it is an inversion of the typical hierarchy of master and servant, but because this is also a time at which Lazaro has almost nothing to give. The compassion Lazaro shows in his dealings with the poor squire is demonstrative of the central virtues of Christianity, in stark contrast to the example set by Lazaro’s prior masters (many of whom were themselves religious figures).
In keeping with the overarching social commentary of the text, these rare instances of compassion and mercy are meant to signify a truer spirit of Christianity than is practiced or preached by the hypocritical Catholic clergymen of the text. Tellingly, it is only the poor who seem able to embody the Christlike virtues of mercy and compassion. The implication here is that even small amounts of wealth and power inevitably lead to moral corruption.
Mercy and Compassion ThemeTracker
Mercy and Compassion Quotes in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes
He put wine on the places where he’d cut my face with the broken jug, and he smiled and said, “What do you think of that, Lazaro? The same thing that got you hurt heals you afterwards and gets you back into shape.”
“Honestly, I waste more wine washing this boy in one year than I drink myself in two. Lazaro, to put it at its very least you owe more to wine than you do to your own father. He only gave you your being once, whereas wine has brought you to life a thousand times. … I’ll tell you, if there’s anyone in this world to whom wine will be a blessing, it will be you.”
“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.”