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.
Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker
Truth, Deception, and Loss of Innocence Quotes in The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”