In The Shadow of the Wind, history always repeats itself, in ways both personal and political. Daniel Sempere, the novel’s protagonist, acquires a copy of Julian Carax’s eponymous novel The Shadow of the Wind as a young boy, and becomes fascinated by the thrilling book and the mysterious author, about whom no one seems to know anything. As Daniel digs into Carax’s past, he discovers that the events of Julian’s youth are uncannily similar to his own experiences. This pattern then mirrors the widespread sense of political repetition in Spain at the time; during the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, the country has swung wildly between Republican and Fascist regimes which are ideologically very different but practically alike in their authoritarian nature and brutal tactics. Inspector Fumero, a hired thug for both regimes and the personal enemy of both Daniel and Julian, is the human link between these personal and political cycles of repetition. By the end of the novel, Daniel realizes the necessity of escaping this cycle. By killing inspector Fumero, Daniel keeps himself from suffering the same sad fate as Julian and achieves a modest happy ending with Bea; however, Franco’s unjust regime persists despite Fumero’s death, and Daniel and Bea still have to live within it. Ultimately, the novel remains ambivalent about the possibility of escaping history’s disastrous cycle of repetitions. Although humans may strive to right the wrongs of the past, their personal efforts will always be outweighed by larger political shifts and failures.
As he learns about Carax’s troubled past, Daniel finds himself repeating many of the events that led up to Carax’s disastrous flight from Barcelona and disappearance. Carax’s father is a shopkeeper with whom he has a troubled relationship, and his mother is an abused and cowed wife. While Daniel loves his father (who is also a shopkeeper), he often feels distant from him, and his dead mother is similarly absent from the narrative. Carax falls in love with his rich friend Jorge’s sister, Penelope; their father Mr. Aldaya’s violent reaction to the affair forces him to flee the city. Likewise Daniel falls in love his best friend’s Tomas’s sister, Beatriz (even having sex with her for the first time in Penelope’s abandoned house), whose father Mr. Aguilar threatens him with violence when he finds out about their romance. Carax also goes to school with Javier Fumero, a budding young sociopath who nurses a twisted passion for Penelope. When Javier discovers that Penelope prefers Julian to him, he spends the rest of his life plotting to kill Julian. Daniel makes an enemy of Fumero by sheltering fugitives from the fascist regime, like his friend Fermín Torres, and by seeking to uncover the truth of Carax’s past.
While characters rarely discuss politics, political instability forms the constant undercurrent to everything that happens in the novel. The novel depicts the world of politics in Spain as a senseless cycle of violence and brutality. During and after the Spanish Civil War, Spain (and especially key cities like Barcelona) endured constant political instability and violent regime changes. In the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was briefly controlled by a populist anarchist government, but it was eventually taken over by the increasingly totalitarian Communist party, which was in turn defeated by the Fascists in 1939. The following decades, in which Franco consolidated his power, were characterized by suppression of free speech, authoritarianism, and political purges.
While a few characters, like Fermín, are highly politically minded, most are working-class civilians who seem bewildered by the rapid and violent changes that have occurred in their country in the last decades. For example, Daniel’s father Mr. Sempere retreats into the ostensibly apolitical world of literature in order to protect himself, and advises Daniel never to attract the attention of the government. Most people in the Sempere family’s neighborhood perceive government and authority as inherently hostile and dangerous forces against which they must protect each other. Don Federico, who is gay, garners the sympathy of the relatively conservative neighborhood simply because he is pursued by the secret police.
Fumero’s career emphasizes the senselessly repetitive nature of political violence. Lacking any principles and driven by his appetite for violence, he carries out dirty work for whichever party holds power. Clara Barceló tells Daniel that he “flirted with the communists and the fascists, tricking them all, selling his services to the highest bidder.” Although the various political parties who dominated Barcelona espouse radically different ideologies, Fumero’s ability to assimilate into all of them undermines their claims of difference and suggests that each regime simply repeats the injustices of the last, displaying the same brutality towards its opponents and callousness toward civilian casualties.
As the similarities between Carax and Daniel increase in number, it seems more and more likely that Daniel will repeat Carax’s personal tragedy. However, in the novel’s climactic scene, Carax, Fermín, and Daniel unite to destroy Fumero, which means all three are liberated from Fumero’s dogged pursuit of vengeance. Thus, the cycle of repetition according to which Daniel’s life echoed Carax’s is broken. Moreover, while Carax is forced to leave Barcelona without Penelope, who dies in childbirth with their son, Daniel marries Bea, cajoles her family into accepting their union, and has a healthy son, whom he names Julian. However, Daniel’s personal triumph against the repetitive tendency of history doesn’t change the fact that he still lives out his adult life in a repressive and authoritarian regime—just as Carax did.
Daniel describes his adult life as being characterized by a realistic balance of contentment and sadness. This realism is a departure from the heightened tone of the rest of the novel, which swings between extremes of ecstasy and despair, and it reminds the reader that not everything is right in the world. Daniel describes his father and Bea as often “marooned” in silence, contemplating the inscrutable past. They can’t get away from the desire to make sense of their troubled history, even though they have achieved relative happiness and security. Although Fumero is dead, the regime that enabled his cruelties lives on. Franco’s government will dominate Spain until his death until 1975, and his secret police will continue to wreak havoc on civilian families by imprisoning or killing anyone deemed subversive to the regime.
Although Daniel manages to exit the pernicious cycle of repetition in his personal life, he can’t do anything to change the political regime under which he will live forever. Thus, The Shadow of the Wind delivers an ambivalent meditation on the relationship between individuals and political history. While characters like Daniel can make strong and successful efforts not to succumb to the ravages of their eras, they still have to live within a wider system of political injustice. Because of this, they remain emotionally entangled in the past even though on a more personal level they may have effectively escaped it.
Duality and Repetition ThemeTracker
Duality and Repetition Quotes in The Shadow of the Wind
I could not blot out Clara’s story about her father’s disappearance. In my world death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand, a door-to-door salesman who took away mothers, beggars, or ninety-year-old neighbors, like a hellish lottery. But I couldn’t absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned by hatred, that death could be dressed in a uniform or a raincoat, queue up at a cinema, laugh in bars, or take his children out for walk…and then, in the afternoon, make someone disappear in the dungeons of Montjuïc Castle.
Sophie refused to reveal the identity of the child’s father…Antoni Fortuny decided that it must be the devil, for that child was the child of sin, and sin had only one father: the One. Convinced in this manner that it had sneaked into his home and also between his wife’s thighs, the hatter took to hanging crucifixes everywhere…
I imagined Julián Carax at that age, holding that image in his hands…and for a moment I thought there were no more ghosts there than those of absence and loss, and that the light that smiled on me was borrowed light, real only as long as I could hold it in my eyes, second by second.
He didn’t tell me any of that because he knew that the miracle happened only once…A thousand times I’ve wanted to recover that first afternoon with Bea in the rambling house of Avenida del Tibidabo…
“Look, the one thing that really pisses me off is people who stir up the shit from the past!” Fumero cried out. “Things from the past have to be left alone, do you understand?”
It didn’t occur to him for an instant that Julián secretly despised him, that his affection was a sham, only a pretext to be close to Penélope. To possess her wholly and utterly. They did resemble each other in that.
He revered mosquitos and all insects in general. He admired their discipline, their fortitude and organization. There was no laziness in them, no irreverence or racial degeneration…In his opinion, society had a lot to learn from insects.
The hatter…had no doubt that Penélope was that love in his son’s life. Without realizing it, he thought that if he helped him recover her, perhaps he, too, would recover some part of what he had lost, that void that weighed on his bones like a curse.
I was afraid of listening to Julián and starting to believe, as he did, that we were all bound together in a strange chain of destiny, afraid of recognizing in you the Julián I had lost.
Of all the things that Julián wrote, the one I have always felt closest to my heart is that so long as we are being remembered, we remain alive…Remember me, Daniel, even if it’s only in a corner and secretly. Don’t let me go.
It was Laín Coubert, just as I’d learned to fear him reading the pages of a book, so many years ago…I saw how the hand of the angel pierced [Fumero’s] chest, spearing him, how the accursed soul was driven out like black vapor, falling like frozen tears over the mirror of water.
I can’t remember his exact words, or the sound of his voice. I do know that he held my hand and I felt as if he were asking me to live for him, telling me I would never see him again. What I have not forgotten is what I told him. I told him to take that pen, which had always been his, and write again.
Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.