Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Tree of Knowledge: Nature has resources which are unknown to us

This post follows the final three parts of The Tree of Knowledge: Part Five (“A Provincial Experiment”), Part Six (”Experiences at Madrid”), and Part Seven (“A Son”). All quotes from the text use The Tree of Knowledge by Pio Baroja, translated by Aubrey F. G. Bell (Alfred A. Knopf, 1928). I’ll copy the summary of this part from the Wikipedia entry since it does a good job without giving too much away:
The second half of the novel tells the stay of Hurtado (now a doctor) in Alcolea, a fictitious town in Castilla-La Mancha (where the author shows the dreadful conditions the peasant had to endure such as caciquism, ignorance, apathy or resignation), his return to Madrid (where he works as a hygiene doctor — emphasizing the description that Baroja makes of prostitution in the 19th century Madrid) and, finally, his unfortunate marriage to Lulú, a young woman he met when he was a student.

Note that I will talk about the ending and give more away than the Wikipedia entry.

Andrés Hurtado, the doctor, ends up withdrawing as much as possible from life because of his disgust for most of the people around him. These people include his patients, not described as noble poor but a superstitious people unwilling to better their lot, and his friends, who use their money to exempt themselves from morality. There are a few exceptions but they make the depravity of everyone else stand out even more. I had mentioned at the end of Part Two that his uncle believed that man has only “two practical courses open, either to abstain from action and contemplate everything with indifference, or to limit his action to a small area” (124). Andrés chooses abstention and (the tree of) knowledge over (the tree of) life.

Eventually Andrés does expand his boundaries some to include his friendship and eventual marriage with Lulu. She comforts him and provides a bridge to the world. It is when he accedes to Lulu’s wishes to have a child that his immersion back into life goes horribly wrong. Lulu dies in childbirth and their son is stillborn. During his grief, Andrés overhears an unknown doctor state “Nature has resources which are unknown to us.” Andrés commits suicide, perversely proving the unknown doctor right. It isn’t that his belief in science over life proves to be wrong as much as the loss of Lulu shows it to be inadequate.

A wonderful novel, highly recommended (if you can find a copy), albeit difficult to classify. Baroja has definitely grown on me. I'm glad I went out of my way to find this book.

No comments: