Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Cervantes's Celoso: A Tale of Colonial Lack

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Cervantes's Celoso: A Tale of Colonial Lack

Article excerpt

In this essay I consider Miguel de Cervantes's character of the jealous man structured around two components: dislocation and lack - in space, possessions, and psychological fulfillment. The tale of "El celoso extremeño," my frame of reference, exposes these themes and offers a means to allow the deficient protagonist to recoup his seeming loss of property and space. Privation and dislocation, besides helping to explain metropolitan self-awareness, overflow the metropolis and come to define a new colonial selfhood represented by migrating Spaniards and forcefully colonized subjects situated outside those imperial borders and now straddling the space between center and periphery. These include conquerors and friars as well as economic and social rejects like Cervantes's protagonist, the figure of the new rich indiano who, having made his way back home from America, preferred "to invest in status rather than trade or industry" (Ife 26-27).

The contradiction between overflow and concurrent shortage characterizes the crisis of the Spanish Empire, a period when spatial and material wants cease to be exclusively geographic and concrete. Scarcity becomes a psychological factor that determines the characters' evolving makeup. Metropolitan characters internalize new historical factors and expanding peripheries as an awareness of lack, which they then project psychologically onto the periphery and its others in hopes of escaping their material and spiritual deficiencies. Nor is this instability of selfhood a current appraisal of early modern man's troubles, for a sense of crisis typifies contemporaneous views in poetic, picaresque, dramatic, and historical writing (Castro 16; Maravall 66-67; Fuente 424). Overflow and shortage, then, are figures of bloated empire and its inflationary demands, parallel and contradictory forces that reveal the empty spaces which marginal alterity moves to occupy: under this rationale the black slave exemplifies the creeping economy of slavery within the protagonist's domestic space, while the master's marginalized condition points to heterodox energies within the reserved space of the metropolis. Although driven by dominant ideologies, this broadly sketched historical process shows the emergence of America's colonial potential to shape and define literary actors - sometimes significantly so, as in the case of Cervantes's jealous man.

My starting point is the perceptible loss at the beginning of the tale. Cervantes updates the parable of the prodigal son by endowing it with American attributes designed to fill up the scarcity that plagues the protagonist. The psychological implications drawn from his inner and outer domestic environments, his house and the city of Seville, result in analogical connections involving the idea of empire and European capitalism, for example in the self-description of Spaniards as the "Indians" of Europe. Additionally, the metaphor of the slave explains the master's erotic deficiency and depleted imperial energies. His presence and misbehavior open up and leave exposed the master's weaknesses, setting up redefinitions that undermine him. Nevertheless, the slave's presence and action build up both of them, even if the master, an instantiation of dearth and dislocation as well as embodiment of colonial forces, simultaneously is and is not at home in the metropolis.

Diana de Armas Wilson has noted that Cervantes's tale, one of his key America-themed creations, suggests from the start a sense of social and personai crisis. Other critics have noted that, thematically and formally, the novela shares with the longer prose genre of the novel a kernel of crisis and irony, characters defined by anxiety, and reader participation (Wilson 208; Casalduero 135-36; Aylward 176-77; Forcione 90-91). Ruth El Saffar explains that the protagonist, Felipo de Carrizales, "suffers anxiety in all circumstances," describing his jealousy as "insecurity, self-doubt, and sense of exposure to assault" (42). …

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