Death and the Child in Su Unico Hijo

By Valis, Noel | Hispanic Review, April 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Death and the Child in Su Unico Hijo


Valis, Noel, Hispanic Review


I would like to begin with a somewhat startling, paradoxical statement: there are no children in this novel. The son, who is the object of desire and the obsession of the protagonist, Bonifacio Reyes, and so many readers and who finally appears near the end of the story, exists only as a chimera of the Clarinian imagination. But this self-evident fiction that we all recognize as such, cloaks another level of the imagined that is generally not talked about. I refer to the equivocal and perturbing status of the fetish in which the figure of the child is enveloped in Su unico hijo. In this paper I argue that the child produced at the end of the novel is phantasmagorical and only gains importance as a child of the imagination, not as a child in and of itself. In effect, the child serves as a metaphor of the imagination, of a particular form of imagination, born out of the growing confusion and disorder that characterize the action and significance of the novel. But this form of imagination also arises from the tension-and permeability-between the two creative principles of paternity and maternity that inform and generate the work. Like other narrations of the period (La de Bringas, for example, to which I will return in its relation to Su unico hijo), this one is focused on the figure of the child as a form of investment or capital, here principally sentimental.

One of the central paradoxes of Su unico hijo is found in the chain of fathers and sons imagined by Bonifacio Reyes. This key metaphor of the narration, on the one hand, underlines the idea of continuity and of a future incarnated in the son. But it also bears another, more disturbing truth, which is summed up in the traditional phrase that Tristana uses in Galdos's novel and which I have taken out of its popular and sociological context: "nino nacido es nino muerto" (Perez Galdos, Tristana 125).

Why and how is Bonifacio Reyes's only son born "dead?" Literally, of course, this isn't true, although it is worth noting that the son kills himself in the unfinished narration, "Una mediana." But this is not what I am drawn to here. Rather, it is the fetishistic character of the child that at once connects it symbolically to death and underlines the uncertain and equivocal status of imagination itself. There are two moments that are key to understanding the metaphorical significance of the child-fetish and its relation with death and the imagination. The first is Bonifacio's dream at the end of chapter xiv; and the second, another dream, his wife Emma's, in the following chapter. Both fragments are centered on the image of the fetus or on the idea of feticide.

In chapter xiv Emma, after many years of sterility, discovers she is pregnant. The ecstatic Bonis happily gives his thoughts over to the unexpected miracle, as memories of his own father and childhood rush through his fevered, exalted mind:

Aquella era la fuente; alli estaba el manantial de las verdaderas ternuras .. La cadena de los padres y los hijos! ... Cadena que, remontandose por sus eslabones hacia el pasado, seria toda amor, abnegacion, la unidad sincera, real, caritativa, de la pobre raza humana; pero ... era cadena que la muerte rompia en cada eslabon; era el olvido, la indiferencia. (266)

And later: "Si, el corazon me lo dice, y me lo dice la intuicion; mi hijo sera algo de mi padre. Y ahora los Reyes nacen ricos; vuelven al esplendor antiguo" (269). This much analyzed scene, of which I have given but a fragment, is unquestionably imbued with great spirituality and poetry. But the chapter ends on a very different note. Bonis, henpecked and gutless, begins thinking about the dangers surrounding pregnancy and childbirth: "Habia que evitar el aborto; nada de disgustarla [a Emma] ... En pariendo... y en criando... si criaba ella, como el deseaba, se hablaria de todo; se veria si un Reyes podia ni debia ser esclavo de una Valcarcel." He decides to return to his wife's bedroom, even though she has just thrown him out of there:

Levanto el picaporte de la puerta que se le acababa de cerrar. …

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