In 2001, Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón published his first novel “The Shadow of the Wind” that quickly became an international bestseller and gained a wide readership. The story dwells on a ten-year-old boy, Daniel Sempere, who gets positively enchanted with the eponymous book by the unknown writer Julian Carax. In the best traditions of the Spanish prose, the novel is densely inhabited with characters. A great variety of male characters and the dynamics of their relationships between themselves and women around give ground for analysis. Carlos Ruiz Zafón uses eloquent appeals, a great writing style, and the ongoing employment of unreliable narrators for impact and suspense, all framed within the context of historical events for realism. The use of gender theory and queer theory is apparent throughout the narrative, as the content employed within the novel seeks to engage the emotions of the audience and simultaneously, their logic.
The book’s action takes place in 1950s Spain. It is a post-war time when, on the one side, women were expected to rebuild the country ruined by the war on a par with men, and on the other hand, they had to keep up with the traditional understanding of female roles in the family and take care of children and house. Women began to assert their independence and equality in the workforce long ago without a marked feminist rebellion. Therefore, that state of affairs could have been displayed in the novel more widely. But on the contrary, women in the novel do not have their own voice and do not exhibit much of a character. Being quite flat, female characters serve as the means to move the plot. If in the case with Daniel’s mother it is quite realistic that a narrator who had lost his mother early as a boy simply is not able to give a thorough portrayal of her, then it is absolutely unexplainable why Daniel’s Beatriz and Julian’s Nuria do not differ much from each other and look a bit cardboardy.
From the standpoint of gender theory, the author places his story within the patriarchal social structure. Therefore, the reader is introduced to a wide range of male characters. Men are expected to be masculine and brave. Rendering his story through a classical narrative of patriarchy the author ‘paints’ it in black and white colors. The main protagonists Daniel and Julian are “good” while an antihero Fumero is “bad.” Daniel Sempere rather embodies the problem with traditional masculinity. Distanced from his father, who while loving him sometimes beats him, Daniel is constantly looking for a male role model. He seems to find it in the figure of Julian Carax, an unknown author whose life story caught Daniel up and gave an aim to his life. Meanwhile, Julian is haunted by ills of life – at first, it is a star-crossed love affair, then the inability to have success with the publishing of his book, and finally he learns about the tragic death of his sweetheart and their stillborn baby due to her parents’ unwise actions. Therefore, he is constantly cared about by other people and does not demonstrate traditional male features such as bravery and strength. The reader comes across these qualities in a secondary character Miquel Moliner. Being Julian’s best friend, Miquel protects Julian and saves him from Fumero’s bullet. His heroism and good qualities are not properly rewarded in the novel as he loves the woman who loves Julian. Despite eventually marrying her Miquel is unable to romantically woo her and in the end, he gives his life-saving Julian for the second time.
Inasmuch as Zafón set the scene in the postwar Spain, he probably had in mind to realistically render that time. Social studies were not as much developed as they are now. Therefore, even the issue of domestic violence was hardly raised at all. Even now it sometimes seems to be culturally believed that violence is a natural, practically genetic component of masculinity. Violence in society involves wife-beating, rape, child abuse. All these are present in “The Shadow of the Wind.” One character shares her understanding of life mechanics by stating that beating for respect is quite normal: “I can understand that sometimes a husband has to beat his wife to get her to respect him, I’m not saying they shouldn’t”. Therefore, women are occasionally beaten by husbands or lovers (Sophie Fortuny, Bernarda) while men suffer from the police’s impunity (Don Federico, Fermin). Daniel gets beaten by his father. Penelope’s death probably could be classified as child abuse because she was only sixteen years old (she would have turned seventeen in half a year after her demise) and was treated inhumanly cruel.
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The relationship between men and violence is given in the image of Francisco Javier Fumero, who is represented as pure evil in the novel. As issues of masculinity arise throughout the novel, Zafón uses biographical details to offer as the reason for the subsequent behavior. Having had a dysfunctional family and suffered abuse from his mother, Fumero became a corrupt police inspector who is always eager to beat someone up. In “Representing Men Maleness and Masculinity in the Media,” Kenneth MacKinnon explains that “[t]he male rejection of the mother and repression of the feminine within himself can result in women being taken as embodiments of that which is rejected and repressed. What a man fears within himself – vulnerability, sentiment, emotion, commitment – is often projected outwards on to women and homosexual men and vehemently denied” (MacKinnon 7). Fumero derogatory refers to homosexuals or cross-dressers as “queers,” finds them “revolting,” and believes that it is up to him to “make sure [Don Federico]’s given a lesson” (Zafón, ch. 14; Nuria Monfort, ch. 5). Inasmuch as Fumero is a stereotypically negative character, his notions are also black-and-white. He explains his philosophy to Daniel: “[I]f you like queers and thieves, you must be a bit of both yourself. Things have to be clear where I’m concerned. Either you’re with me or you’re against me” (ch. 14).
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Fumero’s treatment of women can be explained through his desire to gain respect. In chapter 5 of “Nuria Monfort: Remembrance of the Lost 1933-1955”, Fumero is fantasizing about a sexual intercourse with Nuria and then he imagines himself stabbing her with a knife thinking “[m]aybe then she would deign to give him Carax’s address and treat [me] with the respect due to a police officer” (Zafón). In fact, probably the respectful attitude toward the police and the knowledge that he will be able to take the liberty to behave the way he pleases was the reason behind Fumero’s decision to work in that field. While sport “gives masculine aggression the chance of a legitimized, ritualized outlet” police service can be regarded in the same way. The police do a manly and noble deed – catches criminals and offenders, who are tough guys. Therefore, a person like Fumero may think that no one will judge them if sometimes they resort to using force.
Fumero is lethally aggressive. According to his own admission, “Julian Carax was the only person whom [he] had failed to kill once he’d made up his mind” (Zafón, ch. 5). His negative masculinity of aggression overcomes Miquel’s positive masculinity of nobility but fails with Julian. MacKinnon writes about different masculinities: postmodernism, whose main focus is on instability and multiplicity, increases the already clearly discernible tendency to question the social norm of masculinity. The twenty-first century sees black, working-class and gay masculinities because “[a] great variety of masculinities has been created by such social factors as class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, religion, age” (11). In the light of this idea, Daniel and Julian are the so-called “new men” who usually are “a middle-class professional, white, heterosexual, aged usually between mid-twenties and early forties, with a female partner – not necessarily wife – who has imbibed feminist ideas” (13). Both Julian and Daniel are interested in middle-class activity – writing in this case, are heterosexual and, even if not exactly took in feminism in its modern form, at least are not oppressive towards their beloved women.
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Another fact in favor of extreme masculinity in the novel is the lack of fully developed female characters. Zafón portrays his female characters flat and stereotypical. Mostly they are devoid of personal details and one is not clever enough. For example, Bernarda is an ignorant provincial girl who does not know how to pronounce the Sorbonne properly and allows her boyfriend to beat her on a regular basis. Zafón idealizes his female characters so much that they are more angelic than human. Beatriz is credited by Julian with saving his and Daniel’s life. Penelope is seen by the reader, along with the protagonist, as “an apparition, an angel of lightly dressed in silk” (Zafón, ch. 25). While being mentioned many times in the book, Penelope does not have her own voice. The reader does not know what she feels and thinks but is aware that she is “docile by nature” (ch. 31). Thus, Penelope is portrayed as a counterpart to an aggressive male – an ideal woman. According to Freud, one particular understanding of masculine and feminine is as metaphors for “active” and “passive” respectively. Therefore, it is no wonder that Penelope was an object of desire not only for Julian but for Javier Fumero as well. His exaggerated aggressiveness would be complemented by the fragile submissiveness of Penelope. Fortunately, she chose another kind of masculinity, which, however, never brought happiness to her. According to a soap-opera twist, Penelope’s beloved Julian turned out to be her half-brother. Due to their consummated love, Penelope suffered from the violent anger of her father, who consciously or unconsciously led her to her fatal end.
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One of the book’s catches is its multiple unreliable narrators. The narration is done both by Daniele and Julian with other characters interrupting. Often the reader has to strain his or her memory and logic to understand whose voice is audible now. On the one hand, the story begins as told by a ten-year-old boy who by definition cannot tell the story other than subjectively. On the other hand, the fact that the author allows many characters to lead the narration gives the story objectivity, even though it demands a more critical perception for the reader. The reader is forced to draw his or her own conclusions. Zafón gives the reader a clue as to how to view his story and its multiple narrators:
“As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable ever-smaller dolls within. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections” (Zafón, ch. 8).
For example, introducing Clara and Barcelo at the beginning of the novel Zafón then discards them revealing another string of characters such as Beatriz, Fermin, and Fumero. The story goes in circles repeatedly returning to the dropped narrative lines. Every little story has a detail that contributes to a better understanding of a few major storylines. Only, in the end, every piece of the “gallery of mirrors” falls into its place and the ultimate pictures are revealed. The final dialogue between Daniel and his ten-year-old son circuits the novel that began with a similar talk between Daniel and his father heading to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
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The story of Don Federico is given with all the gory details on purpose to show to what extremities aggressive masculinity can go in order to prove its hegemony. All characters treat Don Federico kindly and according to his personal abilities and not to his sexual preferences. Although there are some people, who while pitying him anyway can poke fun at him and retell with a vivid language all horrible things that happened to him, the idea of the author was probably to show the consequences of ill-treatment of sexually nonconforming characters. In the end, the old school aggressive masculinity is punished and nobody even remembers the evil Fumero, while positive protagonists Daniel and Julian are rewarded with a family for one and accomplished professional life for another. It was through Don Federico’s friends that Daniel had a place to escape Thomas’s wrath because of Daniel’s and Bea’s relationship. Apart from being a good watchmaker, Don Federico proved to be a good person as well.
“The Shadow of the Wind” demonstrates different shades of masculinity and a restricted range of femininity, which corresponds to the time period in which the novel is set in. The maneuver with unreliable narrators stimulates the reader’s interest making one stay alert and pay attention to the minuscule details. Despite some obvious plots and a certain typology of the characters, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel provides a good deal of Gothic tropes making the reading captivating and enigmatic at the same time.