Abel Sánchez: A Passion Story is a 1917 novel by Miguel de Unamuno. Abel Sánchez is an account of the story of Cain and Abel set in modern times, which uses the parable to explore themes of envy.
Summary and Synopsis
Abel Sánchez is a version of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The Cain of the novel is called Joaquin. Although they are not brothers, they have grown together, competing as brothers would. Abel becomes a famous and renowned painter, while Joaquín becomes a well-known doctor.
Joaquin’s goal is to outdo Abel by making medical discoveries, thus competing with Abel’s art by excelling in science, which is also an art. Joaquín has always been jealous of Abel and competitive with him, but what bothers him most is that Abel does not feel the same sense of rivalry.
Abel marries Helena, Joaquín’s cousin, whom Joaquín hoped to marry. To calm his envy and hatred, Joaquín marries Antonia, not out of love, but simply to maintain his competitive position with Abel. Abel and Helena have a son named Abelin, Joaquín and Antonia have a daughter named Joaquina.
Joaquín lives his jealous ambitions through his daughter. As the story of Cain and Abel ends, so does this novel. Upon reaching the point of total hatred, Joaquín takes Abel’s life. When Joaquín dies, he apologizes to his family. Realizing that his life was consumed by hatred and envy, he says that if he had only loved his wife, Antonia, she could have been his savior.
Packed with biblical comparisons, this book shows what one’s life becomes when one is consumed with envy or hatred. Joaquin had no life of his own; his existence was only as Abel’s enemy. Although the protagonist is Joaquín, the book is titled Abel Sánchez because Joaquín’s character is totally formed from his intense feelings towards Abel.
Written over a period of just over twenty-five years, each of the three narrations in Abel Sanchez, represents a different phase in Miguel de Unamuno’s writing. However, all the stories show the characteristics of his fiction, especially the consistent use of the antithesis as the central element and driving force of the plot.
Focusing on a single quality avoids great psychological depth and even brings characters closer to one-dimensional allegories, but does not reduce the power of storytelling. The fact that the author lends the protagonists their own philosophical opinions on faith and immortality gives all three stories, especially Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, the touch of personal essays.
Furthermore, the strong philosophical dimension gives a lot of scope for interpretation, which is most evident in regards to Abel Sánchez, who is much more than the parable of Cain and Abel of the New Testament.
- Joaquín Monegro: doctor and scientist, an accomplished speaker and lifelong friend and secret enemy of Abel Sánchez. In this parable of contrasts and moral ambiguities, Joaquin is the dark personality, like the biblical Cain, consumed by jealousy and hatred for his closest companion. Even as a child, he believed Abel had stolen everything he ever wanted, effortlessly usurping his friends and the admiration of adults. Actually, having chosen this role. Although considered a cold man, Joaquín despises himself for his continued malice and actually struggles with some temptations to harm Abel.
- Abel Sánchez: a famous painter. Although he lacks malice and envy, he is not a candidate for holiness. His character is extraordinarily flat, lacking depth of reflection, sadness, or passion. It is selfish, though not offensively. He paints the surface of things and insists that a man is no different on the inside than he appears to be on the outside. Abel pursues art and beauty dispassionately. His marriage to Helena is therefore very appropriate, although he is unfaithful to her when other beautiful women are available.
- Helena: she is the cousin of Joaquín and with whom he falls in love, but she despises him, for no apparent reason. She is an important character because she is above all the beginning of the rivalry between Joaquín and Abel, but as the story progresses, she loses importance and becomes a secondary character.
- Antonia: she is the wife of Joaquín. Although it does not intervene much in the story, it is quite important. She is a very religious woman, and she is the one who tells Joaquin to try to find a solution to his problems in religion, but it is not worth it at all. Antonia falls in love with Joaquín, because she seems to him to be a victim, the result of another man’s pride and that is why she tries by all means to make Joaquín forget Abel and be happy living his own life.
- Abelín: he is the son of Abel and shares the same opinion as Joaquín about his father. He thinks that his father never taught him the profession of painter, for fear that he was better than him, and although those suspicions seem unfounded, at the end of the novel it is revealed that this is the case, since Abel was a bit selfish, he did not want that nobody shadowed him. But not only does he get along well with Joaquín for that, they are both doctors and share similar interests.
- Joaquina: she is the daughter of Joaquín, and a source of happiness for him, since when he dedicates himself to caring for her, he begins to forget Abel and be a little happier. Joaquina loves her father very much, and can bear that he suffers, so, like her mother, she is always trying to make her father happy.
The central mystery in Abel Sánchez is the mystery of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis: why God looked with favor on Abel’s offerings and not with the favor of Cain’s offerings.
It is with this inexplicable distinction that hatred and murder are born in the world.
Unamuno offers no answer to this basic puzzle, except to suggest that with God’s inexplicable choice, separation from oneself from the other is emphasized as a result of the fall.
Unamuno sees Cain, not Abel, as the heroic and tragic figure in this archetypal story, in the same way that Milton presents Satan as his tragic figure, and just as Byron presents his version of Cain as the alienated and lonely outcast, the primordial symbol of isolated man Unamuno has said, in the preface of the second edition of his novel, that Joaquín is morally superior to Abel, because his passion is great compared to Abel’s normality.
In addition to this theological mystery, Unamuno is interested in the existential dilemma of the loss of individuality. Instead of having an individual self, Joaquín is simply the sum of his hatred for Abel; thus, although he hates Abel, he needs him to survive, because without his hatred, Joaquín is nothing.
Throughout the novel, Joaquín moves back and forth between his hatred and his desire to be released, but his need for hatred is more powerful than his desire to be released. In fact, hatred in the novel is a purely existential state that Joaquin realizes to be immortal, existing as an essential part of the one he hates.
The most basic source of Joaquin’s hatred is his lack of self-love, a fact he discovers when he realizes that he cannot obey the command to love his neighbor as himself because he does not love himself.
At the time of his death, Joaquin has a final epiphany about the nature of his existence. Therefore, when he dies, he is, if not redeemed, at least freed from the mysterious iniquity that has dominated his life. Too late, he realizes that he could have and should have loved Antonia, that having done so would have been his salvation.