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The cypress shadow is long – Miguel Delibes Setién

The shadow of the cypress is elongated (Lengthy is the Shadow of the Cypress Tree, Long Is the Cypress’ Shadow, The cypress casts a long shadow, The Shadow of the Cypress Is Extended) is a work written by Miguel Delibes Setién in the year 1948. It is cataloged as a learning novel where death exposes the perpetual vulnerability of the human being, turned into a victim of his own circumstance. In contrast, love plays a determining role in international relations.


📖 Summary and Synopsis

This novel is about the life of a poor boy, an orphan named Pedro who, after living with his uncle Félix, moves to Professor Lesmes’ academy in Ávila.

After spending some time being the only student, a new student appears: Alfredo. And this new character becomes Pedro’s best friend and faithful companion, yet he tragically died of hemoptysis. As a result, he is very introverted and dedicates himself solely and exclusively to studying.

After completing his studies and contrary to what Mr. Lesmes and his uncle thought, he decided to enroll in the Barcelona Nautical School and after a period of time, he left to do his 400 days of practice on a boat called San Fulgencio. Where he experiences the atrocities of war and discovers that he has terrible crises and existential doubts.

He feels lonely and friendless, the only person he has contact with is a cartoon artist named Julián Royo, whom he meets in a lonely bar in Malaga and whom he occasionally meets in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After time, he acquires the position of captain and has as his destination and in his charge the Anthracite, which is dedicated above all to the cork trade with Providencia, United States.

On one of his many trips, when he is close to arriving on the American coast, he glimpses a ship that is adrift and is rescued by its crew. This ship has Jane, a young woman who manages to captivate Pedro although he does not admit it. They decide to see each other the next day and see each other after that. However, eventually they both have to separate their ways but he can’t forget her. Then he returns to Spain.

On board, he does not have friends or establish a relationship with anyone as he has always done, with the exception of the pilot Luis Bolea, from whom he accepts friendship because he considers it a temporary friendship and therefore does not violate his motto of not relating deeply to anyone. This together with his family, are characters that make Pedro see what life really is like and that he is not as he imagines and claims he is.

Upon disembarking in Santander, near Providencia, he decides to go to a bar where he can quietly have a drink and is pleasantly surprised to see Martina, the daughter of Lesmes’s marriage, playing the piano. When she sees him, she runs into his arms to cry and confesses that she could not bear the gloomy, empty, gray and desolate environment of her house and that is why she meets a boy in Ávila with whom she begins to have a secret romance.

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Then he keeps telling her that he had proposed to her and that despite the fact that at first he had said no, he withdraws his refusal eventually agrees and they flee to Santander, but then he abandons her and she is alone and helpless in Santander. Pedro decides to help Martina and takes her to his father’s house in Ávila. As usual, their father receives them coldly and impersonally, without anger or joy, or without any sign of emotion.

Then Pedro returns to Providencia and begins to tour the city hoping to see his beloved Jane, however he does not find her and two days before his return to Spain, he falls seriously ill with too high a fever and his friend Bolea decides to take him along his family to his home in the country so that he can recover and improve himself.

There, Luis’s family helps him a lot, especially Doña Sole (Luis’s mother-in-law) who makes him reflect and think about the pessimism of his behavior and that no matter how bad things may happen to his life, it is not the way to face situations.

Already healthy, he returns to Providence and goes to the theater without believing in the least that he can find Jane there, however, he bumps into her there and they decide to see each other the next day, they resume their relationship and then they decide to get married. He fixes the paperwork with the company and then buys a house for Jane, he begins to furnish her with love. This shows his change in attitude and returning to how he was as a child.

Before going back to the United States, Jane gives him the news that she is pregnant and is very excited. However, when he returns to Providence, his wife waits for him inside the car and the misfortune occurs that a worker in a van crosses the road with Jane causing her car to fly and fall into the sea where she drowns. When he retrieves his body, he removes the ring he gave him from his finger and keeps it for himself.

He returns to his beloved Avila, who brings back many memories and goes to the cemetery where he drops Jane’s ring on the grave of his only friend and this act finally brings him peace.

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📒 Genre: Novel

The main theme of this novel is the existential problems that the protagonist suffers, especially revolving around the theme of attachment and the suffering it can cause. At first he has a cheerful and optimistic character, but over time he takes the attitudes of his teacher. We are told about the anguish, despair and desolation that the protagonist feels throughout his life.

The gray and pessimistic environment in which the protagonist is involved is a direct consequence of the post-war era in which the author lived and to which he subjects the protagonist of the novel.

📚 Characters

  • Pedro: He is not physically described, although we know that he is in good health from Alfredo’s comments when he is ill. He avoids contact with the world, he is distressed, lonely and avoids contact with the world and with people in order to avoid another loss like Alfredo’s.
  • Alfredo: He is a very physically weak child with poor health and falls ill several times before dying at an early age. See things from a peculiar point of view without appearing to be aware of some things
  • Don Mateo Lesmes: He is a small, skinny and hairy man with a pessimistic and anguished character who believes that it is not worth getting attached to anything because in the end we always lose him. He is a man without illusions who does not enjoy anything except making bread balls and then giving them to the fish.
  • Doña Gregoria: She is Don Mateo’s wife. She is a suspicious and dry woman but talkative and manipulative when the subject interests her. Physically she is slim and dark and usually dresses in mourning.
  • Martina Lesmes: First we see her as a small, plump and very talkative girl who does everything well in her mother’s eyes. Then we see her grow up to be a pretty girl with piano skills.
  • Jane: She is Pedro’s wife. She is an American woman who is rescued, along with the rest of the crew of her yacht. She is a beautiful woman with a happy and curious character who manages to make Pedro fall in love against the ideas instilled by Don Mateo.
  • Alfredo’s mother: She is a beautiful young woman with a pleasant voice. She is concerned about her son but not as much about her relationship with “the man” who seems to be much more important than her own son.

📚 Analysis

The fear of pain is shown as a natural trigger for the existential pessimism that dominates the male protagonists of the narrative. Likewise, Christianity is a catalytic aspect of the acceptance of sentimental losses. Finally, feelings of loneliness and desolation are overcome thanks to good values such as willpower, morale and education.