Lazarillo de Tormes
A Famous Character From Spanish Literature

Lazarillo de Tormes

One of the most famous characters from Spanish literature is a boy called Lazarillo.  The  story of Lazarillo de Tormes was written around 1554 but nobody knows the author's identity.  It is an anonymous work. 
Below is a picture of the book's cover when it was first published in 1554.

Spanish literature

When the book first appeared, it was banned for being scandalous.  It was considered scandalous mainly because the story criticises the priests and the Church of the time. 

The book belongs to the Spanish Golden Age of literature (El Siglo de Oro).  This was a period between the 15th and 17th Centuries when a large amount of Spanish art and literature was produced.

Lazarillo de Tormes is a bit like Oliver Twist.  It is the story of a young boy who works for various masters and it tells of his adventures and mishaps.  In fact, Lazarillo de Tormes was the first published story of this kind.  It is known as a picaresque novel and the boy is known as a pícaro, travelling between masters from one existence to another.

It could be said that the creation of the character Lazarillo de Tormes started the style of writing books like Oliver Twist!  

The book is written in the 'first person' (as though the adult Lazarillo is telling the story of his childhood) and it is divided into an introduction and seven chapters called 'tratados.'

Below is a painting by Goya, depicting Lazarillo.

painting by Goya

The Story of Lazarillo.

Lazarillo was born in Salamanca (a famous Spanish city) on the banks of the River Tormes.  That is why he is called Lazarillo de Tormes.  He lived in poverty so he left his family to go to work.

He found work as a servant for the following masters:
1.  A blind beggar.
2.  A priest.
3.  A squire. (A nobleman).
4.  A friar.
5.  A pardoner.
6.  A chaplain.
7.  A bailiff.

Each time that he chose a new master, Lazarillo found himself trying to guess if he would be happy and well-fed with that person, or not.  It soon became clear that it is impossible to judge someone by their appearance.  A kind-looking person could in reality be cruel and a wealthy-looking person could in reality be poor and starving.

Lazarillo ran away from all his masters except for the squire.  The surprising thing about the squire is that he appeared to be a wealthy man of the upper-class.  He lived in a large house, dressed well and walked around the town with pride.  But in reality, he was very poor and had no money, furniture or food.  His existence was based on how he appeared to other people.  He was too proud to beg so he used Lazarillo to beg for him.  The squire was kind to Lazarillo, but he lived in hunger and that meant that Lazarillo was suffering from terrible hunger too.  In the end, the squire abandoned Lazarillo - one day he just did not come home.

The story ends with Lazarillo finding a permanent job as a town-crier, calling out the price of wine and selling it.  He eventually marries a servant-girl.

There are many famous and funny scenes throughout the story.  In one scene, Lazarillo claims that mice are eating the bread stored in a chest.  Instead, it is Lazarillo who is stealing the bread and even the cheese in the mouse-trap! 

In another scene, Lazarillo steals a sausage that is being grilled on a skewer and replaces it with a turnip.


In the town of Salamanca (the boy's home-town), there is a statue of Lazarillo with his first master - the blind beggar, (below.)

Lazarillo de Tormes

 A pícaro like Lazarillo, has to be the following things -

1.  A young boy (or girl.)
2.  To be poor.
3. To be good at stealing.
4.  To have many different masters, one after the other.
5.  To be practical and clever.
6.  To be tough and to accept such a hard life.
7.  To make the most of any good luck whilst it lasts - because it will probably only be for a very short time.


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