Intuition and Virtue in Miguel Delibes’ Las Ratas

by Pedro Blas González (May 2019)

Boy Sitting on the Grass, Georges Seurat, 1882






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Miguel Delibes does not romanticize the backward lives that Ratero and el Nini lead. The author does not offer ideological commentary about the life of his characters. None of the characters in Las Ratas raise an angry fist at life or the world. The people of Old Castile, the birthplace of the philosopher, Julian Marias, are robust and life affirming. Yet they also possess a tragic sense of life, which they express through their existential longings. These tough-mind individuals are content with life on their own terms, which means the acceptance of reality as resistance, and what this entails for their respective lot in life. Their understanding of the order of reality and the passage of time makes these rural people humble, yet wise. Theirs is a peaceful existence that is ruled by the wisdom conveyed by the passage of time and the knowledge that those who respect this reap.



All Creatures Great and Small.


with affected grimaces. These are people for whom a spade is still called a spade.



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The great revelation that takes place at the end of Las Ratas is that el Nini is profoundly visionary. The boy imparts a sense of moral balance to the adult world. This does not become fully manifest until the unraveling of Ratero’s world at the end of the novel. From all the relatives who the boy has lived with, he is left with the dogged Ratero. From practical considerations, a six-year old boy must have adult supervision. Ratero does the best he can for the boy. He teaches him to catch rats and about surviving in the austere hilly countryside that surrounds the town. However, Ratero has nothing to offer the boy by way of a moral compass.


It is these conditions, regrettable or otherwise, that Delibes utilizes to showcase the extent of el Nini’s intuition: his moral conscience. Rather than blindly embracing Ratero’s heinous crime, the boy, who has the conscience of a moral giant, understands what course of action he must take.


The boy is anything but idle, for he is already fascinated by the world that surrounds him. Doña Rufo recognizes his virtuous character and suggests that he find another adult to point him in the right direction. The boy’s moral and social environmentas some modern critics are wont to sayshould have destroyed him. He could have taken part in the murder, or at best, help cover it up. At the end of the novel, the reader realizes that el Nini’s moral conscience is never tainted by the actions of less moral adults.


Rather than allowing el Nini to become lost in the colorful conversations of the adults that surround him, the narrative of Las Ratas culminates in an unpredictable denouement that showcases a moral telos. Instead of being the end, the novel’s resolutionRatero’s murder of the young manis actually a new beginning for el Nini. One wonders, what will become of the boy? We know that his days of living in a cave and catching rats are over. As for becoming a gentleman, the careful reader has no doubt that the boy is well on his way to achieving that rather illusive feat. Only time will tell. It always does.


What differentiates the boy from others his age and many adults is his moral make-up. Like a newborn calf instinctively seeking its mother’s milk after birth, el Nini is conscientious of right and wrong. This suggests that, while the boy may co-exist with others, he does not allow himself to become corrupted by them. This is Delibes’ take on the nature of objectification by society on the human soul. This returns the reader to the handful of instances when some townspeople suggest that the boy has Jesus-like qualities. What do they see in el Nini?


Learning from those who have most to offer him, the boy picks up timeless knowledge, the fruits of which he does not yet fully comprehend. Not content to merely perceive the world, el Nini transforms himself into one who conceives the meaning and purpose of things. Much of this knowledge has been safeguarded for himand whoever else desires itby characters like the centenarian, who many townspeople take for granted. His environment does not daunt El Nini, for he transcends it with the power of his virtue. This is what he has been doing all along.

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