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El Tunel

The Tunnel is a dark, psychological novel written by Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato about a deranged porteno painter, Juan Pablo Castel, and his obsession with a woman. The story's title refers to the symbol for Castel's emotional and physical isolation from society, which becomes increasingly apparent as Castel proceeds to tell from his jail cell the series of events that enabled him to murder the only person capable of understanding him. Marked by its existential themes, El Tunel received enthusiastic support from Albert Camus and Graham Greene following its publication in 1948.

Plot Summary

The story begins with the main character introducing himself as "the painter who killed Maria Iribarne" before delving into the circumstances that led to their first encounter. Castel's obsession begins in the autumn of 1946 when at an exhibition of his work he notices a woman focusing on one particularly subtle detail of his painting "Maternidad" ("Maternity"). He considers this observation deeply significant since it is a detail that he values as the most important aspect of the painting but to which nobody besides him and the woman pay any attention.

Missing out on an opportunity to approach her before she leaves the exhibition, he then spends the next few months obsessing over her, thinking of ways to find her in the immensity of Buenos Aires, and fantasizing about what to say to her.

Ultimately, after seeing her entering a building which he presumes to be her place of employment, he considers how to go about asking her about the detail in the painting. He approaches her and learns that her name is Maria Iribarne. Following their discussion about the painting, Castel and Maria agree to see each other again. It later becomes clear that she is married to a blind man named Allende and lives on Posadas Street in the northern part of the city. As Castel continues to see Maria, however, their relationship comes to be dominated by his obsessive interrogations of her life with her husband, why she does not take her husband's last name, and of her inner thoughts, questions she is unable to answer to his satisfaction. Out of this disconnect, Castel's obsessive thoughts lead him to all sorts of irrational doubts about the love he has come to believe that they have for one another.

This anxiety intensifies after he and Maria make a trip to an estancia, a country ranch in Mar del Plata owned by Allende's cousin Hunter. The atmosphere, the presence and the attitudes of the other visiting relatives, and an overheard but not understood argument between Maria and Hunter feed into Castel's paranoia, forcing him to flee the ranch with little more than a word to one of the service staff.

While waiting at a station to leave the region, Castel expects Maria to figure out he has left and to come stop him. She never arrives, confirming his negative feelings. Upon returning home to Buenos Aires, Castel passionately composes a hurtful letter, accusing her of sleeping with Hunter, which he immediately regrets upon mailing to her. He angrily but unsuccessfully attempts to convince a postal worker to retract the certified letter and later concludes that fate has decided it should reach its destination.

Later, Castel reaches Maria by phone: she reluctantly agrees to meet with him again, although she tells him that it will likely do them little good and, in fact, probably cause him more harm. When she does not arrive to Buenos Aires, he decides that Maria is, in fact, a prostitute who cheats on her husband not only with him, but also with Hunter and other men. In a fit of rage, he drives out to the estancia. There he waits hidden outside for guests to leave the large house. Meanwhile his anxiety grows to the point where he envisions he and Maria passing each other through life in parallel passageways or tunnels, whereas his is "a single tunnel, dark and solitary: mine, the tunnel wherein passed all my infancy, my youth, my entire life."

Eventually, Castel enters the house, approaches Maria in her room, where he accuses her of leaving him alone in the world, and stabs her to death.

Following the attack, Castel shows up to Allende's office to tell him that he has murdered Maria for sleeping with Hunter, only to discover that Allende is well-aware of his cuckold status. Crying out again and again that Castel is a fool, Allende sadly, and ineffectually, tries to fight Castel, who leaves and later turns himself in to the police.


Love and Loneliness in the Modern World

The modern world contributes to Juan Pablo Castels unhappiness by replacing characteristics of his humanity with mechanization and by isolating him from people. Even though he is dehumanized, he shares the human characteristic of being lonely, and he seeks unconditional love. His understanding of love, however, is emotionless and he exhibits it through unconventional mechanical processes. These processes involve loving Maria because of a perceived similarity, stalking her, creating underlying assumptions, and considering all hypothetical situations that may arise based on them.

Juan Pablo Castel approaches love as the solution to his loneliness, but he lacks a mature understanding of it. He does not know how to cope with its accompanying emotions, and he is selfish and neglects its mutual nature. Juan Pablo reduces it to a satiating process, but is ultimately unfulfilled.

Buenos Aires as a Metropolis

By the year 1900 Buenos Aires was on its way to becoming a potent metropolis. This was the case because of many changes that occurred in the countrys infrastructure, and the consequence of large groups of immigrants settling in the city instead of moving on to other provinces. Railroad construction increased and brought about wealth because raw materials were more easily transportable. Exports increased drastically, as a consequence. With work acting as a magnet, the town became a metropolitan and multicultural city. Argentina, as the result of massive immigration, was then able to compete with major European nations. An example structure that embodied this new prosperity is the Teatro Colon, which is one of the worlds top opera venues. The citys main boulevards were built around these years and the construction of tall buildings and one of the first subway networks in the world took place in those years.

Historical Context of Argentina:The Peronism movement in 1945 with Juan Domingo Peron as President

Poverty and labor unrest were two issues Argentina faced in 1945. In an attempt to eliminate this problem, Juan Domingo Peron came to power in 1946 and implemented a political movement known as Peronism, also known as Justicialism" (as its ultimate objective was social justice) which refers to the beliefs of Peron and what stance Argentina should take to improve economically and socially. This political system has three ideas to it. The first is a strong authoritarian government that creates strict control of opposition parties. Second is the idea of nationalism, breaking away from foreign influence. Third, the implementation of state capitalism where the economy is capitalist under state control. The main idea behind Peronism was that government would intervene in economic affairs, and consider the best interests of the country. Peron lost sight of his goal to better the economy, and instead he put more emphasis in nationalizing corporate markets. He failed to recognize the problems of labor issues at all levels, and isolating the country from outside influence did not help economically. Resentment against Perons ideas of isolationism and anti-clericalism encroachment against religion and political beliefs of the middle and working classes, lead to his overthrow in 1955. Despite Perons downfall, ideas from his political movement of Peronism still exist in Argentina today.

Dehumanization of Modern Society

The novel explores the dehumanization of modern society. In the metropolitan Argentine society where Castel lives, there is very little in the way of material needs. Technology has advanced to the point where basic needs are met and artistic, sopisticated self-awareness takes the forefront of human consciousness. Castel finds himself in this existentialist dilemma. He is a painter concerned with artistic endeavors and not mundane life. He can live as an individual disconnected from society. In fact, society and humanity now disgust him. He finds there is no human connection worthy of his attention. Yet, paradoxically he also longs for some sort of human understanding. This is the reason why he becomes obsessed with Maria. When she notices a window in one of his paintings, he thinks he has found this connection. It is absurd but in the corporate, artificial world he lives in, seemingly logical. Everywhere he turns there is nothing natural about the world. Yet, the apex of the book is that not only is human interaction artificial but dehumanizing in its deceitfulness. Maria represents this to Castel with the sense of betrayal he feels when he finds out that she already has a husband and many lovers as well.

The Role of Logic

In the novel, logic plays a crucial role for Castel. Throughout the entire story, the main character, Juan Pablo Castel, constantly struggles to make any sort of decision in his daily confrontations. His existentialist behavior commands him to use probability as a tool to examine all the possible outcomes for each of the choices that are presented to him. For every decision he has to make, he thinks of many different scenarios that he might confront. Once three or four scenarios are investigated, Castel chooses the one that represents less pain to him. Even so, he sometimes chooses not to choose; for example, he decides not to approach Maria at the company, but to wait for a future time. By not deciding, a new set of scenarios is presented to him. This behavior may not seem ordinary, but in reality, it is only showing the existentialist logic adopted by Juan Castel.

External links

Photography Site about "El Tunel" from Ernesto Sabato.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article El Tunel

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