Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shadow of a Bull (1965)

Shadow of a Bull opens with this paragraph. "When Manolo was nine he became aware of three important facts in his life. First: the older he became, the more he looked like his father. Second: he, Manolo Olivar, was a coward. Third: everyone in the town of Arcangel expected him to grow up to be a famous bullfighter, like his father." (p. 23)  Young Manolo Olivar lives in his father's shadow--his father, the great bullfighter Juan Olivar.  At his father's birth a gypsy prophesied that he (Juan) would be a great bullfighter from age 12.  And so he was.  He was the best bullfighter the town of Arcangel, Spain, had ever seen.  He toured the country.  He toured Mexico and Central America.  And then at age 22, he died, gored by a bull.

Now Manolo feels trapped, and tricked, into being something he is not.  The people of the town have taken good care of him and his mother, and he feels some obligation to them for their care, so wonders how he will ever meet their expectations yet live his own life. 

Some aficionados (dedicated fans of the art of bullfighting) begin to take Manolo to bullfights and instruct him in the art.  He practices at night when his mother has gone to sleep, for he does not want to disappoint the men or dishonor the memory of his father.  Although he doesn't actually remember him, he was very young when his father died.

One time the men took him to meet a young man who had been gored in his leg by a bull.  He was there when the doctor came to fix up the man.  Manolo observed, "As he watched the magic way the man's hands brought torn flesh together, he thought that what the doctor was doing and had done was the most noble thing a man could do.  To bring health back to the sick, to cure the wounded, save the dying.  This was what a man should do with his life; this, and not killing bulls." (p. 96-97)  At this point Manolo was able to see a different future for his life.

In the end, Manolo was able to face the bull that terrified him, and also face the the truth of his real calling in life.

He received some great advice from Alfonso Castillo, critic of bullfights.  (Critic as in "a person who judges, evaluates or analyzes"  "I have found that you cannot confuse bravery or courage with lack of fear.  Real courage, true bravery is doing things in spite of fear, knowing fear." (p. 133)  Fear and courage seem to be common themes in these Newbery books.

"Don't let people push you.  If you are honest with yourself, you will do the pushing.  But only when it is important, important to you...Be what you are, and if you don't yet know what you are, wait until you do.  Don't let anyone make that decision for you." (p. 134)

Wojciechowska, Maia.  Shadow of a Bull. Simon & Schuster, 1964.

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