Themes, Motifs, and General Characteristics of the Picaresque Narrative
Social Change and Romantic Misoneism
Rowland Sherrill, in
Road Book America: Contemporary Culture and the New
, suggests that the picaresque genre arises as a response to times of social,
political, and economic upheaval. Spain, in the time of
Lazarillo de Tormes
, was in a
state of vast upheaval: increasing power of merchant class, increasing scientific
discoveries invalidating old faiths, increasing rural to urban migrations, etc. In short, the
medieval worldview couldn’t hold. Literature, ranging from chivalric romances to
morality plays, erupted in a type of misoneistic response attempting to reinforce the older
ideologies. The picaresque was initially a reaction to what could be referred to as a knee-
jerk propaganda, but was also an effort to understand, or as Sherrill would say, catalogue,
this new social terrain.
Rural peasants flooded cities, causing problems for the middle and upper classes, creating
low classes full of poverty, crime, hunger, etc.
Constant conflict between nations and even regions marked the time period.
Advances in mathematics, astronomy, optics, anatomy – the sciences – undermined old