Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon by Gabriel García Márquez
In Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon by Gabriel García Márquez we have the theme of conflict, humility, greed, generosity and pride. Taken from his Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Márquez may be exploring the theme of conflict. Balthazar is a poor man who dislikes rich people. Particularly rich people like José Montiel. It is not that Balthazar is jealous of José rather he does not wish to live the type of life that José lives. A life that may be driven by money and a life that is alien to Balthazar. How opposed Balthazar is to José’s way of life is noticeable by the fact that he gives the cage to Pepe for nothing. Whereas José acts greedily by refusing to pay the sixty pesos for the cage. This may be important as Balthazar has shown that he is a generous man even though he can ill afford to give his work away for free. How generous Balthazar may be is also noticeable by the fact that he buys those in the pool hall drinks. Again when he does not really have the money to do so.
There is also a sense that Balthazar is in conflict with himself. He has never been drunk before and is venturing into unknown territory. It is also clear to the reader that Balthazar loses the run of himself when he is talking to the people in the pool hall. He begins to have grandiose ideas about what he will do (build a million cages). Something that is in contrast to how Balthazar had previously acted when people first complimented him on the cage. He had humility. Yet when drunk he has ideas of grandiosity. Which may mirror the same ideas that José has when it comes to his life. Which may suggest that Balthazar and José may not necessarily be very different to one another. Apart from the obvious fact that Balthazar is a poor man and José is a rich man. Though ironically it is a poor man who gives away something he cannot afford to give away. While a rich man who can afford to give away some money doesn’t.
Though Balthazar originally considered the cage to be quite ordinary. There is a sense that when he is in the pool hall drinking Balthazar has excessive pride. It is as though he feels like the master of all when the reality is very much different. It is also interesting that Balthazar felt the necessity to lie about getting sixty pesos for the cage. It is possible that Márquez is again playing on the theme of pride when Balthazar lies. Balthazar most likely does not wish to let others see that he has been beaten by José who refused to pay any money for the cage. If anything Márquez may be highlighting the battle that exits between those who are rich and those who are poor. With Balthazar due to his pride wanting to be seen as the victor. Hence him purchasing all the drinks in the pool hall. Though Balthazar has been generous by giving Pepe the cage. He has also acted foolishly. Spending money he does not have. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that Balthazar has to pawn his watch in order to pay his expenses in the pool hall.
The end of the story is also interesting as Balthazar has spent the afternoon living an illusion. He is spending money as though he is a rich man. Just like José. Yet ironically he has a dislike for rich people. The reader left sensing that when Balthazar wakes up he will also dislike himself for his actions. He has spent money he hasn’t got and lied to people about getting sixty pesos. All for the sake of his pride. Where once Balthazar was a humble man he has become arrogant. Just as José is arrogant. In reality Balthazar has acted arrogantly because he did not want to be beaten by José when it came to the matter of the cage. If anything Balthazar has forgotten his ideals. It is as though his personality has changed in the course of an afternoon. It might also be symbolically important that Balthazar’s shoes have been robbed as Márquez may be using the shoes to place an emphasis on the path that Balthazar had previously traveled on. One in whereby he had humility, knew his limitations and accepted life on life’s terms. The Balthazar who walks into the pool hall is not the same Balthazar who made the cage for Pepe. If anything Balthazar allowed himself the opportunity to live like a rich man for one afternoon. Though he may have paid a heavy price with the realization that he might not be the man he thinks he is.