This novel is considered by many to be Cela's masterpiece. It is the story of an ignorant Castilian peasant and multiple murderer, and it tells of the savage impulses behind his crimes and his redeeming characteristics.
The first-person narrator-protagonist Pascual Duarte, while awaiting execution in the condemned cell, tells the story of his family life and his homicidal past, culminating in matricide.He claims, amongst other things, that fate is controlling his life and whatever he does nothing will ever change.
The book could be said to explore a Spanish version of existentialism: as in Albert Camus's ''Letranger'', Pascual is seen by society as an outsider, unable or unwilling to follow its norms. His autobiographical tale shows some of the tremendously harsh peasant reality of rural Spain up to the begining of Franco's regime.
The first two editions created an uproar and in less than a year it was banned.A new Spanish edition was revised in 1943 in December of that year.
This novel is fundamental to the generation of tremendismo (named from tremendo, ''awful, tremendous''), which focuses on the treatment of its characters and is marked by extended and frequent violent scenes.
It is in fact considered the first novel of this style of writing, but also contains themes of extreme realism and existentialism: the characters live on the margins of society and their lives are submerged in anguish and pain. The archetype of this theme is found in the protagonist of the novel, Pascual Duarte, who has learned that violence is the only way to solve his problems.
“The Family of Pascual Duarte” has various narrators, the main one being Duarte, who recounts his history in a rural dialect.
The protagonist is from Extremadura and his life unfolds between 1882 and 1937, years in which the social and political structures of Spain were marked by extreme instability. This time is one of the most agitated periods of time under the historic constitution.
The novel has a clear religious theme, despite the author having never been devout, and the references to God throughout it are numerous.