Lit Guides

Sin of Omission | Summary and Analysis

Summary of Sin of Omission by Ana Maria Matute

Sin of Omission ,  originally published in Spanish as “Pecado de omission” is a 1961 short story written by the renowned author Ana Maria Matute. Most of her works bear traces of her acquaintance with the rural lifestyle and loneliness following a life of convalescence. Coupling with a medical history is also her first-hand experience of the Spanish Civil War which witnessed the rise of dictatorship and bloodshed. The story incorporates snippets from Matute’s life as an influence and motive driving the plot. A young orphan leads a shepherd’s life on the account of his guardian’s decision and eventually pays him back in a drastic turn of events, as he attains maturity and realization. The author’s play with the word “sin” is both tactful and creative; compelling her readers to ponder over the ethical and moral standards the definition of “sin” carries with it. Is it objective or subjective? One may require a moment to reflect and decide about it. 

Sin of Omission | Summary

This is a story of a thirteen-year-old boy Lope whose destiny opts to throw him into a life of an orphan leaving school to meet ends in poverty-stricken conditions. His mother’s death calls for adoption by his only relative Emeterio Ruiz Heredia who takes him in out of compulsion rather than any compassion. Lope meets a treatment equivalent to domestic animals on Emeterio’s wide farm. He is “given” food and frequently bears his uncle’s loud instructions. Upon learning about his fate to become a shepherd at Sagrado, Lope obediently follows it as if surrendering his will to his uncle. As a continuous act of obedience, he does not even hesitate or complain to live with an elderly shepherd Roque el Mediano in savage conditions who lacks communication skills as well. In his formative years, he loses human touch and sensibility. His school teacher don Lorenzo observes Lope’s travel and feels pity for him as Lope is a boy with bubbling potential. It drives him to attempt to influence Emeterio against his own decision. But Emeterio snubs Lorenzo’s remarks by preaching the economic tensions and the necessity to earn a livelihood. 

Five years pass by and Emeterio sends for Lope concerning an arrangement for his medical examination. Lope is a grown-up boy of eighteen- strong as a rock who meets a classmate Manuel Enriquez, a competitor during his school days. Manuel is preparing to be a lawyer and Lope is hit with an awakening that transports him into another world. He comes to terms with all the past injustices due to his parent’s absence and an unwilling guardianship of his uncle. A comparison between his uncultured and uneducated life with Manuel’s higher qualifications strikes him like thunder and in a fit of silent frenzy, he kills Emeterio with a stone. The story concludes with Lope’s imprisonment and people lamenting the loss of an apparently great hero figure Emeterio while cursing his killer. 

Sin of Omission | Analysis

Matute’s story is a narrative set within a third-person perspective on the lives of two generationally distant men in rural Spain. Lope, the young teen who is compelled to live a life of a shepherd is devoid of actual human contact even through inhabitation in a hut with an old man. His formative years which should have been shaped by education and worldly communication, on the contrary, toils in the muddy farms of Emeterio who ironically believes his decision to be in alignment with the betterment of the child. 

The basic difference between humans and animals loses meaning as the plot progresses. Lope’s treatment follows a behavior met out to domestic animals. Despite Emeterio’s two-storey house, he is provided a space in the granary to rest and is “given” food and wine rather than served. Before his mother’s demise, the boy drops out of school due to a financial crisis even though he is potential enough to earn good grades. But later under the guardianship of his uncle, he still is not allowed to enter school as Emeterio wishes Lope to earn his own bread. Being a mayor and owner of a huge farm, Emeterio could not possibly struggle with finances. His distance from Lope’s family advocates the man’s power-driven personality. The boy suffers in silence and his unquestioning obedience plays on the dilemma between willingness and compulsion. 

The employment of animal imagery for most of the sections describing Lope’s conduct is interesting. When his mother is alive, he doesn’t enjoy the basic pleasures of life such as a full fledge meal. However, when Lope has his first meal in his new house, his insatiate hunger grabs all the warm peppered potatoes as he swallows them quickly with “his aluminum spoon dripping with every bite.” After attaining his foster parents in the guardianship of Emeterio, orphans like Lope might imagine their life to take a better turn. But the circumstances grow worse. The hut that Lope shares with an old fellow is “barely big enough for them to lie down in, and they had to enter on all fours, halfway between a crawl and dragging themselves.” After five years, when Emeterio calls Lope on an account of a medical examination, Matute portrays Emeterio’s satisfaction with Lope’s firm and strong body as a gratifying return on his investment i.e. the young shepherd. 

Contrasting the savagery and wilderness are the women who only occupy the domestic sphere in the story. Emeterio’s “unwed” daughter cooks food in the initial sections and later gets married with three children who consume her the whole time. Another woman is the sharp-tongued wife-great at commanding which is a sign of a good homemaker. The death of their patriarch leads them to howl like wolves. Their inconsolable lamentation targets Lope as they shower him with curses for his ingratitude which prevents them to contemplate the unfairness of Emeterio to the boy. 

The title of the story is borrowed from Christianity where the phrase is interpreted as failing to perform an action. It is a matter of great debate to decide the nature of sin Matute is hinting at. What is Lope’s sin, if any? Omitting great opportunities in life in order to become a well-settled man or killing the man who took him under? What is Emeterio’s sin? Depriving a child of an educated life or using him as an investment for his own ends? These questions compel the readers to dig up the narrative deeply to find possible answers. Life without education and social interaction is meaningless for boys like Lope who later expresses bewilderment after meeting a fellow mate, now cultured and on the path to a top-tier profession. His encounter with Manuel exposes the injustice he has been experiencing that results in his failure to understand and comprehend human language- “Who could understand what he was saying? How strange the accent of men, how odd the words that come out of the dark holes of their mouths!” Though Emetrio controls Lope’s life strictly according to his own whims, he becomes the heroic figure, a martyr of sorts who is killed by a thankless young man. His sin escapes the web of social criticism unlike those of Lope’s. 

Sin of Omission | Characters

Lope – He is a thirteen-year-old orphan who lives with his paternal uncle after his mother’s demise. As an obedient and helpless child, he follows the path his uncle charts out for him without questioning. But after a five-year leap and his sudden encounter with a fellow schoolmate, reality hits him when he compares his life’s achievements to Manuel’s. This drives him to kill his uncle and transform his life from a shepherd’s to a criminal’s. 

Emeterio Ruiz Heredia – He is the distant cousin of Lope’s father who does not share an affectionate relationship with Lope’s family. Also a mayor with a decent standard of living, he ironically treats Lope like any other animal on his farm- refusing proper accommodation and sentencing him to a shepherd’s life. While society chooses to ignore the social injustice he inflicts on the child, fate revenges him by bringing a cruel death by Lope. 

Emeterio’s Wife- She is a fiery-tongued woman who is a master at giving out orders. She does not occupy much space in the narrative. 

Francisca  – She is Emeterio’s twenty-year-old unwed and dumb daughter in the initial sections of the story who later marries and bears three children. She is cheerful around Lope and even packs him a bag before his departure to Sagrado. 

Roque el Mediano – He is a “slightly retarded” fifty-year-old man who Lope lives with as a part of an arrangement set up by Emeterio. He has been working for Emeterio for about fifteen years. Strangely enough, he doesn’t communicate much. 

Don Lorenzo – Lope’s school teacher who sees great potential in the child and makes an effort to persuade Emeterio to enroll him back in school, but miserably fails. 

Manuel Enríquez – He is an old school-fellow of Lope who ventures to study law. He recognizes Lope despite his rural shepherd lifestyle. As a cultured man, he dresses neatly and harbors a bright future ahead. 

Sin of Omission |  Literary Devices


Simile –

 Emeterio’s wife is “lean and hard as a black poplar

“The sun, high and round like an imperturbable eye, reigned supreme”

“In the air, crisscrossing one another like fugitive stars, myriad noises came and went, loud and useless.”

Lope’s built at eighteen years of age and after living a shepherd’s life for five years is strong “like an oak.” 

Lope compares his hand to a “piece of dried beef” in contrast to Manuel’s “fine hand with fingers like large white worms.” 

Emeterio witnesses “death and surprise, like two sisters, rising to greet him.” 

The women “howling like wolves” lamented the untimely demise of Emeterio. 


The first morning of Lope in Emeterio’s house has the “sun rising with the crowing of the roosters” and the house waking up to Emeterio’s shouts. 

Lope is unable to address Manuel as if the “shout stuck in his throat like a ball.”

Lope’s veins begin to fill with a “thick kind of blood”, as he listens to Manuel Enríquez. 

The peaks of Sagrado were beautiful—a deep blue color, terrible, blind. 


Sin of Omission | Questions and Answers


  1. How are Lope and Don Emeterio represented in the story? 

– Lope and Emeterio are two contrasting characters who differ not only generationally but socially too. While the latter is the embodiment of power and authority, the former is submissive and an obedient follower. However, Lope’s lack of knowledge due to his dropping out of school leads him to live a life of metaphorical blindness as he fails to see the silent injustices of his uncle. Emeterio being a man of experience and the only blood tie of Lope does not provide the child with love and affection. Instead, he becomes the shepherd who runs his sheep, in this case- Lope. But the tables turn when Lope attempts to access his agency and settle scores for the past years by killing Emeterio. Still, towards the end, his uncle is the hero among the locals who hail him as an affectionate and sympathetic man whereas Lope unintentionally designs a life of legal imprisonment for himself. 

To what extent is the reader’s response to the story affected by the presentation of the material by the narrator? 

– The narrator puts each scenario the way it is without any affectation. He/She delineates everything and lets the readers become a better judge of situations in which various characters find themselves. Responses to the story are conflicting and debatable due to Lope’s psychologically and emotionally burdened mindset at the time of Emeterio’s murder. While the former’s mortal sin exposes in a broad daylight, the latter’s social and psychological sins do not find a literal mention. The weight of morality and legality overwhelms the readers who fail to arrive at a definite conclusion as to whether Lope should be found guilty of killing his uncle or must be given a benefit of the doubt. 

 What are the primary themes and messages of the story?

– Key themes of the story include familial ties and responsibility which should be restricted to blood ties alone. Extended families are fairly important too. Lope’s alienation from a social world rips him off human contact and sensitivity for a long period of time. A young teenager who should have been showered with love and care embarks on a journey of becoming a shepherd out of his will. Dependency and self-worth also run through the story as the former hinders the path of the latter. The primary message the story aims to deliver is about the role of education which yields results in later years. Educating young minds is crucial for overall development and children like Lope who are bursting with intelligence and potential should always be given a chance despite the economic constraints. Another message the story wishes to pass is the futility of violence. Revenge and bloodshed do not carry any answers but they do accompany a life of imprisonment and a scar on one’s moral personality. Despite following Emeterio for years, Lope’s impulsive act of killing his uncle with a stone sweeps everything down the drain. All his chances at redeeming his lost years steer off him. 




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