The first chapter begins by explaining the background of the book’s main character
and narrator, Lazaro de Tormes. He received his name because he was born in a watermill
on the river Tormes. When he was 8, his father, who worked at the mill, was accused of
cheating costumers by draining their sacks. He was exiled, and proceeded to join army
organized to fight the Moors. He died in battle.
His mother, being widowed, moves into town. She does laundry and cooks for
people to support herself. She begins a relationship with another man, who provides for her
and Lazaro to some extent. Lazaro’s mother also gives him a young black boy named Zaide.
However, the estate manager where they live finds out about the boy, and starts to notice that
part of the supplies used for the animals are stolen. He suspects that they are used for the
boy’s care. The estate manager forces Lazaro, who is still a young boy, to confirm that this is
the case. The family is punished.
Because of the scandal, Lazaro’s mother leaves the estate. She supports herself by
working at a brothel. One day an old blind man comes to the brothel, and asks if he can take
Lazaro as his servant. Lazaro’s mother agrees, and the two are forced to say a teary
On the first day of their life together, the blind man takes Lazaro to a bull-shaped
stone. The man tells the boy that he should come close to the stone, as one can hear a loud
noise from inside it. Lazaro puts his head to the rock, and the man gives him a hard blow to
the head. Lazaro comments that this event awakens him from his childlike simplicity.
Lazaro’s new master is extremely good at providing for himself. He knows a
prayer for every occasion and a remedy for every ailment. He has a great following of women
who pay for his advice and cures. The man is also a religious hypocrite, as he is very gifted at
making himself look pious while he is really cruel and greedy.
The blind man is extremely stingy. Lazaro often is hungry, as the man severely
limits the amount of food he shares. He carries his food and processions in a burlap sack
closed with a padlock. Lazaro steals food by cutting the bag open on the side and sewing it
shut. He carries the stolen food in white socks.
Lazaro’s master also drinks excessively. He always holds his jug of wine by the
handle in order to ensure that Lazaro does not take it. However, Lazaro still find a way to
steal it. He puts a tiny hole in the bottom of the jug, and then covers it with wax. On night,
the man is standing by the fire, and Lazaro sits at his legs under the pretext of warming
himself. The wax melts and the wine begins to drip, and Lazaro catches it in his mouth.
When the old man realizes the bottle is empty, he is confused. After feeling the bottle, the old
man finds the hole and figures Lazaro is to blame. The blind man proceeds to smash jug of
wine on Lazaro’s head.
Overall, Lazaro feels he is mistreated by his master. The old man hits him, pulls
his hair, and gives him little to eat. Whenever someone asks the blind man why he such a
harsh master, he bring recounts how Lazaro stole the wine. Lazaro starts to take revenge on
him in any small way possible.
Lazaro tells a story specifically to demonstrate the blind man’s shrewdness. One
time, they are asking for alms, and a man gives them a bunch of grapes. The blind man says
he and Lazaro will take turns eating the grapes, but they will only take one at a time. The old
man starts to take two at a time. Since he violated the agreement, Lazaro feels he is free to
do so as well. So Lazaro starts to eat three at a time, or as many as he can manage. When
the grapes are done, the old man accuses his servent of taking three at a time. Lazaro denies
it. The old man says he knows it is true because he took two at a time and Lazaro remained
Another time, Lazaro is extremely hungry and steals a sausage that the blind man
is cooking and replaces it with a turnip. The old man then sends Lazaro to buy a bottle of
wine. When Lazaro returns, the old man takes a bite of his sandwich. Realizing its contents,
the old man accuses Lazaro of making the switch. Lazaro denies it, saying someone must
have switched them while he was in the tavern. The blind man then grabs Lazaro by the
epiglottis, sticks his nose in Lazaro’s throat and smells the sausage. As punishment, the blind
man scratches Lazaro all over his face and neck.
Whenever the old man injures Lazaro, he uses wine to clean the wounds. He
makes jokes, such as “this boy goes through more wine in a year than I drink in two!”
Another time when they are out asking alms, it is raining torrentially. They stand
under a shelter to protect themselves. The old man tires of waiting for the rain to stop, and
decides they will go to an inn for the night. To get to the inn, they have to cross a creek.
Lazaro looks for a narrow part of the creek so they can jump across. When they find the
section, Lazaro jumps first. When the old man goes to jump, he flings himself with all his
might. However, he becomes misdirected and hits a rock post, cracking his skull open. He
falls to the ground, almost dead. Lazaro thinks this accident is God’s way of giving him
Soon after the blind man’s accident, Lazaro leaves to find a new master. He asks
a priest to asks for alms, and the priest asks if he knows how to help with mass. Lazaro does,
as this was one of many things the blind man taught him. The priest then takes Lazaro as his
new servant. Unfortunately, Lazaro;s situation goes from bad to worse, as the priest is as
greedy as the blind man. He carries his bread in a locked safe. There is no food anywhere
else in the house expect for some onions. Lazaro is allowed one onion every four days, and a
little stew sometimes. Also, on Saturdays the priest eats a rams head, and gives Lazaro the
left over bones.
After three weeks of living with his new master, Lazaro is already emaciated. The
priest has eagle eyes, according to Lazaro, making it impossible for his to steal food or money
from alms. The priest says they eat very little out of temperance, but in reality the priest eats
gluttonously at certain events when the food is free. (funerals and cofradias) Lazaro likes
funerals because they are the only occasion in which he gets to eat fully. During the six
months he stays with the priest, 20 people die. Lazaro feels partially responsible because he
always begs God that someone will die so that, ironically, he can eat and therefore live.
Lazaro considers leaving on many occasions, but two reasons prevent him from
doing so. First, he doesn’t trust his body to go very far because he is so famished. Secondly,
he has already gone from a bad master to a worse one, so he fears the next could be the
worst of all.
One day the priest is out and a tinkerer comes to his door. Lazaro says he has lost
the key to the safe and his master will beat him if he doesn’t return it. The tinkerer makes
him a new key and opens the safe. Lazaro pays him with the best loaf, and considers him to
be an angel sent from God.
Lazaro realizes he cannot always eat the bread, or his master will soon realize
bread is missing and become suspicious. One day, he decides not to eat, but he still opens
the box to admire the food. He realizes that the safe is full of holes. He decides to crumble
one loaf and eat some of it, giving the appearance that mice entered the box through the
holes and ate the bread. The priest, upon finding the crumbled bread, falls into the
deception completely. He gives Lazaro all the bread that appears to be destroyed by the
The priest then takes boards and nails from the walls to cover the holes in the box.
Lazaro is devastated. When his master is asleep, he takes a spoon and puts a hole in the
box. His master blames the rats again. The priest then puts mouse traps in the safe. Lazaro
rats both the cheese in the traps and the bread. His master is furious and consults with the
neighbors as to how mice could be so skillful. One of the neighbors suggests that snakes
might be to blame, and that they might come in the house at nighttime, seeking warmth. The
priest becomes preoccupied with stopping the snakes. He sleeps lightly, getting up at every
noise because he thinks it might be a snake.
Lazaro sleeps with the key in his mouth to prevent his master from finding it. One
night, the key falls partially out of his mouth, and Lazaro’s breathing over it creates a whistling
sound. The priest awakes, and believes the sound to be the whistling of the snake. He goes
to Lazaro’s room carrying a stick, thinking the snake has sought Lazaro for his body heat. He
hears where the whistle is coming from, and strikes at the source of the sound. In doing so,
he hits Lazaro on the head and cracks his skull open. The priest feels what he has done, and
runs to get a candle. He comes back to find Lazaro complaining, and making the whistling
sound. He sticks his hand in Lazaro’s mouth and pulls out the key.
Lazaro is unconscious for three days, and wakes up with his head covered in oil,
ointments and bandages. The priest tells him that he has finally hunted down the mice and
the snake. The neighbors surround him, and give him something to eat. After 15 day, he
gets out of bed for the first time since his injury. Soon after, the priest takes Lazaro outside
and informs him that he is disowned. The priest blesses Lazaro, returns to his house, and
closes the door.