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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Love and all connected emotions, such as lust, longing, and heartbreak, are powerful forces in La Celestina. Love fuels Celestina’s main trade as a madam and mender of maidenheads, and love drives the story’s main plot, which begins when Calisto falls madly in love with Melibea. Rather than nurture the heart of the lover, love drives Calisto to recklessly put himself in the hands of a known scammer. Love sends Elicia into a jealous fit every time Sempronio mentions another woman’s beauty. Love makes Pármeno exchange his loyalty to Calisto for a night with Areúsa. And most terribly, the effects of love eventually drive Melibea to suicide.
Celestina is perhaps the one character who can see love clearly, for she is the one who can easily discern everyone’s true motives in the throes of this emotion. She sees that Calisto’s love for Melibea is riddled with selfishness and impatience, and she sees through Melibea’s coyness when she pretends not to love Calisto. As members of the wealthy class, Calisto and Melibea are forced to obey manufactured ideals of love, and as such, they are most vulnerable to being destroyed by the love they feel. In the end, Pleberio becomes the voice of reason when he bemoans the destructive nature of love and its ability to ruin everyone in its path, rich or poor.
A major theme of the novel, the honor among thieves is something that Celestina utilizes to create loyalty between her co-conspirators. Pármeno, a mouthpiece for the medieval courtly values of laying one’s life down for one’s master, is confused about where he should place his loyalties. On the one hand, Pármeno feels he must be a loyal servant to Calisto and warn him about Celestina, but on the other hand, he’s getting punished for doing so by Calisto, who only cares about winning Melibea. Pármeno bitterly acknowledges that this is how things work now and that he must play along to preserve himself. Celestina manages to clinch Pármeno’s support by preying on his weaknesses and promising him sex with Areúsa. Celestina advises him that there is no true friendship among people of different classes and that people in their class need to protect each other. For a moment, Sempronio and Pármeno establish a true friendship under Celestina’s guidance. It is Celestina, however, who falls prey to her own greed when she betrays Sempronio and Pármeno and tries to keep Calisto’s payment to herself. In this society, where the modes and values are evolving, the characters seem lost in the tides of change.
Women are certainly deceitful in La Celestina. Celestina’s main job is to make women appear as virgins after they’ve had sex so they can get married. Melibea pretends she doesn’t love Calisto to appear virtuous and chaste. Areúsa, Celestina’s prostitute, complains that wealthy girls like Melibea are considered beautiful simply because they have access to cosmetics to create the illusion of beauty. Women in the novel trade in illusion and deception, both willingly and as a result of being bound by a society that pressures them to do so. Sempronio cites history’s many accounts of women’s ability to deceive men and lead them astray and turn away from God. This is certainly the case with Calisto, who abandons God for Melibea. But on the other hand, Celestina makes a strong case for women’s deception being a necessary part of survival, both for her and Melibea. They both need to protect their standing in a world where women are valued for their chastity and sexuality. Celestina is an old, poor woman who needs to survive, and Melibea is a daughter bound to represent her family’s honor. In this way, women’s deception becomes a mirror for truth and reality and a natural response to the backward social order.