Ana María Matute Essay - Critical Essays

Matute, Ana María


Matute, Ana María 1926–

Matute is a Spanish novelist and short story writer. The Spanish civil war is generally considered the most important formative influence on her career. The fear, the horror, and the injustice of war impelled Matute to write, and the subject of her novels is often the war itself. Her fiction is often peopled with sad, alienated adolescents, growing into adulthood in a world divided by the hate and despair of war. Her prose is noted for its sensitivity and delicacy.

Margaret W. Jones

Analyses of Matute's works reveal a surprising diversity of techniques. Even within a single novel, this variation in style [is evident]…. (p. 5)

A glance at the works themselves will establish this astounding variety of styles. Lush and poetic in one passage, harsh and realistically detailed in another, grotesque and fantastic in still another, these apparently tentative stabs at literary experimentation are, in fact, an intentional effort to fuse the manner of expression with the development of the material.

One of the most original results of the author's stylistic preoccupation is a marked emphasis on descriptions of nature, and specifically, the deliberate deformation of certain elements of nature to harmonize with the emotional reactions of the protagonist. Matute's modern use of pathetic fallacy has not escaped [notice.]… (p. 6)

The majority of Matute's references to nature fall naturally into two distinct groups. The first of these is the background against which the action is to unfold. All of nature—trees, sky, land, etc.—forms a stylized whole which, although often harsh and cruel, is nonetheless believable. This type of "realistic," though stylized, treatment of nature will not be considered. The dramatic distortion of natural elements to which I am referring is entirely separate from the comprehensive description of the background and functions specifically in accordance with the point of view of the main character. The general elements of nature which will be examined here are all inanimate phenomena: flora, manifestations of weather, and references to the land and sea.

Although a large portion of this author's writing does offer the above-mentioned distortion in varying degrees, the three major works in which this technique is most advantageously presented are Fiesta al noroeste, Los hijos muertos, and Primera memoria. These prize-winning novels are thematically connected by the attention given to the unhappiness and solitude of the main characters; they sketch as well a strange picture of nature which reinforces the bitterness and desolation of these people.

Fiesta al noroeste deals with the anguished psychological struggle of the main character, Juan Medinao…. The tremendous tensions suffered by Juan are reflected in the grotesque imagery scattered throughout the novel. (pp. 6-7)

The use of nature to suggest and enhance … pessimistic vision is a common technique throughout Ana Maria Matute's novels. A note of fatalism is introduced as the reader perceives that the characters function in accord with the background, which is by no means static, but a living, threatening participant in the action of the story itself. The impression of man's solitude is reinforced by a hostile nature, which is not only indifferent to his suffering, but also deformed to harmonize with the violence of emotions or events which take place in the work. (p. 8)

[The] descriptive passages in Fiesta al noroeste do not consist exclusively by nature symbols; the distorted vision of the protagonist is enhanced by equally grotesque phrases, many of which are particularly rich in living-nature images….

Although the stylization of inanimate nature in this book is not as outstanding as in the later novels …, it is clear that an effort has been made to coordinate the feelings of Juan Medinao with his own deformity and his physical surroundings. The equation of flowers-blood and sun-blood … suggests a violence which these elements will symbolize to a much greater degree in both Los hijos muertos and Primera memoria….

With [Los hijos muertos], the author has achieved her most ambitious undertaking…. The novel is a panorama of several generations of one family, united by the same blood, yet irrevocably separated by different ideas and values.

The problems...

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Janet Winecoff DíAz


[Matute's serious illnesses as a child seem] to have caused her to withdraw deeper into the childhood world of fantasy and imagination, which (combined with the necessary inactivity) may have stimulated her precocious literary and artistic inclinations…. The childhood illnesses are perhaps unconsciously reflected in [her] not infrequent use of the sick child, and the still more frequent mention of children who die. And the large element of fantasy in her works may well originate with these same experiences. (p. 140)

[Matute's] illness at the age of eight was particularly important for her interest in, and understanding of, the Castilian landscape, for she was sent to live with her grandparents during an extended convalescence, thus becoming acquainted with a countryside different from that of her summers, with new aspects of life, with the misery, poverty, and struggle for existence…. These elements appear in the sullen, resentful villagers of Los Abel and Fiesta al noroeste, and in the tensions between landowners and those who work the soil in the above-mentioned books, as well as in Historias de la Artámila and Los hijos muertos. The novelist's first vivid encounter with injustice belongs to this same stay in the country, and is recalled in "Los chicos," one of the tales of Historias de la Artámila. (pp. 140-41)

Except for the months in the village school when she was eight, Ana María until the age of ten studied alternately in Madrid and Barcelona in colegios run by French nuns. The experience seems to have been largely unpleasant: she has confessed that she considered the colegio a torture and went most unwillingly. This attitude is reflected in the character of Soledad (protagonist of En esta tierra) and her relationship with the nuns of her colegio. Without being thoroughly autobiographical, this character shares with the novelist a similar age, family background, and education prior to the war, and Soledad's sentiments of alienation and rebelliousness were probably common to both. The Matute family's frequent shifts between Madrid and Barcelona caused Ana María to have the feeling of always being an outsider, of belonging somewhere else…. The constant sensation of solitude in her works, the numerous lonely, estranged and misunderstood children, may originate in these experiences. If so, the colegio years acquire additional importance because of the overwhelming number of solitary and alienated characters in her works, and the preponderance of such themes as loneliness, incommunication, and the most extreme solitude. (p. 142)

An autobiographical element dating from early years is the theme of dolls, puppets, the marionnette theater and related motifs (the titiritero, the cómicos ambulantes, even gypsies and the circus). One of Ana María's favorite pastimes as a child was her marionnette theater…. This became an even more important distraction during the war years. It is evidently more than a mere coincidence that Pequeño teatro, her first novel in order of composition, is in its entirety a complex symbol based on the analogy between theater and life, reality and farce, human beings and puppets. The marionnette theater also appears in Fiesta al noroeste, Primera memoria, Tres y un sueño, and other works,...

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Margaret E. W. Jones

Ana María Matute, one of Spain's most important novelists, recently observed that each author actually rewrites the same work through the continual elaboration of a few favorite subjects. This statement is particularly applicable to her own literature, with its limited number of themes and attitudes within a relatively large body of work. Time is one of these themes, and she explores it as a means of subtly transmitting her consistent literary philosophy.

Time is significant even as a simple plot element. The author endows her characters with an almost desperate awareness of the fleeting quality of the moment. The feeling appears most poignantly in the face of death, carrying with it an affirmation...

(The entire section is 1077 words.)

Elizabeth OrdóîEz


The world of La trampa …—the last novel in the trilogy Los mercaderes …—is characterized by an isolation between the self and others; between the self and itself; pervasive solitude; separation caused by death, divorce and faulty communication. The universal separation symptomatic of alienation is communicated and reinforced in this work of fiction by a form and structure which corresponds to and discovers the thematic content…. In addition to the interrelationship between the characters and the outer world in which they move, there exists a correspondence and interdependence between the past and present. The theme of alienation emerges in the novel...

(The entire section is 1412 words.)