Ana María Matute Janet Winecoff DíAz - Essay

Janet Winecoff DíAz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


[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,...

(The entire section is 1402 words.)