Ana María Matute

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Margaret W. Jones

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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...

(This entire section contains 1629 words.)

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of the divergent generations are … personified in Isabel, the symbol of unchanging tradition, and her cousin Daniel, an idealistic youth. (p. 9)

By juxtaposing events which are presented in no arranged chronological order, the author acquaints her readers with the past life of the characters. Thus past and present are fused and systematically confused, although the evocation of the past is usually connected to some event or key word in the present which suddenly awakens a memory-flashback in the mind of the protagonist.

Presented with material so rich in psychological suggestion and emotional connotation, the reader is placed on an empathic level with the characters. Although the events are seen from a multiple point of view, the bulk of the novel is presented through the impressions of Daniel, a disillusioned man with an extremely pessimistic view of life. It is, therefore, from his disenchanted standpoint that the nature images are distorted and stylized, and it is from this narrow scope that the reader is forced to interpret the narration.

References to a tree of white flowers, symbol of the Corvo family, appear within the first pages of the novel. Allusions to this white flower form a leitmotif throughout the work, a technique used for evocative and, at times, poetic purposes. It often bridges the gap in the counterpoint exposition of time in the alternation of past-present. The significance given to this tree is the first in a series of literary stylizations which change a natural but somewhat static element into a meaningful symbol. (p. 10)

The sun is presented here with a significance symbolically more important than in any previous work, and it is to play an important role both in this novel and in Primera memoria. It is most indicative of the manner in which nature is deformed to mark the fatalistic elements in these works, for it is invariably associated with blind violence, hostility, or hatred. An attendant suggestion of horror is introduced by endowing the sun with human characteristics of a malevolent quality….

[The] very insistence on the ominous character of the sun makes a great impact…. The apprehensiveness of the men as to their fate and the probable tragic outcome are reflected in the fatalistic momentos decisivos…. (p. 11)

[Matute's descriptive phrases carefully avoid] any of the natural associations which are usually connected with nature. Each imparts a negative allusion to life, for they are either the expressionistic results of the character's interpretation of his surroundings or portents of impending misfortune….

The stylistic deformation [concerning the distortion of nature] serves the same purpose as in Fiesta al noroeste. There is a mutual compenetration of nature and emotion: by allowing the characters to distort a nature that the reader knows is neither good nor bad, the author subtly reveals their reactions to a world which they generally consider hostile. The personification of these elements and the endowment of them with negative characteristics reinforce the feeling of dismay experienced by the protagonists as they unwillingly face a world from which they would prefer to escape.

[Primera memoria] continues to use the technique of distortion of nature for the purpose of reinforcing the point of view of the protagonist. The underlying theme of this work is the unhappiness caused by difficulties of the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. (p. 12)

As in Matute's other works, the plot itself is subordinate to the psychological climate of angustia, bitterness, and melancholy …, for this is a fictional autobiography, making use of the memoria, a device not uncommon in Matute's works.

Matia [the protagonist of Primera memoria] is undoubtedly one of the most effective character studies of this author's literary career. The sense of nostalgia for the adolescent's lost childhood, the anguish at irrevocably having to become part of a sordid adult world … are presented with tender yet powerful expression. (pp. 12-13)

One of the most notable devices used by the novelist in Primera memoria is the deliberate effort to oblige the reader to adopt Matia's point of view. Through the exclusive use of the first person, the memoria, and the parenthetical interior monologue, the reader is forced to relinquish his omniscient and detached relationship with the character, for this single viewpoint necessarily compels him to see and accept the events only from the standpoint of the adolescent protagonist. Since Matia observes and comments solely in relation to her own troubled state of mind, one must accept her reality, which is so stylized that the whole novelesque world becomes deformed.

It is within this expressionistic technique that the strange presentation of nature becomes most evident. No longer are natural reactions to elements of nature valid, for Matute is using a special device for reinforcing the psychological tension of the novel: the deliberate inversion of commonly accepted elements of nature into symbols of the grotesque disharmony of the protagonist and her world. The inclusion of the reader does not stop at his involvement with the main character; he is made to feel the jarring effect of this antithetical expression. Thus tension is provided not only by the plot and the description of Matia's own emotional reactions, but also by the analogy of these emotions with unexpected and grotesque descriptions of nature. (p. 13)

As in Los hijos muertos, the sun is [again] a deliberate symbol of violence. The calculated persistence with which this element is mentioned transforms it into an omnipresent being with definitely evil characteristics….

[Descriptive] passages are used to enhance the special role which the sun plays in this novel. Startling adjectives are applied to it in this work, adding to the note of horror which reflects both the atmosphere of the island and the feelings of Matia…. (p. 14)

The very amount of nature symbolism and the progressively increased attention given to this strange interpretation of nature suggest a deliberate effort on the part of Matute to give these elements a functional value. Pathetic fallacy has become trite through its constant use, but this author has employed it in an original way which suitably conveys her vision of life. (p. 15)

Margaret W. Jones, "Antipathetic Fallacy: The Hostile World of Ana María Matute's Novels," in Kentucky Foreign Language Quarterly (© University of Kentucky; reprinted by permission of Kentucky Romance Quarterly), Supplement to Vol. 13, 1967, pp. 5-16.

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