Last Updated September 5, 2023.
One major character of Carmen Martín Gaite’s novel The Back Room is the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. In this semiautobiographical, metafictional story, the narrator Carmen reflects on her childhood and her life under Franco’s rule. Franco gained power after the Spanish Civil War. His conservative, autocratic government was founded by the Nationalist Party, who defeated the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (which lasted from 1936 to 1939). Locally known as the “caudillo,” Franco left a lasting mark on Spain during and after his dictatorship, which ended in 1975 with his death.
Carmen is the protagonist and narrator of this novel; her life up until the time the novel takes place was lived almost entirely under Franco’s rule. The narrator spends much of her time reflecting on the changes in Spain after the Spanish Civil War, which ushered in a world of danger and scarcity and whose gravity could not be entirely appreciated by the young Carmen and her girlhood friends. Carmen is a writer, and (in an overtly metaphysical stroke of the novel) she was inspired to write a book recounting the events of her life while watching Franco’s funeral on television.
Alejandro is the mysterious and supernatural interviewer in the novel. This man, whose name is not revealed until later in the novel, arrives in the middle of the night at Carmen’s apartment and announces himself to be an interviewer. Carmen finds this strange: she doesn’t think he looks the part. He asks Carmen probing questions about her childhood, seems to snoop around her belongings, and change locations while she is out of the room.
A final prominent character in the novel is that of the woman named Carola, who calls Carmen’s apartment while the interviewer is there. Carola seems to know of the interviewer’s presence at Carmen’s apartment; in addition to revealing that the man’s name is Alejandro, she accuses Carmen of being his mistress and of having written love letters to him. Though she is not the mistress of this man, Carmen contemplates how she might have written a story about these events. Additionally, the reader learns from Carola that the interviewer recently received a sum of money from his father that has caused him to act strangely. Carola ends the phone conversation abruptly when her friend arrives.