The Back Room

by Carmen Martin Gaite

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Last Updated on September 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

Uncovering Repressed Memories

The possibly imaginative interview the protagonist conducts with the mysterious male journalist in her house could be interpreted as a dialogue between the conscious and subconscious halves of her mind. The journalist, who appears out of nowhere, represents Sigmund Freud's concept of the id, or the primitive part of the human mind where instincts and primal emotions reside. Within "the back room" of the protagonist's mind are repressed memories of her past. She recounts her struggle as a writer, as a citizen living in an oppressive society, and as a woman. There are also glimpses of the protagonist's secret desires and suppressed longings.

Life in an Oppressive Society

The protagonist, a successful writer, is living in Spain during the reign of Francisco Franco, one of the twentieth century's most well-known dictators. When Franco's nationalist party overthrew the democratically elected government, Franco viciously hunted down revolutionaries and other opponents. The political rulers of Spain were not the only oppressive force in the country, however. The Catholic Church, which benefited from Franco's rule, gained even more power in Spain and enforced strict rules in various institutions, such as schools. This created a climate where writers like the protagonist couldn't thrive. Her repressed memories, the protagonist realizes, are connected to this politically and socially repressive society.

Writing as a Form of Exorcism

One of the most common criticisms of the book upon its release was that portions of it were overly self-indulgent. This is most pronounced in sections of the book in which the the author—using the protagonist as her proxy or spokesperson—discusses the creative process. The protagonist tries to link the process of writing with her repressed memories; more specifically, she sees the act of writing as a form of exorcism, in which the writer tries to confront their deepest, darkest thoughts and emotions in order to release them. This section of the book allows Gaite to reflect on her writing process, her career, and more importantly, what she is trying to attain by taking up the vocation of writing.

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