The Back Room Unburied
This dissertation explores the motif of burial in Carmen Martín Gaite’s 1978 novel El cuarto de atrás and in so doing sheds light on some of the text’s most famous ambiguities. Martín Gaite began writing El cuarto de atrás on November 23, 1975 after watching the burial of the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, on television. Within her text she unearths long suppressed memories of her life during the dictatorship. In this way burial and un-burial frame El cuarto de atrás and allow for other instances of burial and un-burial to guide the reader’s interpretation of this complex and ambiguous text. On the novel’s last page the narrator-protagonist C. encounters three objects: a copy of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel, The Thin Man, a small golden box (la cajita dorada), and a pile of pages titled “El cuarto de atrás”. Each chapter of this dissertation begins by questioning the significance of one of these objects, which leads to the discovery of concealed meanings in the novel. The Thin Man calls attention to detective fiction and the ratiocinative process by which detectives reconstruct narratives to solve mysteries. The cajita dorada recalls a caja amarilla that appears at the end of Mariano José de Larra’s essay, “La Nochebuena de 1836,” and reveals parallels between the two texts that characterize Martín Gaite’s reaction to Spain’s period of transition following Franco’s death. The accumulation of the pile of pages and C.’s beginning to read them at the novel’s close are homologous to the psychoanalytic treatment of trauma, the goal of which is to excavate memories buried deep within a survivor’s psyche. When C. discovers The Thin Man on her daughter’s bedside table, she reads he description on its cover: “…indicios contradictorios, pistas falsas, sorpresa final.” This dissertation interprets these words as Martín Gaite’s insistence on the active participation of the reader and her invitation for him to discover messages that she has buried within her complex novel. By recognizing these three objects as clues to the novel’s interpretation, this dissertation enlightens an ambiguous text and acknowledges the reader’s power to create meaning from uncertainty.