New York as a Site of Female Transgression in Martín Gaite’s Caperucita en Manhattan (1990)

Caperucita en Manhattan (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. Caperucita en Manhattan, Madrid, Siruela, 1990, 205 pp.), by the Spanish writer Carmen Martín Gaite (1925-2000), is a short novel that narrates ten-year-old Sara Allen’s escape from her parents’ apartment in Brooklyn to explore Manhattan with her eccentric guide Miss Lunatic. [1] As the title reveals, Martín Gaite makes clear references to Little Red Riding Hood; however, despite the author’s nod to the patriarchal fairy tale, Martín Gaite makes an innovative contribution to feminist literature through her revision of a didactic story. [2] In 2004, the Instituto Cervantes of New York celebrated an exhibit entitled Estados Unidos: visto y contado por españoles where Caperucita en Manhattan was placed in the category of children’s literature. This classification evinces a lack of recognition of Martín Gaite’s clever subversion of patriarchal indoctrination and therefore I propose to examine Martín Gaite’s problematization of gender and space in Caperucita en Manhattan. The author inscribes alternative modes of female comportment through the protagonist Sara Allen who gains access to secret passages of the city with the help of Miss Lunatic. By choosing to set her narrative in the island of Manhattan, Martín Gaite distances herself from her native Spain’s legacy of control of women’s mobility. [3] Martín Gaite’s focus on New York serves as a precursor to the current trend where Spanish authors use New York as the subject or backdrop for their narratives. [4]

The theoretical work of Gillian Rose, Elizabeth Wilson, and Leslie Kanes Weisman informs my examination of Sara and Miss Lunatic’s claim to space. As the two principle characters of Caperucita en Manhattan, Sara and Miss Lunatic incarnate the female subjects overlooked by masculinist geography, a grave omission that Gillian Rose criticizes in Feminist Geography (ROSE, Gillian. Feminism & Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Cambridge and Oxford, UK, Polity Press, 1993, 205 pp.) I look to Elizabeth Wilson’s study, The Sphinx in the City, to analyze the disruption that women’s presence represents in urban space (WILSON, Elizabeth. The Sphinx in the City, London, Virago, 1991, 191pp.). Wilson’s discussion of the masculine versus feminine architectural spaces aids in my explanation of why Miss Lunatic’s use of secret passageways converts what masculinist society would consider a ‘non-space’ into the most subversive site in Martín Gaite’s novel. Finally, Leslie Kanes Weisman’s theories on the engendered education of territoriality, in Discrimination by Design, explain how girls are trained to occupy less space than boys (KANES WEISMAN, Leslie. Discrimination by Design. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1992, 190 pp.). Sara Allen rejects the notion of ‘lady-like’ behavior and her rebellion leads her on an exploration of Manhattan without the risk of punishment common in traditional fairy tales. The application of spatial and gender theory makes it possible to read Martin Gaite’s revision of Little Red Riding Hood as an equally significant contribution to feminist literature as her El cuarto de atrás (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. El cuarto de atrás, Barcelona, Destino, 2001, 181 pp.) or Desde la ventana (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. Desde la ventana, Barcelona, Destino, 1987, 117 pp.)

In Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge, Gillian Rose criticizes what she calls “masculinist geography”, research that claims to be comprehensive in scope but concerns itself only with the master subject (Rose; 1993: 6-9). [5] Rose exposes the gendering of geography which results in the assumption that all subjects are male and the only legitimate place of study is the public sphere. The discipline of time-geography focuses primarily on adult males, repressing “all reference to a feminized Other in order to establish a claim to exhaustive knowledge” (Rose; 1993: 45). [6] Sara Allen’s presence in the city of Manhattan problematizes the assumptions of time geography since neither she nor her guide Miss Lunatic consider themselves marginalized subjects. Rose also criticizes the discipline of humanistic geography, not for its failure to acknowledge women, but for the error the discipline makes in understanding women’s experiences of space through masculinist interpretation, “not by ignoring all that is associated with them but by engendering its explicit Other through masculinist notions of Woman” (Rose; 1993: 45). [7] Martín Gaite’s characters Sara and Miss Lunatic represent «women» rather than «Woman» because neither fits the category of the idealized female since the former is a child and the latter is a woman of age. Martín Gaite acknowledges the plurality of female subjectivity and the uniqueness of their experiences.

In The Sphinx in the City, Elizabeth Wilson explains the historically tangential relationship between women and the city, “it is the male-female dichotomy that has so damagingly translated itself into a conception of city as pertaining to men. Consequently, women have become an irruption in the city, a symptom of disorder and a problem” (Wilson; 1991: 9). Miss Lunatic, a mysterious woman who travels through New York City to aid those in need, is the very opposite of disruption or turmoil in the city. Despite the belief that the city is a masculine domain, Miss Lunatic effortlessly negotiates both the wealthy and impoverished sections of New York, while Mr. Woolf, a business magnate, finds himself “enjaulado” by his burdens and loneliness (Martin Gaite; 1990: 113 ). Ironically it is Sara who will solve Mr. Woolf’s business dilemma, by giving him her mother’s dessert recipe. Martín Gaite erases the notion that the city belongs to men and in the conclusion of Caperucita en Manhattan Miss Lunatic bequeaths to Sara an inheritance of agency that surmounts the family wealth that made Mr. Woolf an affluent urban subject.

Lastly, to understand the different ways boys and girls are taught to occupy space, I look to the work of Leslie Kanes Weisman who states:

Boys are raised in our society to be spatially dominant. They are encouraged to be adventurous, to discover and explore their surroundings, and to experience a wide range of environmental settings. They learn how to claim more space than girls through their body posture (boys' arms and legs spill over the sides of chairs while girls sit in restrained ‘ladylike’ positions) . . . Girls are raised in our society to expect and accept spatial limitations. From early childhood their spatial range is restricted to the ‘protected’ and homogeneous environment of the home and immediate neighborhood. They are taught to occupy but not to control space. (Weisman; 1992: 24)

Boys and girls internalize lessons on territoriality which later manifests into men’s dominance over women in public space. Sara Allen finds herself entrapped by her mother Vivian’s insistence on order and tradition but she will receive a counter-education from Miss Lunatic who will teach her that it is possible to subvert traditional behavior codes.

Caperucita en Manhattan begins with a direct focus on the city of New York City that contrasts to the versions of Perrault and The Brothers Grimm that immediately present the protagonist. [8] Martín Gaite describes Manhattan’s dominance over the other boroughs of New York:

La ciudad de Nueva York siempre aparece muy confusa en los atlas geográficos y al llegar se forma uno un poco de lío . . . Manhattan, el que impone su ley a los demás y los empequeñece y los deslumbra . . . Mucha gente se cree que Manhattan es Nueva York, cuando simplemente forma parte de Nueva York. Una parte especial, eso sí. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 13)

Manhattan’s power marginalizes Sara’s native borough of Brooklyn, provoking a desire in children like Sara to escape:

Los niños que viven en Brooklyn no todos se duermen por la noche. Piensan en Manhattan como en lo más cercano y al mismo tiempo lo más exótico del mundo, y su barrio les parece un pueblo perdido donde nunca pasa nada. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 62)

The architecture of Manhattan evokes Wilson’s description of the masculinity of architecture, “The city is ‘masculine’ in its triumphal scale, its towers and vistas and arid industrial regions” (Wilson; 1991: 7). In comparison to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, Brooklyn is the feminized, domestic space because it marks the location of the Allen family’s home.

Sara’s family lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn where her mother Vivian tries to instill in Sara proper behavior and tradition. Vivian is obsessed with her weekly preparation of strawberry tarts and wants her daughter to carry on the tradition, “ Cuando yo me muera . . . dejaré dicho en mi testamento dónde guardo la receta verdadera, para que tú le puedas hacer la tarta de fresa a tus hijos” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 16-17). Sara chooses to keep from her mother her lack of desire to emulate her, “pero no se atrevía a decírselo a su madre, como tampoco se atrevía a confesarle que no le hacía ninguna ilusión tener hijos para adornarlos con sonajeros, chupetes, baberos y lacitos” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 17). Vivian is also concerned with her family’s image and when Sara asks if her grandmother Rebeca’s boyfriend Aurelio is her grandfather, she reacts nervously, “La señora Allen le daba un codazo al señor Allen y le hacía un gesto muy raro con las cejas. Eso era el aviso de que prefería cambiar de conversación” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 24-25). To convince Sara that Aurelio is not her grandfather she quickly goes to the family photo album to show her a picture of her father Isaac. Vivian chooses to deny her daughter the knowledge that Sara’s grandmother Rebeca lives with a man to whom she is not married, which only results in Sara’s further obsession with Manhattan, particularly the Morningside neighborhood, where Rebeca and Aurelio live.

Through Vivian’s preoccupations with domestic life and family identity, Martín Gaite references Francoist discourse that enforced women to dedicate themselves to their biological and domestic responsibilities, “female identity emanated from the objectification of women’s bodies. First they emphasized the preservation of virginity, and then sacralized the female body as the receptacle of human life through motherhood and marriage” (MORCILLO GOMEZ, Aurora. « Shaping True Catholic Womanhood: Francoist Educational Discourse on Women», Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain, New York, State University of New York Press, 443 pp., 57). Martín Gaite’s portrayal of Vivian calls to mind the mother figures found in early post-war novels by women, “repressive figures who have internalized patriarchal mores, become the defenders and transmitters of an oppressive system” (ARKINSTALL, Christine. «Towards a Female Symbolic: Re-presenting Mothers and Daughters in Contemporary Spanish Narrative by Women», Writing Mothers and Daughters, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2002, 258 pp., 33). [9] Vivian’s concerns are the manifestation of her internalization of masculine codes of conduct that limit women to the domestic space and their responsibilities to maintain the family. Included in Vivian’s acceptance of patriarchal mores is the belief that, as a woman, she does not belong in the city:

They know that most cities are dangerous, that they may only use particular parts of the city and at certain times, and that even in those spaces where they are permitted to be (as guests) they must comport themselves in particular ways. (DARKE, Jane. «The Man-Shaped City», Changing Places: Women’s Lives in the City, London, Paul Chapman Publishing, 1996, 212 pp., 89)

Vivian’s insistence that Sara hold her hand and stay close are a reinforcement of the belief that the city is not a proper place for women.

The passage that describes Vivian and Sara’s weekly subway ride to visit Sara’s grandmother Rebeca in Manhattan exhibits the generational difference between mother and daughter and their conflicting attitudes toward space. Vivian is absorbed by her concern for safety, while Sara is excited about what she will see and experience while on their journey. Vivian does not share her daughter’s interest in the subway rides and grows annoyed when Sara pulls away from her. Sara observes the subway passengers and enjoys comparing them:

Le gustaba imaginar sus vidas, comparar sus gestos, sus caras y sus ropas. Y lo que más le divertía era comprobar que las diferencias eran mucho mayores que los parecidos . . . pero no le daba tiempo a verlos bien porque la señora Allen se los tapaba a propósito, como si tuviera miedo de que sólo con mirarlos le fueran a contagiar alguna enfermedad mala. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 51)

By covering Sara’s eyes, she metaphorically protects her daughter’s virtue and denies Sara knowledge of her surroundings.

In reaction to her mother’s control, Sara studies a map of Manhattan and reads stories as a means to imagine an alternative reality. Martín Gaite’s deliberate focus on Sara’s reading in the home calls to mind Gillian Rose’s observation of the much overlooked site of the domestic zone as a location of significance (Rose; 1993: 43). Rose makes a clear distinction between space, “scientifically rational measurements of locations” and place, locations that are “full of human interpretation and significance” (Rose; 1993: 43). Martín Gaite speaks of the power of the home in «El espacio habitable», “La vivienda supone uno de los mayores poderes de intergración para los pensamientos y los sueños, nos suministra material de recuerdo” (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. «El espacio habitable», Agua pasada, Barcelona, Anagrama, 1991, 410 pp., 282) Following both Martín Gaite and Rose’s descriptions of place, Sara’s home becomes a place of meaning, not as a location of obligation or routine, like it is for Vivian, but as a preliminary site where Sara can map her own subjectivity:

el enorme plano de Nueva York que Sara Allen extendía por las noches encima de su cama y que tenía gastadísimo de tanto desdoblarlo y volverlo a doblar para aprenderse bien los nombres de las calles de Manhattan y las líneas de metro y de autobús que las recorrían y comunicaban entre sí. Había llegado a conocerlas como las rayas marcadas en la palma de su mano y estaba segura de poder orientarse de maravilla por la isla de sus sueños, surcarla de un extremo a otro y meterse sin miedo en todos sus recodos. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 41)

I interpret Sara’s examination of the city map as a means of «wayfinding», a term coined by Steve Pile and Michael Keith (PILE, Steve; SWIFT, Michael. Mapping the Subject: Geographies of Cultural Transformation, London, Routledge, 1995, 414 pp., 1). Pile and Keith explain «wayfinding» through Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s explanation of the differences between mapping and tracing. While the act of tracing is a repetition of cartography, mapping is “entirely oriented towards experimentation in contact with the real” (Pile and Swift; 1995: 1). Sara’s future mobility in the city begins in the interior of the home where she imagines herself completely free.

Sara’s desire for autonomy also influences the way she reads fairy tales. Sara refuses to accept the neat conclusions of stories that define the characters’ destiny. She expresses her frustration with the endings of Little Red Riding Hood, Treasure Island, and Alice in Wonderland:

La viñeta que más le gustaba era la que representaba el cuento de Caperucita Roja con el lobo . . . Caperucita, claro, le contestaba fiándose de él, con una sonrisa encantadora . . . era imposible que un animal tan simpático se pudiera comer a nadie. El final estaba equivocado. También el de Alicia, cuando dice que todo ha sido un sueño, para qué lo tiene que decir. . . lo que menos le gustaba a Sara eran los finales. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 23)

Sara’s irritation is a reaction to the purpose of the fairy tale which is to indoctrinate girls into accepting limits, “they must travel the road marked out by men” (SOLIñO, María. Women and Children First: Spanish Women Writers and the Fairy Tale Tradition, Potomac, Maryland, Scripta Humanistica, 2002, 291 pp., 82). Martín Gaite removes the wolf as a threat in her version of Caperucita en Manhattan to create a novel that inscribes female autonomy into public space.

The author does briefly address how violence functions to control women’s presence in the city through the character of Sara’s grandmother Rebeca. Rebeca lives in Morningside, a neighborhood close to Harlem, where it is rumored that the vampiro del Bronx preys on women in the park:

Años atrás, un desconocido, a quien la imaginación popular había bautizado con el nombre de ‘el vampiro del Bronx’, eligió aquel lugar como campo de operaciones para sus crímenes nocturnos que recaían siempre en víctimas femeninas. (Martín Gaite; 1990: 55).

The threat of danger is a tool that patriarchal society uses to control female agency and more specifically their virtue (Weisman; 1992: 68). Rebeca takes advantage of the fact that people avoid the park out of fear and she purposely goes there to enjoy solitude. Rebeca’s independence comes from her experiences as a dance hall singer and Sara relishes the fact that her grandmother was a performer. Sara observes how different Rebeca is in comparison to her mother Vivian and she is surprised when she sees Rebeca setting the table. Sara expresses her shock at her grandmother’s domesticity to which Rebeca responds, “Si eso es lo más fácil que hay. Lo que pasa es que es aburrido, cuando no hay un motivo para hacerlo” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 68). Sara also asks if Rebeca knows how to make the strawberry tart and she snaps, “A mí ya me aburre la cocina. Pero la receta la tengo guardada no sé dónde. Tu madre me la trajo, como si fuera un testamento. Dice que tiene miedo de que se la roben las vecinas” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 68). Vivian’s fear of losing her recipe and her concern for her mother evidences her need for control. Just as Vivian tries to domesticate Sara, Vivian wishes that her mother was more traditional to match her image of the ideal family. In contrast to Vivian, Rebeca is unfettered by the danger or violence that the urban space holds for women and she is the first model for Sara of an autonomous woman. The second example appears in section two of Caperucita en Manhattan, entitled La aventura, where Sara is saved by Miss Lunatic and finally realizes her dream of experiencing the city without her mother’s rules.

While the first section of Caperucita en Manhattan, Sueños de la libertad, focuses on Sara’s «wayfinding» (Pile and Swift; 1995: 1), the second section, La aventuraM, narrates Sara’s appropriation of urban space. The death of Sara’s uncle is her opportunity to escape when her parents leave her with a neighbor. Section two problematizes the assumption that men control the city because Miss Lunatic exercises more mobility in New York than the business magnate Mr. Woolf. Miss Lunatic is described as “una mujer muy vieja, vestida de harapos y cubierta con un sombrero de grandes alas” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 85). She is famous for her eccentricities that include the ability to read palms and cure people’s illnesses with special potions. Miss Lunatic has an intimate knowledge of New York and she moves easily from the store windows of Fifth Avenue to the garbage receptacles along the city outskirts. She sympathizes with the marginalized inhabitants of the city, “hacienda compañía a los solitarios como ella, a todos los que pululan por los garitos de mala vida y duermen en bancos públicos, casas en ruinas y pasos subterráneos” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 89). Miss Lunatic displays her strong character in a conversation she has with the mayor of New York, which Martin Gaite cites as the most significant part of Caperucita en Manhattan (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. «La libertad como símbolo», Pido la palabra, Barcelona, 2002, pp. 138-153.) After learning of her compassion for others, Mayor O’Connor offers Miss Lunatic a large sum of money if she will work with the police. Miss Lunatic is offended, refuses the money, and states that she wants to help people but does not want to be an accomplice (Martín Gaite; 1990: 150). She expresses her attitude towards money and life, “viles papeluchos arrugados” and that life is not a matter of money but, “vivir es saber estar solo para aprender a estar en compañía, y vivir es explicarse y llorar . . . y vivir es reírse” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 92). Mr. O’Connor does not understand Miss Lunatic because as an older woman he considers her as someone in need of rescue. Little does Mr. O’Connor know that she is far more autonomous and powerful than her appearance conveys and even the powerful Mr. Woolf consults Miss Lunatic for business advice.

After presenting Miss Lunatic, Martín Gaite dedicates an entire chapter to Mr. Woolf which is the only part of Caperucita en Manhattan that focuses exclusively on a male subject. Mr. Woolf is introduced through a description of his skyscraper, “era suyo todo entero, planta por planta, ascensor por ascensor, ventana por ventana, pasillo por pasillo” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 99). This depiction emphasizes the male subject’s occupation of space and the authority associated with architecture, conveying a hierarchy of status in the urban environment (Wiseman ; 1992: 40). However, Martín Gaite parodies masculine authority by later describing the building as a giant dessert with chocolate columns and crystal fruit. It soon becomes apparent that Mr. Woolf is a lonely and isolated being and in comparison to Sara, he is far more confined, “Se paseaba como un oso enjaulado por su enorme despacho, encendía un pitillo detrás de otro y no paraba de mirar el reloj” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 113). Mr. Woolf’s “over-rationalistic control and authoritarian rigidity” (Wilson; 1991: 9) renders him void of human contact since his building physically separates himself from other people. Martín Gaite juxtaposes the chapter on Mr. Woolf with a proceeding chapter that narrates Sara’s encounter with Miss Lunatic. The contrast between the male subject’s loneliness and the quick friendship formed by Sara and Miss Lunatic is a means by which Martín Gaite creates narrative space to acknowledge that women have legitimacy in the city.

Miss Lunatic finds Sara lost in a subway station after she loses her way to her grandmother’s apartment. Sara’s arrival to Manhattan is the realization of her «wayfinding» (Pile and Swift; 1995: 1) and she quickly recovers from her fear and marvels at the architecture and lights, “La niña se soltó de la mano de Miss Lunatic y dio un brinco con los brazos tendidos hacia el cielo” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 124). Sara evolves from the enclosed young girl into la chica rara. Martín Gaite invented the term chica rara to describe the female protagonists of literature by Spanish women writers that witness society and find catharsis in the city streets, “Quieren largarse a la calle, simplemente, para respirar, para tomar distancia con lo de dentro mirándolo desde fuera, en una palabra, para dar un quiebro a su punto de vista y ampliarlo” (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen, Desde la ventana, Madrid, Espasa Calpe, 1987, 117 pp., 101). [10] Sara is another example of a female protagonist who finds freedom in an urban environment, but unlike her literary counterparts in the early post-war novel, she gains access to hidden parts of the city that remains undiscovered by other city residents. [11]

The first space that Miss Lunatic and Sara enter is a restaurant where waitresses move about on roller skates. Sara is witness to the agility of the women as they skate from one point of the restaurant to another, “era una destreza digna de admiración la suya” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 129). This is Sara’s first opportunity to see female subjects that move freely and their behavior is a metaphor of female autonomy in the city. When Miss Lunatic and Sara learn that they cannot enter the bar because of a film shoot, Miss Lunatic gives Sara a lesson on restrictions. First Miss Lunatic tells the doorman they are the principle actresses of the shoot, “que sin ella y yo, no hay argumento, no hay historia, ¿entiende?” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 131). Miss Lunatic’s words are a message to the reader that despite their location in New York, a city dominated by powerful businessmen, the narrative’s focus is on the historically marginalized female subject. Miss Lunatic teaches Sara how to not accept limitations, “Nunca hay que hacer caso de las prohibiciones--- dijo Miss Lunatic---. No suelen tener fundamento. Tú anda con naturalidad” (Martín Gaite; 1990: 132). Sara’s guide teaches her a lesson that counteracts Vivian’s model of static female comportment which is preparation for the secret that Miss Lunatic will soon share with Sara.

Miss Lunatic reveals to Sara that she is Madame Bartholdi, the mother of the artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who designed the Statue of Liberty. Martín Gaite explains that Caperucita en Manhattan came to her the moment she learned that the creator of the Statue of Liberty used his mother’s image to design the face of the Statue of Liberty (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. «La libertad como símbolo», Pido la palabra, Barcelona, Anagrama, 424 pp., 150). Martín Gaite creates a story where an historically dismissed subject overcomes her fears, “a trotar por las calles de Nueva York predicando la libertad de quien todos hablan y a quien todos tienen miedo” (Martín Gaite; 2002: 150). Miss Lunatic teaches Sara to not be afraid when she encourages Sara to access the secret passageways between the island of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. By locating a specific manhole in Battery Park, Sara can insert a coin and be swept away by an air current that will carry her to freedom, both literally and figuratively. This is the inheritance that Sara receives from Miss Lunatic, access to secret tunnels that offer more power and autonomy than any part of the city, including Mr. Woolf’s skyscraper. According to Gillian Rose’s definition of place as a site of significance, Miss Lunatic’s tunnels become a place of female experience. In comparison, the masculinist skyscraper is rendered insignificant and remains only a signifier of the male subject’s desire to control space.

Wilson’s theories on the locations occupied by marginal subjects in a city underscore the significance of Miss Lunatic’s passageways:

For although women, along with minorities, children, the poor, are still not full citizens in the sense that they have never been granted full and free access to the streets . . they have survived and flourished in the interstices of the city, negotiating the contradictions of the city in their own particular way. (Wilson; 1991: 8)

Considering Wilson’s theory on “interstices” I interpret Miss Lunatic’s secret passageways as a means by which the characters maintain self preservation; however, the underground tunnels are not a confirmation of marginalization because they are a direct route to the Statue of Liberty, a metaphor of freedom. The subversive nature of the tunnels lies in the fact that Miss Lunatic and Sara are the only subjects who can access these paths. Furthermore, Martín Gaite converts the patriarchal signifier of the nation, as represented by the Statue of Liberty, into the most subversive location of the narrative. While Brooklyn remains a zone of marginalization, because it marks the domestic space of Sara’s home, the clandestine passageways are a place of female agency.

As a means of conclusion on my study of Caperucita en Manhattan, I refer to Antonio Muñoz Molina’s thoughts on the three types of cities found in literature:

La ‘cuidad por venir’ de la que el escritor habla sin conocerla aún. La ‘cuidad pasada’ de la que se escribe ‘inventado en la medida del recuerdo’. Y la ‘cuidad presente’, que supondría escribir cuaderno en mano. (PEÑA, José Manuel. « La cuidad de papel: imágenes de Nueva York en la narrativa hispánica», Siglo XXI: literatura y cultura españolas, 2005, pp. 237-242, 238)

The city of New York, in the work of Martín Gaite, is a combination of the cuidad presente and the cuidad pasada as described by Muñoz Molina. The cuidad presente is evident in Martín Gaite’s essays and in a notebook of collages that she created during her stay in New York which was published posthumously as Visión de Nueva York (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. Visión de Nueva York, Madrid, Siruela, 2005, 189 pp.). She explains that she chose to represent New York in collage because the movement of the city was too fast to capture in words, “Era como si las imágenes viajaran en el ‘express’ y yo en el ‘local’” (Martín Gaite; 2002: 142). Caperucita en Manhattan is Martín Gaite’s reflection on the cuidad pasada, a place that she dreamed about in her youth and had the fortune to experience as an adult. Sara and Miss Lunatic are metaphors of the author’s own subjectivity: the child that adored American movies, during the Franco era, and the adult who discovered a previously unknown freedom in New York. Martín Gaite says about the city, “Dios, qué libre me siento ahora, más que la gente de veinticuartro años, más porque los tengo, porque los recobro, no me querría ir nunca de Nueva York. Estoy descubriendo la vida, de verdad” (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. Cuadernos de todo, Barcelona, De bolsillo, 2003,410 pp., 643). In this paper I argue that Caperucita en Manhattan is not mere entertainment for young readers, but is a feminist text if one looks beyond the light-heartedness of the narrative. A close examination reveals Martín Gaite’s sympathy for women in the city and her use of the fairy tale is a creative means to advocate for women’s rights. Caperucita en Manhattan combines the author’s personal experiences of New York and can be read along with her award-winning novels as a problematization of the female subject in the city.


[1] I follow Martín Gaite and use the words New York and Manhattan interchangeably. Return

[2] For a thorough study of the intertextuality of the fairy tale in Caperucita en Manhattan see Lucía Llorente’s « Caperucita en Manhattan: Caperucita en el país de las maravillas » (Espéculo, Madrid, 2002, 22, no pagination.) Return

[3] Catherine Bellver cites Spanish refrains that emphasize the enclosure of women within the domestic space of the home: “La mujer y la sartén, en la cocina están bien.”, “La mujer, en el hogar, sin salir a trabajar.”, “En la calle están las malas y las buenas en sus casas.” (BELLVER, Catherine. « Gendered Spaces: Boundaries and Border Crossings in Entre visillos ».”, Carmen Martín Gaite: Cuento de nunca acabar/Never-Ending Story, Boulder, Colorado, 2003, 33-49). Return

[4] Recent literature by Spanish authors that takes place in New York includes: El nocturno de Nueva York by Amparo Serrano de Haro (2003), El hombre que inventó Manhattan by Ray Loriga (2004), Ventanas de Manhattan by Antonio Muñoz Molina (2004), and Llámame Brooklyn by Eduardo Lago (2006). Return

[5] Rose borrows Donna Haraway’s term “master subject” to refer to anyone who is white, bourgeois, heterosexual and masculine (Rose; 1993: 6). Return

[6] Time geography is a focus on the temporospatial structuring of social life developed by the Swedish geographer Törsten Hägerstrand. In this discipline geographers follow the subject, presumably male, as it makes its way from various points in public space (Rose; 1993: 21). Return

[7] Humanistic geography focuses on people’s emotional responses to places and how specific locations become filled with interpretation and significance (Rose; 1993: 41-42). Return

[8] The first paragraph of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale reads, “Once upon a time there was a charming little girl. Everyone who set eyes on her adored her. The person who loved her most of all was her grandmother, and she was always giving her presents. Once she made her a little hood of red velvet” (TATAR, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, New York, Norton, 2002, 445 pp., 19). The opening line of Perrault’ s version reads “Once upon a time there was a village girl, the prettiest you can imagine. Her mother adored her. Her grandmother adored her even more and made a little red hood for her” (Tatar; 2002: 371). Return

[9] Arkinstall cites Ana María Matute’s Primera memoria and the little-known Cinco sombras by Eulalia Galvarriato as two examples of texts where the maternal figures internalize patriarchal discourse. Return

[10] The principle example that Martín Gaite offers of the chica rara is Andrea, the protagonist of Carmen Laforet’s Nada. Other examples of the chica rara include Lena, from Dolores Medio’s Nosotros los Rivero, Valba from Ana María Matute’s Los ábel, and Colometa in Mercé Rodoreda’s Plaza del diamante (Martín Gaite; 1987: 101-103). Return

[11] The protagonist in Martín Gaite’s Entre visillos, Natalia, enjoys moments of freedom but never achieves complete autonomy in the city. (MARTIN GAITE, Carmen. Entre visillos, Barcelona, Destino, 2000, 255 pp.) Return


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