Abstract: This essay analyzes and identifies numerous points of coincidence between Rodoreda’s 1980 novel of adolescent participation in and desertion from the Spanish Civil War and picaresque antecedents. It postulates a common literary ancestor, the quest-romance, for both the picaresque novel and Rodoreda’s enigmatic narrative. Examining the novel’s place in Rodoreda’s oeuvre and prior critical reactions, the study relates the myths of solar heroes to the novelists prologue, to specifies of the novel, and to the origins of the quest-romance. Rodoreda’s androgynous protagonist, an anti-hero, pacifist, and wanderer, embarks on a quest for freedom, a search for self and identity, constituting a rite of passage or initiation typical both of masculine monomyths and later internalized, feminized quests. Serial encounters represent alternative life-styles or exemplary fables. War’s violence, loss of innocence, and the final decision to return home fit the ironic quest pattern.
Key Words: quest, romance, myth, journey, Spanish Civil War, women writers, Catalan novel, Spanish novel, quest-romance, picaresque, Rodoreda (Mercè)
As Rodoreda’s introduction acknowledges, this is a war novel with relatively little war, but war makes itself constantly felt in the novelistic substrata. The novelist notes that war affects characters in much of her fiction, and suggests that the oblique treatment (whereby war rarely occupies center stage) results from her not knowing how to describe machines of war. Spanish women writers generally depict only those aspects of war which they have personally experienced, especially war’s effects on women and children, usually from the perspective of non-combatants.13In most war novels by women writers, «[i]deological elements are subordinated to the focus upon human suffering» (Pérez, «Behind the lines» 169). Actually, Rodoreda comes closer to portraying front-line action than most Spanish women writers. Nonetheless, war is by no means her only interest in this novel, although if one were to give a thumbnail sketch of the work, it might be summarized as one adolescent’s experiences (as volunteer and deserter) in the Spanish Civil War.
Adrià has not reached the age to be a full-fledged soldier when he volunteers and is assigned to peeling potatoes for the regiment. An indefinite time later, he runs away, much as he ran away from home, to pursue his own voyage of discovery. Quanta, quanta guerra is the only novel which Rodoreda situates in a battle zone, but her protagonist is a spectator rather than a participant, a front-line observer and also a war zone vagabond without a pre-planned itinerary. Quanta, quanta guerra is clearly an allegory, and one that is anti-nationalist or pacifist, as well as feminist.
In an earlier study of Rodoreda’s posthumously published novel La mort i la primavera (1986), I noted briefly its similarities with Quanta, quanta guerra (1980): the first-person, autobiographical mode of narration; the adolescent male protagonist-narrator and coincidences with the Bildungsroman; pervasive solitude and estrangement; loss of innocence; stylized settings and secondary characters; epic dimensions of both novels; mythic conceptions of time; and the presence of picaresque elements. Both novels are initiatory, involving rites of passage (Pérez, «Time»). But numerous differences between these two allegorical narratives exist, and while Quanta, quanta guerra ends on a note of hope, no such hope remains at the end of La mort i la primavera’s vision of cyclic life and death.
Quanta, quanta guerra’s similarities with
picaresque structure are undeniable: the episodic, ambulatory first-person
During his significant, extended stay with the man in the house beside the sea, Adrià suspends his travels. Following this erstwhile master’s death he becomes a man of property (the acquisition of material security which typically ends picaresque novels). Ironic contradictions between Adrià’s early expectations of heroic soldiering and the realities of hardships, cowardice, stench, and desertion parody epic or heroic models (cf. the inversion of chivalric structures in the Lazarillo). Many episodes are paradigmatic or symbolic in nature; Arnau believes that various malevolent figures represent «els set pecats capitals -el mal que adopta diverses formes» (74). Such a reading accords substantially with Busquets’ allegorical interpretation. Critics downplay or fail to account for the war’s presence.
Adrià’s mentality is not dominated by deceit or greed, and he renounces his inheritance, signing the seaside house over to the old woman who had served the master for years. The title indicates another departure from picaresque models in that Adrià leaves home not to serve a master or seek his fortune, but to go to war, with no notion of war’s realities, without ideological commitment, and in search of freedom. Rodoreda affirms: «A mi Adrià es la aspiración a la libertad lo que le impulsa a marcharse de casa... [pero] sólo conduce a un cambio de prisión. El deseo de libertad en el hombre quizá sea, más exactamente, una necesidad de justicia» (17).15 Rodoreda’s words suggest the deeply idealistic nature of her protagonist: a homeless adolescent who serves successive masters. Adrià nevertheless diverges from the psychological profile of the pícaro. His innate, intuitive, and vague idealism survives the loss of innocence and his later horrendous crime of vengeance. As Arnau points out, Adrià «es llançarà a córrer món, guiat per un propòsit benefactor: ‘yo aniria pel món, ayudaria i salvaria vides’» (67), and such altruism is decidedly anti-picaresque. While stealing out of hunger and necessity, he repeatedly reverts to more ethical norms; his mentality is not roguish.16Nor is Quanta, quanta guerra especially comic, despite a few burlesque scenes. The novel contains less satire than allegory, less socio-political criticism than meditation on the human condition: Lupus es homo homini (as borne out by the Cain motifs and Adrià’s mother’s use of the Cain epithet for her son).
If Quanta, quanta guerra cannot properly be classified as picaresque, what explains these many similarities with the genre? I postulate a common origin: both are modeled upon the quest romance. The picaresque genre and its anti-hero arose, like Don Quijote, as a parodic inversion of the romances of chivalry, and chivalric motifs likewise occur in Quanta, quanta guerra, especially in Part Two. Episodes in the house by the sea specifically evoke the ultimate chivalric quest, the Crusades, both in the mysterious apparitions in the mirror of phantoms from the past dressed as Knights Templar (102-05) and the later dream or hallucination of prior knightly existence (recalling Don Quijote in the Cave of Montesinos):
Allusions to knighthood are unmistakable in details such as the sword, dagger, mail-clad arm, and white tunic with red cross (115-19). Hints of spiritual questing are linked with the mirror in Chapter 24 (122-25) when the reflected face in the mirror suggests both libertine and saint (evoking such antecedents as San Juan de Dios, St. Augustine, and St. Francis Xavier). Picaresque and chivalric motifs together, plus the authors pointed references to the sun’s importance, reinforce the hypothesis that Rodoreda’s novel constitutes a variant of what contemporary feminist criticism has termed the «feminized quest-romance» (see Heller’s developmental study). This hypothesis harmonizes with specific observations (though not necessarily the theses or interpretations) of extant criticism on this novel, including Rodoreda’s note in her prologue that her protagonist is an anti-hero and her stress upon solar motifs, discussed below.
Typically, literary criticism explores a relatively small part of an authors production. In Rodoreda’s case, critical preference has fallen upon La Plaça del Diamant (1962) and El carrer de les Camèlies (1966); few published essays treat her later fiction, and -excepting Arnau’s study- earlier works receive only passing mention. This is unfortunate, given the seemingly realistic «slice of life» style of critically favored works, and the surreal, fantastic, mythic and allegorical style of other texts, such as «My Christina», «The Salamander», and the later novels, especially Quanta, quanta guerra and La mort i la primavera. Both currents coexist also in Jardí vora al mar (1966) and Mirall trencat (1974).
While the later novels have not been totally neglected, Quanta, quanta guerra has been the object of only two major critical studies, by Maryellen Bieder and Carme Arnau. Bieder focuses largely upon characterization of the narrator-protagonist, Adrià Guinart, and that of Eva, his idealized, androgynous love, and their relationship, with its transcendent implications for the meaning of life. Arnau, who has most extensively studied Rodoreda’s complete works, treats the novel from the perspective of alchemy, esoteric symbology, Rosacrucian mysticism, and archetypal imagery, considering Adrià’s voyage as metaphoric and imaginary, an oneiric, mystical ascension from darkness to fight. This notion that everything takes place between darkness and dawn recalls the solar myths mentioned in Rodoreda’s prologue (10, 17, 18), buttressing the view of the novel as a quest-romance. But if everything takes place in a single night, Adrià’s experience must be a dream or vision; he should «awaken» at the point of origin instead of far away (furthermore, the protagonist, who left home as a beardless boy, sees his face in a lake near novel’s end, and perceives that he has grown a beard).
Rodoreda’s references to sun-worshiping peoples and Heliogábalo (10) suggest connections between the solar hero’s nightly journey through subterranean, infernal worlds and Adrià’s wanderings. Adrià was born, significantly, at midnight (21), the remotest point of daily beginnings for the sun-god. Although his mother repeatedly calls him «Cain», the priest at his colegio calls him arcángel (the connotations of luminosity and celestial ubication are logical in fight of Rodoreda’s prologue). Because Rodoreda produced multiple drafts («He escrito Cuánta, cuánta guerra tres veces de arriba abajo» ), it cannot be insignificant that her protagonist leaves home shortly after 3:00 A. M. (i. e., before dawn), setting out on his nocturnal journey by moonlight. These details acquire enhanced significance when juxtaposed with the following words of Rodoreda’s prologue:
Debería hablar de la importancia del sol verdadero y del sol de mi novela. Debería hojear viejos libros que me explicasen algo respecto a los pueblos adoradores del sol... Sin el sol no existiríamos. El sol sirve para algo más que para dorar las playas y los balcones. .
Bien, he escrito este prólogo con intención de situar mínimamente al lector. He puesto algunas cartas boca arrriba. No todas (17-18)
Arnau’s well-documented study, viewing the novel as a
symbolic journey from darkness to light, argues convincingly that Rodoreda
incorporated elements drawn from Rosacrucianism, alchemy, gnosticism and varied
esoteric religious sources, but mistakenly
Arnau downplays the significance of war, seeing it merely as a symbol of evil (cf. 67, «una mena de mai ontològic»), but Rodoreda’s prologue underscores the importance of war for her work: «En torno a las gentes de mi época hay una intensa circulación de sangre y de muertos. Por culpa de esta gran circulación de tragedia, en mis novelas sale la guerra, quizás en ocasiones de modo involuntario» (10). This authorial confession, combined with the prominence accorded war by the title indicates that the combat is more than abstract malevolence. Clearly the war of Quanta, quanta guerra transcends the Spanish civil conflict, but it undeniably subsumes it.17
Emilie Bergmann refers briefly to Quanta, quanta guerra, noting that the narrator-protagonist (like the scant handful of additional non-female first-person narrators employed by Rodoreda) is «closely linked with elements traditionally associated with the feminine: flowers, the sea, and the moon» (90). The figure of Adrià may once have been androgynous: Rodoreda’s prologue mentions her young soldier’s obsession for roses in an earlier, discarded version, and explains that in her initial conception he was «todo él idéntico a su madre y todo, en él, idéntico a su madre» (11), a statement evoking parthenogenesis. After three re-writings, Adrià’s final resemblance to his mother became minor and somewhat negative. The flowers, no longer roses, become violets and claveles, several times linked to cats, another oft-repeated motif (chapters 12, 27, 33, 38).
Loreto Busquets mentions
Quanta, quanta guerra in his broader study
of the unconscious in Rodoreda’s novels. Comparing Cecilia (El carrer de les Camèlies) with Adrià, Busquets
asserts that both «undergo a journey through the Unconscious, the former
through the individual, the latter through the collective one» (109).
Busquets views almost everything in
Quanta, quanta guerra as mythical and
abstract, the geography and landscape as universals (this is, indeed, the case
La mort i la
primavera). But details in
Quanta, quanta guerra permit identifying it
with the specific, historical time and place of the Spanish Civil War:
milicianos, the red neckerchiefs worn by
Adrià’s comrades in arms, and the warplanes are among examples
rendering the novel less vague and abstract than
La mort i la primavera. Busquets terms
Adrià’s story «the history of the cultural and moral tradition
of the West that we carry within us» (110) and affirms that after leaving
is (not represents) the myth of the
journeying hero. His walking is at thirst for knowledge, his wandering is
vision, contemplation, knowledge» (111), which is not incompatible with
Quanta, quanta guerra as a feminized
quest-romance, a quest for self within the context of the journey, real or
symbolic. Djelal Kadir looks at much of Latin American fiction as an
«adversative quest in
The origins of the quest-romance have been traced to solar myths, mentioned in Rodoreda’s prologue. Rodoreda’s reference to the name «Soles» for monstrances (17) holding the Eucharist establishes this association with Christ in the novelist’s mind. But the Christian God was not the only deity in Rodoreda’s mind, as is clear from her mention of early heliocentric religions. Critical observations to date, however perspicacious, do not address the relationship between form and content, between the structure (quest-romance) and Rodoreda’s extratextual referents, which unavoidably include the Spanish Civil War and exile. Establishing this relationship requires retracing briefly the process of feminization of the quest romance.
The classic quest cycle celebrates masculinity; the male hero of masculine monomyths embodies the universal cycle of birth, initiation and death. As a rite of passage the hero’s journey outward from the community typically culminates with his return after oppositions are resolved (and Quanta, quanta guerra basically conforms to this tripartite paradigm, ending with Adrià en route home). Insofar as the quest also constitutes a rite of initiation, the pattern normally involves a prelude (minor preliminary adventures, sometimes preceding departure, as in Adrià’s case), an initial battle, hunt, or hunt-death sequence (Part I of Quanta), and subsequent exaltation of the hero (Part II of Quanta, including his acquisition of property and later renunciation), sometimes fraught with imagery of resurrection (the rite of initiation per se and prelude to victorious achievement). The final stage presents the climax of the quest, struggle, battle or search (Part III of Quanta -which is ironic, insofar as the climactic action is catastrophic, involving discovery of the death of Eva, Adrià’s revenge, and decision to end his questing).
In solar myths, the hero travels the labyrinthine underworld
replete with monsters between sunset and sunrise. Epiphany or conquest
typically occurs on an elevation and employs imagery of ascension and/or
resurrection (which Arnau insists upon). Given the cyclic nature of such myths,
the elevation may be apocalyptic, followed by a fall. Apocalyptic fictions,
like quest romance, have a cyclic component (Alpha and Omega, Genesis and
Apocalypse), as well as a kind of timelessness or mythic time. Thus Kadir
refers repeatedly to «uchronia», «self-repetition», and
«Apocalyptic Utopia» (cf. 5, 11, 13, 14, and passim) in relation to
quest fictions. Solar myths present a fatalistic view of life, depicted via
images of enclosure, often prisons and madhouses -from which escape is
impossible.18 As quests, solar myths are ironic; the goal of the quest
eludes the quester (cf. the Grail legends)- and
Quanta, quanta guerra is similarly ironic
Male heroism, demonstrated through feats of physical strength, equates the antagonistic process of individuation with aggressive libidinal drive and victory over all rivals. But the quest cycle, like the life cycle, is perpetually repeated; heroes enjoy their laurels only briefly before being replaced by the heroes of a new generation.19 Every journey or quest, «however successful or heroic, has sooner or later to be made over again» (Frye 322). For Frye, this archetypal «mythos» (fundamentally rooted in rituals and dreams) constitutes an analogue for psychic development, with the quest-romance representing the libido’s coming-to-terms with external reality.20
In traditional quest romances, women’s roles are subordinated to those of the heroes with whom they interact; they may inspire heroes but patriarchal norms forbid their questing or aspiring to become heroes themselves. Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces considers that woman in the picture language of mythology «represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know» (116). This «coming to know» coincides with Busquets’ view of Adrià, whose «walking is a thirst for knowledge, his wandering is vision, contemplation, knowledge» (111). Rodoreda’s ironic adaptation of the quest romance departs from the traditional model, not only in making her protagonist an anti-hero, but in Eva’s active, questing character. Traditional distinctions between hero and heroine are that «the hero moves toward a goal: the heroine tries to be it. He makes a name for himself, she is concerned with keeping her good name» (Brownstein 82-83). As in many feminized versions of the quest-romance, Rodoreda moves beyond this paradigm: Eva is unconcerned with «good name» and her becoming miliciana defies public opinion which equated the miliciana with prostitution.
With the advent of Romanticism, the journey of the quest becomes internalized. Poet-heroes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries seek victories within themselves. Chivalric jousts or battles and travel to distant lands in search of adventure gives way to more realistic reflections of contemporary social, economic and scientific conditions: Heroism is no longer achieved through physical prowess, but «in the strength of various kinds of cognitive and metaphorical exchanges» (Ross 31). In the process, the search turns inward and becomes more subjective, exploring the psyche. «The internalization of quest-romance made of the poet-hero a seeker not after nature but after his own mature powers» (Bloom 15). Thus, while still circumscribed by patriarchal norms, women could benefit by the internalization which made it unnecessary to slay dragons or fight wars. The redefinition of heroism, downplaying physical strength in favor of intellectual and spiritual endeavor represented the first step toward feminizing the quest romance.21 Social change unquestionably contributed, but women writers proliferate once internalized and metaphorical heroism enters the canon.
Nevertheless, few female heroes were created by women writers during the past two centuries. In her analysis of quest models in more than 300 novels, Annis Pratt consistently encountered «acute tension between what any normal human being might desire and what a woman must become» (6). The female protagonists desires for self-realization or self-sufficiency collided with society’s expectations that she become a (traditional, male-defined) woman. The absence of a feminist canon, the tradition of masculine literary forms and themes, negative patriarchal socialization or conditioning concerning the possibility of female heroism, all formed part of a cultural context privileging male flight while denying female protagonists a similar experience (possibly explaining Rodoreda’s choice of a male antihero in Quanta, quanta guerra, despite her customary use of female protagonists).22
Rodoreda’s fiction, long and short, contains examples of
failed quests, situations where the woman’s quest for self-definition or
independence ends in madness, illness, death or disaster. One need look no
further than «The Salamander», although some Rodoreda
Le hubiera gustado ser chico en lugar de chica. Cazaba pájaros con honda. Si hubiera nacido chico hubiera ido a la guerra, se moría de ganas, pero su padre la hubiera obligado a no separarse de él, y no le hubiera permitido hacer lo que ella hubiera deseado. (45)
Eva’s «tomboy» pursuits and expressed desire to go to war externalize her androgynous nature. She is as skilled in fishing and hunting as masculine counterparts (like the goddess Diana, Eva is a chaste huntress).24 The Edenic connotations of her name suggest her archetypal nature. Her desire for freedom equals that of the protagonist, as seen in Chapter 12. Eva, dressed as a miliciana, drives a Red Cross truck, having expanded her burying of the dead to include taking the wounded to the hospital where they can die in peace and comfort. «Estaba contenta de volver a verme, y añadió en voz baja que no le gustaban las personas que la querían. Al quererla era como si la ataran, como si no la dejaran moverse. Necesitaba sentirse libre y poder ir adonde se le antojara» (67). Significantly, these remarks foreshadow her death, when (having been wounded) she is kept tied up as an involuntary prostitute. Though Eva’s bold quest ends in death, with shocking violence, her characterization suggests the combination of the traditional quest’s masculine protagonist with the Twentieth Century’s committed, involved feminine quester. Eva’s behavior approaches traditional paradigms of chivalry and heroism much more closely than does that of Adrià. Although Adrià’s desertion follows almost immediately upon realization of his pacifism (i. e., not wishing to kill enemy soldiers), desertion is by definition an anti-heroic act.
In terms of the traditional quest romance, the prelude comprises Adrià’s childhood and adventures prior to arrival at the front. The initiatory phase begins with his KP assignment, first wound and becoming lost (AWOL or involuntary desertion) from the rest of his unit He encounters the first of a series of characters who admonish him to return home (repeated with increasing frequency in Part III), «saves» the ahorcado, suffers the first of many beatings (by the milicianos) and has the initial encounter with Eva. Eva symbolizes Woman, an initiatory discovery of pure love, much as the molinera’s attempted seduction represents the initiatory encounter with impure adult sexuality, lust. Adrià’s symbolic gift to Eva of his knife (not merely phallic but the only object inherited from his father) betokens his unspoken pledge of fidelity or betrothal, an erotic rite of passage whose consummation is postponed; he later rejects Isabel’s proposal (90-91), confessing his love for Eva. Capture and imprisonment in the mill, escape, and his first view of full-scale killing (the bridge-bombing, battle and mass slaughter), and re-encounters with his unit comprise the initiatory series (Chapters 2-9). In Chapter 9, Adrià (early in the novel and in the war) discovers his own pacifism. Deliberately missing his aim at enemy soldiers, he deserts his unit, consciously rejecting war to begin his wandering. So ends the initiatory sequence.
The quest-romance structure allows an indefinite number and variety of adventures between the initiatory episodes and the «exaltation of the hero». Exaltation becomes the most problematic equivalent, because Rodoreda ironically offers no clear-cut culmination, spiritual or political. Adrià’s social status is elevated near the novel’s mid-point via inheritance of the house beside the sea (Chapters 23 and 24), his moral stature is raised when he renounces the inheritance, and another «exaltation» occurs with his ascent to the hermitage where he experiences the «revelation» of saintliness in the hermits tale of conversion (a variation of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son). But this episode (in Chapter 29) is neither climax nor definitive in Adrià’s quest for knowledge. The penitent giant is but one of many masters or exemplars who augment the protagonist’s growing store of analogies and models; the twelve chapters which follow include several ascents and descents, most significantly his moral descent to vengeance and murder.
Many of Adrià’s encounters, in the nature of exemplary
tales, illustrate possible life-styles and philosophies. The man with the skull
belt-buckle teaches him the importance
More specifically relevant to the theme of war, Adrià comes upon many scenes of war’s devastation, although he does not witness or take part in battles after his decision to desert. Several tales of crimes committed in the name of war reveal to, the wandering anti-hero other aspects of human passion and motivations: episodes in the castle introduce robbery, pillage, unlawful imprisonment, personal vengeance and enrichment, opportunistically carried out under political pretexts, while in the village of the three acacias (Chapter 26), the murder of the usurer springs from long-smouldering resentment; it has no military or strategic significance. In Chapter 28, as Adrià and the hombre-gato sleep in the tavern, the men unloading wine discuss another poor relative’s killing a rich one under guise of revolution.
After deserting, Adrià lives picaresquely on the margins of society, sometimes finding or stealing food, sometimes working or meeting others who feed him -sometimes involuntarily, as when Adrià eats frantically while feeding bites of sandwich to the «laziest man in the world» (reminiscent of Lazarillo’s trying to keep up with the blind man eating grapes). Especially picaresque are the scenes in the masía, which emphasize motifs of hunger, hoarding of food, ingenious access to locked-up food, overeating and exaggerated punishment. The motif of gargantuan gluttony appears in Chapter 30 with the wedding banquet of the milicianos (148-51) and the man who lives to eat (food motifs appear throughout). Later, the theme of hunger and its satisfaction becomes less important. Like hunger and other picaresque motifs, most encounters with figures symbolizing alternative life-styles occur in Parts I and II, as do meetings with representatives of matrimonial styles.
The scapular vendor first introduces Adrià to the theory of reincarnation and life as a series of repetitions (58), concepts acquiring increased significance during his stay in the house beside the sea; reincarnation imbues two instances wherein Adrià moves from apprentice to master when, following the orientation provided by the man in the seaside house, he gives a lesson on transmigration to the man with the dead tiger-cat (123-35) in the ruined tavern (Chapter 27). The concept of reincarnation (implying a sameness of souls or psychic experiences across time) relates to the scapular vendor’s dictum that life is a repetition, and becomes another of Adrià’s philosophical epiphanies, namely the essential sameness of human existence. A related occasion (Chapter 40) upon which he seems to speak as a master comes when he refuses the fisherman’s invitation to remain (thereby rejecting another chance to inherit property), alleging that he prefers to continue his wandering. But he also has drawn a conclusion from his vagabond encounters, i. e., that people are everywhere alike (197-98).
Part III contains the most significant episodes, and except for
the fisherman, they do not involve potential models or further exemplary tales,
but subjective episodes, dreams, or moments when Adrià is spectator and
witness, drawing conclusions in accord with patterns of the internalized or
feminized quest. The fisherman functions as a master (197-98), answering
Adrià’s inquiry as to what it means to be Cain (another repetitive
motif associated with the archetypal wandering protagonist). The fisherman
affirms that Cain (with whom Adrià is connected by his mother’s
epithets and his wandering) is one who desires knowledge, never rests, but
wishes to know everything (198). The tone of the third part, increasingly
Recalling scenes with the mirror in Part II (a motif intertwined with death and time), Adrià finds his image mirrored in the lake (Chapter 37), prompting reflection on his own death. He observes that he now has a beard (earlier, in the first part, he had noted first appearance of facial hair); closing his eyes to hide from his mirrored face, he again hears a voice advising him to return home (181), an order repeated with the additional information that his mother has died calling for him (182). Obviously the (water) mirror is linked with self-encounter, but it is strongly suggested that the final epiphany requires a return home, which is not realized within the bounds of the narrative.
Adrià’s escape from the castle (85-86) comes by falling into the sewer, one of a number of literal and figurative falls (counterparts of the episodes of ascension or «exaltation» which could constitute the solar hero’s journey through the underworld). After the fisherman shows him an unfinished tunnel connected to a whirlpool and recounts the legend, Adrià dreams of falling into the whirlpool and seeing the body of Eva. Falling to the floor in his sleep, he later denies having dreamed, probably wishing to deny Eva’s death (the dream is among several fearful premonitions). The novel interweaves a tapestry of repetitive motifs, from violet eyes to dead cats, episodes of «paz en la guerra» as Adrià several times finds rest and respite, series of similar and hence repetitive anecdotes, parallel incidents and conversations-all belonging to the pattern of stylized repetitions in quest romance.
Part III has as its common denominators the ill omen, an
increasingly apocalyptic ambience, proliferating deaths, and repetitions of the
admonishment to go home. Apocalyptic motifs appear in Part I (in association
with the white horse Eva rides), and end of Part I (the apocalyptic dream of
the drowned girl, the figure made of fog, Death with green teeth seated on a
cloud, the seven women blowing seven trumpets). Motifs of apocalypse multiply
in the last three chapters, with Chapter 41 depicting a river of death (echoing
the scene of battle in the river in Part I), a scene of Armageddon where
everything has been destroyed. Avoiding lines of hungry, wounded refugees, and
children playing at killing (199), the protagonist reaches a broad stream fined
with dead trucks and tanks, dead machines, burned guns and body parts, torn
tents and bombed bridges, trenches swarming with buzzards and everywhere the
stench of death. In a psyche «fall», Adrià feels shame for
having fled the war, for having defended nothing (202). Immediately afterward,
leaving the battlefield, he stumbles upon the knife he had given Eva, and hears
the old woman’s story of how she had «rescued» the wounded girl,
nursing her while keeping her tied to the bedpost to sell her body, an
imprisonment culminating with Eva’s ghastly demise. Adrià’s violence
against the old woman might be interpreted either as his definitive fall from
grace or his triumph in a decisive battle; she is the only person killed by the
protagonist, and not as an act of war, but after the final
Adrià’s apocalyptic vision coincides with wars end, as he sees the graves give up the dead (significantly, the mother of the dead baby sees nothing). The vision vanishes, trucks appear to bury the dead, and Adrià walks toward the road: the closure provided by the cessation of hostilities offers the impetus to return home. Adrià has lost his innocence but found a kind of wisdom, lost his ideal but gained an understanding of life’s realities. As a possible collective protagonist or representative of his generation, Adrià may symbolize the youths whose youth forever ended with the war. The presumably circular journey wherein Adrià finds neither justice nor freedom (objects of his quest according to Rodoreda) fits the model of the solar myth wherein the quest is ironic -its object is not where it is sought. Equally ironic is the protagonist’s volunteering for war only to become a pacifist. Adrià’s decision to return to his point of origin (if the return can be assumed to be realized) repeats the pattern of quest-romance. Rodoreda’s omission of the final stage of the journey or arrival home may reflect her awareness that for many of Adrià’s erstwhile comrades in arms, the defeated Loyalists, the war’s end did not signify a return home, but rather the beginning of exile or imprisonment. As a demythifying of war and masculine heroics, a subversion of the ideological or political justifications alleged, as well as a powerful depiction of the heroism of women raped and victimized, Quanta, quanta guerra conforms to the paradigm of the feminized quest romance at the same time that it transcends gender.
Arnau, Carme. «El viatge iniciàtic: Quanta, quanta guerra de Mercè Rodoreda». Catalan Review 2. 2 (December 1987), 65-82.
Bergmann, Emilie. «Flowers at the North Pole: Mercè Rodoreda and the Female Imagination in Exile». Catalan Review 2. 2 (December 1987) 83-99.
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