The home as an area of entrapment in Mercè Rodoreda’s La Placa del Diamant

By Natacha Maurin - History and Modern Languages Student @ St Catharine's College, Cambridge

 

The home, the domestic sphere, has been conceived as a gendered space in Western society for much of recent history. In Mercè Rodoreda’s La Plaça del Diamant, (1962)the home is portrayed as the protagonist’s, Natàlia (otherwise known as Colometa, or little dove/pigeon), personal jail. The bildungsroman is a first-person narrative of Natàlia’s life in Barcelona throughout the pre-war, civil war, and dictatorship periods. The majority of the plot develops within the domestic sphere, locating the reader within a locus they are unable to escape. As Natàlia’s relationship with her first husband develops, and abuse becomes recurrent, Natàlia is both made to feel further apart from the home and trapped within it. Members of the home flee it in order to reach security whilst Natàlia is only able to escape her physical and psychological jail when she is taken out of the environment and her psychological scars from the home are healed. Consequently, this catharsis occurs when she marries her second husband, Antoni, a kind and gentle man, who is unable to have children.


The feeling of being trapped in the home is created through the localisation of Natàlia within Barcelona. The reader is made to feel the closing in of the domestic walls as the story progresses. As explained by Enric Bou, the story begins with multiple mentions of well-known areas of the city to situate the reader. Natàlia lists off places: la Plaça del Diamant, Mount Tibidabo, and Carrer Gran, all of which create an understanding of location (2013). These markers begin to diminish, coinciding with her and Quimet, her first husband, moving in together, until the reader finds themselves in a non-descript environment. Natàlia rarely moves out of the home and moments where she does are only identified by store-front window displays or descriptions of the street. This all goes to create a feeling that narratively the home has become her prison, moments outside of it are rare and difficult to describe.

Natàlia’s description of the home is broadly negative, when she first enters the flat she and Quimet are to share she describes it saying “The flat was abandoned. The kitchen smelled of beetles and I found a nest of long caramel-coloured eggs …”. (2005, 38). The flat is not her own and the use of words such as smelled, and strange objects entering the house such as birds’ nests, makes the domestic sphere feel intruded not only by the outside but by the abject. The strange appearance of the birds’ nest also foreshadows the traumatic experience that Natàlia will experience at the hands of the doves, who Quimet will bring into their home and who will become her personal tormentors. Throughout her time in the flat Natàlia also suffers abuse from Quimet, tying her mind and trauma to the domestic place. The only corner of the home that Natàlia has been able to make her own, is also stolen from her. “They emptied my attic of everything I had in it: the clothes cove, the medium chairs, the dirty clothes box, the castle of glasses… ” (2005, 123). Quimet rips away any inkling of Natalía’s personal life in the home. Moreover, even the space that is meant to be hers is tied to domestic tasks. Her personal life and her work life are the home, which is further emphasised when Natàlia finds a job out of the home to work in a rich family’s house. Her entire life is thus connected to this domestic sphere, which she is both a part of and apart of, unable to escape.


The home as an area that is to be escaped is reinforced when Natàlia takes her son Antoni to a children’s camp during the Civil War. As the family slowly starves, Natàlia makes the decision to take her son away to allow him to survive. When the child refuses to enter the camp, she states “I told him very clearly that it could not be, that we could not eat, that if he stayed at home, we would all die.” (198). To stay inside the home then is equated to death and starvation, a strange parallel when the outside world is at war. Both men of the family remain outside of the home during the war, whilst the women settle into this domestic sphere that threatens to kill them, rendering a particularly gendered perception of the dangers of the domestic sphere.


The cycle of entrapment only reaches a breaking point when Natàlia finds her way out of the flat, which she shares with Quimet, moving to work in Antoni the shopkeeper’s house after Quimet’s death in the war and ultimately becoming Antoni’s wife. She tells her new husband that “I had sensitive feelings and I’d rather not bring even one wretched thing from my old apartment to the new one.” (167). This total and utter break from the home she shared with Quimet allowed her to reach a sense of freedom and she explains that finally “It was hard, but slowly I got to feel like the apartment and the things in it were mine.” (169) As such, by leaving the home and Quimet behind she is able to regain ownership of the domestic space, allowing her freedom and agency.


The domestic sphere, the home, a place that is meant to be safe and nurturing, becomes a nest for danger in Rodoreda’s novel. Firstly, the author traps us within the home through narrative techniques, and through her protagonist, she then further reinforces the idea of the home as keeping Natàlia in a state of constant instability and discomfort. To survive is also portrayed as to escape the home, specifically the home she shared with her first husband. Through a total removal of Quimet and a movement away from the home that entrapped her, Natàlia is able to reclaim the domestic sphere, and gain agency.


Further Reading:

1. Enric Bou, Invention of Space : City, Travel and Literature, Madrid : Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert, 2013.

2. Kathleen M. Glenn ‘"La Plaza del Diamante": The Other Side of the Story’, Letras Femeninas , PRIMAVERA-OTOÑO 1986, Vol. 12, No. 1/2 (PRIMAVERAOTOÑO 1986), Asociación de Estudios de Género y Sexualidades; Michigan State University Press, pp. 60-68.