• The Function of Physical Space in the Cuban Novel of the 1950s

      Ingham, Jill (University of Wolverhampton, 2007)
      Long overshadowed by the subsequent 1960s ‘Boom’, Cuban novels of the 1950s have been confined to the backwater of literary analysis, often grouped together and dismissed as mere social realism like their Spanish counterparts, or described as inferior. The spatial has been similarly overlooked in literary analysis in favour of a focus on stylistic experimentation, narrative structure, characterisation and the temporal. More recently, however, theorists such as Mitchell (1980) and (1989), and Wegner (2002), have argued that literature has become increasingly spatial, and that a greater focus on spatial analysis is needed. Furthermore, conceptions of space in literature have moved from the static notion of ‘setting’ and identification within a specific location and time, to embrace the function of actual physical spaces, whether exterior or interior, public or private, embedded or liminal, juxtaposed, dynamic, static or fluid. One Cuban novel of the 1950s has already been discussed from a spatial perspective - El acoso (1956) by Alejo Carpentier. Using the two previous studies on spatiality in this novel as a starting point (Stanton [1993] and Vásquez [1996]), this analysis expands on the conclusions made by these studies, stressing the importance of water imagery, and demonstrating that spaces in El acoso are essentially dynamic and female-gendered, arguing that the crisis experienced by the acosado is actually one of masculine identity. Building on the expanded analysis of space in El acoso, three lesser-known Cuban novels of the 1950s are then considered from the perspective of space: Los Valedontes (1953) by Alcides Iznaga, Romelia Vargas (1952) by Surama Ferrer, and La trampa (1956) by Enrique Serpa. The socio-economic, political and cultural backcloth for the novels is set out, before an investigation into theories of space, both literary and non-literary, is conducted. Spaces in Los Valedontes reveal that in the rural domain, sexual identities are stable with conventional masculine hegemony virtually uncontested. Spaces in Romelia Vargas demonstrate that in the urban domain, female sexual identity, albeit historically suppressed, triumphs over the traditionally dominant male norm, whilst a study of spaces in La trampa demonstrates that not only are gangsters, policemen and homosexuals shown to occupy particularly challenged positions, but also that constructions of mainstream Cuban masculinity are under threat. The conclusion compares the function of spaces across all four novels, adding new insights into existing theories of literary space where appropriate. This thesis, therefore, tests the hypothesis that the manipulation of space in these novels constitutes material worthy of study, showing that spaces are dynamic and challenging when female-gendered, and constituting a threat to the hegemony exerted by traditional models of masculinity. Spaces in these novels demonstrate how the early part of the 1950s was a period in which an unpredictable array of contested positions was exposed through cultural, racial, gender and sexual stereotypes, leaving conventional norms of identity open to question.