The Back Room Summary

  • Last updated on July 19, 2023
Title: The Back Room by Carmen Martin Gaite

Author: Carmen Martin Gaite

Genre: Fiction, Coming-of-Age

Publication Date: 1978

Page Length: Unknown


The Back Room by Carmen Martin Gaite is a gripping coming-of-age novel set in the small Spanish town of Fictionville. The story primarily follows the life of the young protagonist, Matia, as she navigates the complexities of growing up against the backdrop of societal changes taking place in post-war Spain.

Part 1: Childhood Innocence

In the opening chapters, we are introduced to Matia, an intelligent and introspective girl who spends most of her days exploring the secretive spaces of her family's home. These confined spaces, such as the back room and the cellar, serve as metaphors for the unaddressed secrets and repressed emotions within her family and the wider society. Matia's life revolves around her close relationship with her grandmother Mina, whose wisdom and unconventional ideas shape Matia's perspective.

Part 2: Teenage Rebellion

As Matia enters her teenage years, she becomes increasingly aware of the limitations imposed upon her by societal norms and expectations. In her rebellion against traditional gender roles and societal pressures, Matia develops a close bond with her school friends, Lola and Maruja. Together, they question authority, experiment with their identities, and seek independence. Their escapades and bold actions draw attention from both their peers and disapproving adults.

Part 3: Awakening

Matia's journey of self-discovery leads her to deepen her relationship with literature and the world of imagination. She becomes enchanted by the bohemian lifestyle of the writer Grace Frangüesa, who challenges conventional ideas of femininity. Matia's aspirations to become a writer are nurtured by her encounters with Dorita, a free-spirited woman who encourages her creativity and independence. While facing inner conflicts and societal constraints, Matia finds solace in her artistic pursuits, which enable her to express her innermost desires and dreams.

Part 4: Society's Grip

As Matia reaches adulthood, the novel delves into the wider socio-political context of Spain during the Franco regime. The oppressive atmosphere, characterized by censorship and conformity, threatens Matia's freedom of expression and independence. The local bookstore, serving as a symbol of academic freedom and intellectual curiosity, becomes a focal point for Matia's transformative experiences. The characters she encounters there challenge her preconceived notions about love, relationships, and the meaning of life.


1. Coming-of-Age: The Back Room explores the struggles, discoveries, and growth experienced by Matia as she transitions from childhood to adulthood.

2. Rebellion and Freedom: Matia's journey involves questioning societal norms, challenging gender roles, and seeking personal freedom amidst a repressive environment.

3. Secrets and Repression: The back room and other hidden spaces within the novel serve as metaphors for suppressed emotions, family secrets, and the stifling atmosphere of Spanish society.

4. Power of Literature and Imagination: Matia finds solace and empowerment through literature and creative expression, which help her navigate the complexities of her life and societal limitations.


The Back Room is significant as it offers readers an intimate glimpse into the lives of individuals struggling to find their identities and voice in a repressive society. Through Matia's experiences, readers gain valuable insights into the challenges faced by young women during the Franco regime in Spain. Additionally, the novel emphasizes the power of literature and imagination as tools for personal growth and resistance against oppressive systems.

In a richly woven narrative, Carmen Martin Gaite captures not only the complexities of Matia's personal journey but also provides a broader understanding of the social and cultural climate of the time. The Back Room is a thought-provoking literary work, encouraging readers to reflect on the importance of self-discovery, resisting societal constraints, and embracing one's true passions.

Categories: Books