Foolish children, as per Ana María Matute

By Rosie Montague

Ana María Matute’s Los Niños Tontos, published under Franco’s regime, includes 21 fictional micro stories depicting social marginalisation of children due to their behaviour: that of perceived silliness. To be foolish is to be an outcast. In the micro story ‘El Corderito Pascual’ (“The Easter Lamb”), a bullied boy replaces his lack of companions with a farmyard friend… until his father cooks it for dinner. I muse on what Matute can teach us about freedom in times of hardship. In highlighting the odd-ones-out, she demonstrates that rebellion can constitute mundane mutiny. To make friends with a lamb is to refute those who say a lamb’s capacity to be loved is less; these actions are a hopeful push against prevailing narratives.

The text evades specificity: there are few temporal indicators and incomplete identities. Matute’s infant collective is oppressed en masse by a state-crafted autocracy involving Foucauldian biopolitics. The state manages the population’s well-being by increasing the nation’s productive force – to ‘forge an Imperial Spain’. Franco’s regime enforced biopolitical mechanisms, including the Compulsory Health Insurance (SOE) in 1942, devised as an individual’s obligation to the homeland. Health and safety were for the state, this is reflected in Matute’s refusal to construct a personal context for the children. The people’s purpose was purely productive; to use your body for the care of another was to undercut authority. Matute teaches us quiet rebellion. The children deny the state of their bodies via non-conformity, through means such as refusing to eat chickpeas after being prohibited from having pastries (relatable). However, I am writing this as more than a reading recommendation with a side of jest. We all ought to be more foolish!

An anecdote: I’ve recently developed a repetitive strain injury in my wrist from incessant typing under catastrophic ergonomic conditions. Moving about campus does not allow for a monitor/ mouse/ keyboard set-up of the kind that aligns your corporate chakras. In this way, I have given LSE the optimal functionality of my body. It is gone, for now, in the name of essays and notes (and this article, I suppose). I have been insufficiently foolish, and my conformity has bred pain.

For Matute, the foolishness of the children happens under harsh realities. I do not write from similar circumstances, nor do I write to people in them. An adaptation is required. I argue for synthesising her foolishness with happiness: we ought to prioritise health for its value in and of itself. Catering to my LSE-centric audience, exercise is not valuable because of health, which will allow you to work longer hours. Rather, one ought to use their body to its fullest because it is fun, and fun is intrinsically valuable. We may make friends with squirrels in London, and hope nobody cooks them. Run and skip because we can. It may not prevent wrist injury, for typing seems like a non-negotiable (unless one aspires to be the modern world’s persona non grata). However, it is a use of time that Matute would approve, because it serves you. Be silly and do so transparently. It is in all of our interests to be foolish children.   

Illustration by Julietta Gramigni

Rosie discusses the work of Ana María Matute, focusing in on a collection of short stories that teach quiet rebellion.


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