Monday, January 13, 2014

Spanish Civil War 3, Novels and a Short Story

I have been introducing resources on the Spanish Civil War. In this post, I'd like to suggest three novels and a short story which give us good insight about that period of time in Spain and its repercussions.

Some of these readings were written by members of the International Brigades or the journalists who covered the Spanish Civil War. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and For Whom the Bells Toll by Ernest Hemingway are unique resources because they provide readers with an analysis of Spain from the perspectives of foreigners who witnessed the civil war in Spain. I particularly like the reflections of Orwell , and how he felt at lost many times with the unruly ways everyone in Spain had. Despite this, he also praises the generosity of the popular class in Spain and their kindness towards him. These two novels were written in English so they can be used in any Spanish program as suggested texts to learn about the Spanish Civil War.


For a bilingual or IB program my suggestions are: the novel Requiem por un Campesino Español by Ramón J. Sénder and the short story La Lengua de las Mariposas by Manuel Rivas.

The novel takes place in a small village in Aragón, north-east Spain in 1937, a year after the coup d'état led by General Franco and the breakout of the Civil War. Mosén Millán, the parish priest is getting ready for the Requiem Mass which he is going to celebrate in memoriam of Paco, a young peasant from the village. Paco was killed a year before, just after the start of the Spanish Civil War. While his sits in the vestry praying, Mosén Millán remembers various stages of Paco's life. He recalls his birth, his baptism, the fondness they felt for each other when Paco was a child. Later in life, he blesses Paco's marriage in church but their friendship falls apart when Paco gets involved in politics and tries to improve the lives of the poorest in the village after the arrival of the Republic. To achieve this he clashes with the wealthiest landowners who don't  in the village but own most of the land. Mosén Millán disapproves of Paco's behaviour and his support of the Republican government when the Civil War starts. Soon the insurgents take control of the village and Paco flees the place and hides in a farm armed with his gun. Mosén Millán convinces him to give in because he was promised that Paco would be given a fair trial. Despite the promises, Paco is executed without a just trial and a year after only don Gurmensindo, don Valeriano y Cástulo, the 3 people who were responsible for his execution come to his Requiem Mass.



This very short novel depicts the situation in many villages in Spain at the beginning of the Civil War very accurately. In many cases, atrocious murders were committed in the name of political stability when really, they were motivated by old resentments. The author uses symbols to represent the different parties involved in the conflict. On one side don Gurmensindo, don Valeriano represent the old traditional Spain, that is supported by the church, Mosén Millán, a Spain who does not want any changes. Cástulo is the new rich, the bourgeois, who supports the Republic at the beginning but soon changes sides for the winners. Numerous other symbols appear in the novel and students can track them and discuss their meanings. There are numerous proposals to work with the novel are available online. This link offers some resources that can be useful.

La Lengua de las Mariposas is one of the 16 short stories in the book Que me quieres Amor by Manuel Rivas. It is set just before the burst of the Civil War. Moncho, known by the name of Gorrión, tells us about his childhood in a small village in Galicia, north-west Spain. He remembers his fear before going to school because his dad told him about the harsh methods used by the teachers in his time. His first day at school ends in disaster and he runs away after peeing his pants. However, there is new political system in Spain which promotes a different approach to education and tries to give everyone a good education,  regardless of his or her social class. Don Gregorio, the teacher, takes Moncho under his protection and soon an intense relationship begins between them. Don Gregorio visits Moncho´s house and together they go on excursions where Moncho discovers the mysteries of Nature. Moncho and the rest of the students are fascinated by Don Gregorio who teaches them to be free and treats them with respect.

Moncho´s dad supports the Republican government, the same as Don Gregorio. As a token of gratitude for his kindness with Moncho, his dad, a tailor, makes Don Gregorio a suit for free. However, something is starting to change, new people come to the village and Moncho sees that nobody trusts anyone any more. It is the coup d'état. Moncho´s mother takes the initiative and burns all the books spouting ideas in support of the Republic. She also takes her husband to church and tells Moncho that her dad never made a suit for Don Gregorio.

A few days later while all the villagers gather in the main square to support the new regime they witness that the new authorities are taking the Republican supporters away to prison. Among them, Don Gregorio is hardly able to walk. The crowd calls them traitors and reds. Moncho wants to insult his old teacher but he can only utter the names of birds and butterflies that Don Gregorio taught them at school.
This is a beautiful story that deals with values such as tolerance, freedom, the role of education in society. It also shows how these values are fragile and they can be taken away from us and make us hate  what we love best out of fear. These activities based on the short story by Marita Lüning, Landesintitut für Schule, Bremen, can be a great tool to work with our students. The short story is also available in a mp3 file online.

These are suggestions of texts that can help students to learn more about the Spanish Civil War and understand how the war affected people's lives in a tragic way.