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I'm having trouble understanding this passage below (from the book Primavera en una Esquina Rota, by Mario Benedetti). For context, the narrator is a little girl, assumed 6-10 years old. She's the daughter of a political prisoner and a woman named Graciela.

A specific action or behavior by her mother triggers the reaction of calling her mother "Ella". What action/behavior is this? Also, she seems to have a mood whenever it happens, is this what "alunada" means?

Si yo estuviera presa, me gustaría que dos de mis muñecas, la Toti y la Mónica, fueran también presas políticas. Porque a mí me gusta dormirme abrazada por lo menos a la Toti. A la Mónica no tanto, porque es muy gruñona. Yo nunca le pego, sobre todo para darle ese buen ejemplo a Graciela. Ella me ha pegado pocas veces, pero cuando lo hace yo quisiera tener muchísima libertad. Cuando me pega o me rezonga yo le digo Ella, porque a ella no le gusta que la llame así. Es claro que tengo que estar muy alunada para llamarla Ella. Si por ejemplo viene mi abuelo y me pregunta dónde está tu madre, y yo le contesto Ella está en la cocina, ya todo el mundo sabe que estoy alunada, porque si no estoy alunada digo solamente Graciela está en la cocina. Mi abuelo siempre dice que yo salí la más alunada de la familia y eso a mí me deja muy contenta. A Graciela tampoco le gusta demasiado que yo la llame Graciela, pero yo la llamo así porque es un nombre lindo. Sólo cuando la quiero muchísimo, cuando la adoro y la beso y la estrujo y ella me dice ay chiquilina no me estrujes así, entonces sí la llamo mamá o mami, y Graciela se conmueve y se pone muy tiernita y me acaricia el pelo, y eso no sería así ni sería tan bueno si yo le dijera mamá o mami por cualquier pavada.

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    I suspect it is this: Cuando me pega o me rezonga yo le digo Ella, porque a ella no le gusta que la llame así. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Dec 4 '16 at 14:50
  • @fedorqui What does this mean, though? Why would she dislike being picked up? Or does it mean something else in this context? – Ramon Melo Dec 4 '16 at 14:53
  • Being a 6-10 years old, it can be whatever. Note alunada in Guatemala means in bad mood. So I may be missing some context, but to me it is just a kid getting angry by random things what triggers this attitude. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Dec 4 '16 at 16:33
  • @fedorqui It can't be whatever. The kid is a character, the way she behaves is meant to have some meaning. She's not only in a bad mood (thanks for the translation, by the way), but she wants to set an example to her mother. I think there's something I'm missing in this paragraph, maybe some idiom I'm not familiar with. – Ramon Melo Dec 4 '16 at 20:04
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    Well, what lies under all the text is the extremely hard situation of the family: the father being in prison due to political issues (Uruguay's dictatorship in the 70-80s, I suspect), and hence a child seeing a lot of pressure at home. See for example how impressive is to have a 6-10 kid talking about political prisoners and about freedom! She is probably already understanding the violence from the regime that is imprisoning his father and linking it somehow with her mother kicking her sometimes. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Dec 4 '16 at 23:24
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Let's analyze the paragraph, shall we? It'd be easier in Spanish since I'm a native Spanish speaker, but I'll try my best.

Si yo estuviera presa, me gustaría que dos de mis muñecas, la Toti y la Mónica, fueran también presas políticas. Porque a mí me gusta dormirme abrazada por lo menos a la Toti. A la Mónica no tanto, porque es muy gruñona.

The girl is thinking what it would be like to be a prisoner (most probably because her father is a prisoner and she was thinking about it, but I haven't read this book) and, being a little girl, she would like to bring her two dolls with her. The writer uses this to state that the girl somewhat imagines (or simply usually plays that way with the dolls) that the doll called Monica is a moaner.

Yo nunca le pego, sobre todo para darle ese buen ejemplo a Graciela. Ella me ha pegado pocas veces, pero cuando lo hace yo quisiera tener muchísima libertad. Cuando me pega o me rezonga yo le digo Ella, porque a ella no le gusta que la llame así.

Now, given that the doll Monica is a moaner, in a childish way, the girl, accustomed to being scolded or beaten up (I don't know if this word is "too much" in English, basically I'm referring to physical punishment of any level) when she is wrong, she concludes that the doll should be scolded too. That's why she says Yo nunca le pego, that presents that childish argument (to be scolded or hit) and at the same time is like a pun, an insinuation referring to her mother, which the writer expands in the next lines explaining that the mother doesn't hit her many times and stating that, when that happens, the girl calls her mother Ella.

Obviously, a child doesn't like being scolded or hit, even when she knows she did something wrong, so the girl gets upset with her mother when she hits her and somewhat resents her for that.
You can see the resentment in the pun/insinuation, like saying: see mom, Monica is a moaner and I don't hit her, why do you hit me?
You can see how the girl gets upset in that she calls her mother Ella: Ella is a cold pronoun, a general word that a little girl wouldn't use with her mother. A little girl use "mom" (as in my previous example), "mother", or whatever other word that expresses love, not a cold pronoun. That's why the mother doesn't like it, and that's why the girl achieves what she wants: her mother made her upset, she made her mother upset, like a little, naive revenge.
It's really a childish thing to do, but that's what she is, a child.

The rest of the paragraph is about the same thing, and finally:

A Graciela tampoco le gusta demasiado que yo la llame Graciela, pero yo la llamo así porque es un nombre lindo. Sólo cuando la quiero muchísimo, cuando la adoro y la beso y la estrujo y ella me dice ay chiquilina no me estrujes así, entonces sí la llamo mamá o mami, y Graciela se conmueve y se pone muy tiernita y me acaricia el pelo, y eso no sería así ni sería tan bueno si yo le dijera mamá o mami por cualquier pavada.

Seeing that the girl seeks her mother's love on other occasions, too, the writer states (basically reminds the reader) that the child is not evil, she's only a child who gets carried away by her feelings, like any other.

The fact that alunada means in bad mood, is only a way to clarify that the child is simply upset, which connects with that fact of the scolding and so on.

The whole paragraph seems to me a really tender and beautiful way of describing some of the little girl's feelings about her father imprisonment, and how she normalizes and accepts those feelings about the whole imprisonment thing — that would be a really hard and bad thing to happen to a girl that age.


Edit: Just to clarify one thing, since OP commented it.

@Ramon Melo: Reading your last comment, I'm thinking that you are seeing the girl being hit hard as mistreatment. If that's not the case I apologize, but anyway it's good to clarify it in the same answer.
I don't think the writer wanted to express a mistreatment per se, but just an old-fashioned way of educating; a small slap or spank.
Take in mind what I said originally in the answer:

...beaten up (I don't know if this word is "too much" in English, basically I'm referring to physical punishment of any level)...

I said it because there is nothing in the paragraph that suggests serious mistreatment or that the mother hit the girl really hard, without reason or often.
Note this phrase:

Ella me ha pegado pocas veces, pero cuando lo hace yo quisiera tener muchísima libertad.

This states that it's a rare thing to happen, and reading the whole paragraph, the girl doesn't have the attitude of a mistreated child, she just doesn't like it, which is obvious even when it happens in rare occasions.

I should read the rest of the book to be sure, but reading only this paragraph I just imagine the girl having a tantrum from time to time, because she is a little rebellious (alunada) and her mother has to spank her a little because she doesn't even listen to her anymore.
I'm not saying it's right or wrong, just what I read in the paragraph, but I'd feel more sad for her father being imprisoned ;)

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  • Damn, poor girl :/ I thought "pegar" meant "to pick up". This took a sad, unexpected turn from my first interpretation. It's even sadder because "Mi abuelo siempre dice que yo salí la más alunada de la familia". But thank you for such a thoughtful explanation, and also thank you for answering in English. – Ramon Melo Dec 5 '16 at 10:07
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    Pegar is a notorious false friend for Portuguese speakers, since the Spanish meaning of this word is quite different. A few years ago, that song Ai se eu te pego became very popular in Spain, but people were quite puzzled by the chorus. – Gorpik Dec 5 '16 at 11:29
  • @Ramon Melo Read last edit. And take in mind that no one edited it this time, so my English is not so good ;) – Nox Dec 5 '16 at 13:18
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    @Gorpik You got me, I'm a Portuguese native speaker. I can see how it must have been some very awkward lyrics. – Ramon Melo Dec 5 '16 at 13:24
  • @Nox I've been raised to see every act of violence against a defenseless kid as a mistreatment. Of course, the book referring to an older time, it's expected of the characters - including the girl - to trivialize violence as means of "education". It's also expected of her to be more troublesome than usual, due to her father's absence. But, don't worry, she has to go through the invierno to reach primavera. Thank you for the clarification, still, you've been very helpful. Your English is fine, by the way. – Ramon Melo Dec 5 '16 at 13:37

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