Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories

Themes

There are many themes found in this book; some that are recurring are roles in society, religion, relationships, and also hybrid nature of American and Mexican ethnicities. Within these short stories Cisneros concentrates on the identities which women appropriate as a result of relationships, and how these are connected with their roles in society. Critic Mary Reichart observes that in Cisneros's previous work as well as "in Woman Hollering Creek (1991), the female characters break out of the molds assigned to them by the culture in search of new roles and new kinds of relationships. Cisneros portrays women who challenge stereotypes and break taboos, sometimes simply for the sake of shocking the establishment, but most often because the confining stereotypes prevent them from achieving their own identity."[31] An example of this is Cleófilas, who had hoped for a better life after leaving her home in Mexico to live in the United States. The soap operas she had seen had led her to believe that her life was going to be a fairy tale. Instead, with a failing marriage and another child on the way she sees that her life resembles only the saddest aspects of a soap opera.[32] Another example of this is found in the final section of this book, entitled "There Was A Man, There Was A Woman", where Cisneros illustrates how women can use their bodies as political instruments in their attempts to fight against male domination.[10] The two female protagonists in "Never Marry a Mexican" and "Eyes of Zapata" use their bodies in attempts to gain recognition and acceptance from husband and lover. However, in doing so, they face the problems of objectification and oppression; two issues which end up adversely shaping the characters' identities. In the end, the illegitimate societal roles of these women influence their quest for female identity.[10] For example, Inés, in "Eyes of Zapata", talks about the role she plays as lover, not a wife: "You married her, that woman from Villa de Ayala, true. But see, you came back to me. You always come back. In between and beyond the others. That's my magic. You come back to me."[33]

The protagonists are examined not only as individuals, but also by how they connect to people in their lives, such as in the conflicting love and failed relationships between man and woman; mother and daughter. For example, critic Elizabeth Brown-Guillory notes of the story "Never Marry a Mexican": "Cisneros portrays the mother as a destructive emotional force, alienating and condemning her daughter to repeating her own mother’s destructive powers." This unsuccessful relationship between daughter and mother also affects the ways in which the women relate to men, as the mother is left at fault for any problematic situations with the daughter's male companions.[34] For example, the daughter Clemencia remembers: "Never marry a Mexican, my ma said once and always. She said this because of my father. ... I’ll [Clemencia] never marry. Not any man."[35]

Cisneros also incorporates religion as she "pays tribute to the faith of simple people who express their petitions and gratitude."[31] This is especially apparent in her story "Little Miracles, Kept Promises", where people make petitions to the Virgen Mary,[31] such as: "Madrecita de Dios, Thank you. Our child is born healthy! Rene y Janie Garza, Hondo, TX."[36]

From the experience of growing up within two cultures Cisneros was able to combine both ethnicities, and in her stories she develops a major theme of hybridity between the American and Mexican cultures.[37] She draws upon her life experience as she "depicts the situation of the Mexican-American woman: typically caught between two cultures, she resides in a cultural borderland. The topics of the stories range from the confusions of a bicultural and bilingual childhood to the struggles of a dark-skinned woman to recognize her own beauty in the land of Barbie dolls and blond beauty queens."[1] Because these issues are complex, Cisneros does not try to resolve all of them. Instead, she attempts to find neutral ground where the characters can try to meld their Mexican heritage with an American lifestyle, without feeling homesick for a country which, in some cases, the women have not even experienced.[1]

Although the book has recurring themes such as, (Chicana) feminism, Cisneros uses her power of observation so her stories and narrative are not overwhelmed by these themes.[14] This feminism is portrayed as "women who establish identities for themselves, but also develop an independent, confident, even exultant sexuality".[38] Not only this, but they learn to "love...[men] as they wish, and to establish sisterhood, mutually supportive relationships with other women."[38]

Cisneros displays an abundance of poetic prose which uses frankness to captivate an audience.[11] Reviewer Susan Wood suggests the reader sees that "Cisneros is a writer of power and eloquence and great lyrical beauty".[39] Critic Deborah L. Madsen has said that "the narrative techniques of her fiction demonstrate daring technical innovations, especially in her bold experimentation with literary voice and her development of a hybrid form that weaves poetry into prose to create a dense and evocative linguistic texture of symbolism and imagery that is both technically and aesthetically accomplished".[40] Madsen emphasizes Cisneros's creative ability to combine both prose and poetry.

She also changes her narrative mode according to the demands of the story. For example, her narrative point of view almost continually changes, sometimes using first person, as we see in the story "Little Miracles, Kept Promises", and sometimes third person, as in "La Fabulosa: a Texas Operetta".[41] Additionally, "Never Marry a Mexican" is characterized by the consistent use of interior monologue. Cisneros used this style in her previous novel The House on Mango Street where she mastered writing from the point of view of Esperanza; however, "moving on meant experimenting with many voices".[42] She accomplished this in Woman Hollering Creek where she uses "a complex variety of voices and points of view."[42] Moore Campbell states that "[it] is this deluge of voices that Ms. Cisneros so faithfully taps in her work." [5]

Cisneros intertwines the American and Mexican cultures linguistically, as "[her] stories are full of Spanish words and phrases. She clearly loves her life in two worlds, and as a writer is grateful to have 'twice as many words to pick from ... two ways of looking at the world.' A sometime poet, Cisneros uses those words so precisely that many of her images stick in a reader's mind. Of two people kissing, for instance, she writes: 'It looked as if their bodies were ironing each other's clothes.' "[6]


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