Text and Countertext in Rosario Ferre's "Sleeping Beauty."

Article excerpt

Rosario Ferre is one of a group of angry young Puerto Rican women authors who have seized the pen and wielded it effectively. Educated on the island and the mainland, Ferre is the daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico and by birth a member of the upper-class, conservative society she satirizes in her fiction. She has acknowledged that writing is for her a destructive as well as a constructive endeavor and that she is driven by a need for vengeance and a desire to give permanence to what hurts and to what attracts her ("Writer's Kitchen" 215). The anger that impels much of her work is evident in her 1976 collection of stories and poems, Papeles de Pandora (Pandora's Papers or Pandora's Roles).(1) In Greek mythology, Pandora is identified as the first woman and is given by each of the gods some power that could bring about the ruin of man. According to certain accounts, her husband, Epimetheus, opens the vessel containing the gifts and thereby releases plagues, sorrow, and mischief upon mankind. The version that has prevailed, however, blames Pandora and her curiosity for the disaster. The first woman is thus identified as a dangerous creature having an evil nature and bent on doing evil to men. Ferre's book tells what Molly Hite has termed the other side of the story, the alternative version that gives events a different set of emphases and values (4). Ferre has spoken of the need to rewrite "history" as it should have occurred, with Desdemona killing Othello and Ariadne deserting Theseus ("Entrevista" 90), and in Papeles de Pandora she engages in revisionary mythopoesis (see DuPlessis). The stories (papers) show not only the roles in which women are often cast but also the attempts some women make to break out of those roles.

Ferre often images her female characters as dolls (decorative, passive, powerless, without voice or will), and the English translation of Papeles de Pandora is entitled The Youngest Doll, after one of the best known of the narratives. The one that concerns me here, "Sleeping Beauty" ("La bella durmiente") has been much discussed, but little attention has been focused upon its form and structure.(2) The story is a collage of opposing texts and countertexts that play off, rub against, and collide with one another. The resulting friction produces sparks. Discordant discourses and dissonant tones highlight conflicts. Different perspectives upon the same events throw into high relief the chasms that separate contrasting views. The structural fragmentation of the narrative and absence of dialogue underscore the lack of true communication among the characters. As Diana Velez has observed, Maria de los Angeles "has only private internal speech, the speech of dreams" (80n8). Others talk and write about her; she is reduced to silence and marginalized. The two letters she writes do not appear over her signature. The following pages examine how letters from the protagonist, the director of the convent school where she is educated, her father, and her husband clash with one another and with social columns, newspaper clippings, captions written in a photo album, a birth announcement, snatches of the protagonist's interior monologue, and comments by an omniscient narrator. Each of the three divisions of the story--"Coppelia," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Giselle"--takes its title from a famous ballet, a nonverbal text that draws inspiration from a written one: E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sand-Man," Charles Perrault's "The Sleeping Beauty," and Heinrich Heine's De l'Allemagne. In 1987 Ferre commented on her ambivalence with respect to classical music, stating that while she recognized the beauty of compositions by Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt--all men--she resented the fact that she was expected to listen silently, respectfully, to the old masters without being allowed to respond to what they were saying ("Una conciencia musical" 8-9). The role of passive, worshipful listener was alien to her. Equally alien, in all likelihood, was the role imposed by classical ballets, based upon male-authored librettos and music, traditionally choreographed by men and with male-designed sets and costumes. …