Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo's "So Far from God"

Article excerpt

   I tie up my hair into loose braids, and trust only what I have built with
   my own hands. --Lorna Dee Cervantes

In the nineteenth century, Louisa May Alcott made subjects of objects when she wrote her domestic novel Little Women, which centered on four sisters and their mother during the American Civil War. Alcott created a home for the March girls that was removed from the world of war and male supremacy. In the twentieth century most critics who have devoted their attention to home space and domestic ritual have concentrated on white, middle-class homes (Matthews xvi). It is necessary, however, to begin including working-class homes and the homes of women of color in this dialectic. The subject of home space has not gone unnoticed by some women of color, like cultural theorists bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua, and novelist Toni Morrison. Each of these writers is re-visioning the home space and its significance regarding gender roles, racism and spirituality in the homes of working-class women of color. For example, in her essay, "Homeplace: a Site of Resistance," bell hooks is not interested in further exploration of the "white bourgeois norms (where home is conceptualized as politically neutral space)" (47). Instead, she uses her theory to examine the "homeplace" of African American women, a space she defines as a "site of resistance and liberation struggle" (43).

Bell hooks's theory on "the homeplace" can be used to explore the domestic world that Ana Castillo has created in her novel, So Far From God. In this novel, Castillo, like hooks and other women writers of color, constructs the home as a "site of resistance" for the woman of color living in a racist and sexist world. Deconstructing physical, political and spiritual boundaries, Castillo takes on the role Gloria Anzaldua describes in her book, Borderlands/La Frontera, as "the new mestiza' (79). With its playful and ironic style, and its insistence on ambiguity and contradictions, So Far From God offers a postmodern inversion of Alcott's Little Women. Both works are American novels dealing with the primary relationships of four sisters; however, Castillo's novel is concerned with four Chicana sisters and a mother living a working class life in Tome, New Mexico. According to Cordelia Chavez Candelaria, Castillo is "one of the earliest Chicana voices to articulate a sexual politics through textual poetics" (146), and this is clearly seen in So Far From God. Unlike Alcott's created home space that for the most part is politically neutral, the home space in Castillo's novel is infused with political resistance. It is a place where women of color have an "opportunity to grow and develop" spiritually and politically, which is not always possible or allowable in a "culture of white supremacy" (hooks 42).

The daughters in So Far From God are dealing with power relations that the March girls in nineteenth century middle class America did not even have to think about. The March girls, despite their own oppression in a patriarchal culture and their own sympathy for the poor and destitute, were part of the hegemony of white culture. The sisters in So Far From God, on the other hand, must construct a home space that will offer them sustenance, security and spirituality in order to move into a white world as subjects. This is crucial, for according to hooks, "when a people no longer have the space to construct homeplace, we cannot build a meaningful community of resistance" (47). The daughters in So Far From God are given the opportunity to "reconceptualize ideas of homeplace, once again considering the primacy of domesticity as a site for subversion ..." (hooks 48).

I am sitting at my kitchen table, thinking about the anger in Ana Castillo's novel--and how it is masked in humor. A narrator's voice disguising rage with flippancy, telling the story of four daughters who cannot live their entire lives in their mother's home, womb, female space. …