Consuming the Other: Cannibals and Vampires in Carmen Boullosa's Fiction

By Burke, Jessica | Romance Notes, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Consuming the Other: Cannibals and Vampires in Carmen Boullosa's Fiction


Burke, Jessica, Romance Notes


As old as the rumored existence of cannibalistic practices is the fascination with mankind's consumption of fellow human beings. The term cannibal was coined by Christopher Columbus when native guides on his voyage to the "New World" told him stories of tribes that fed on human flesh. In 1979 William Arens published a study called The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy, in which he expressed concern over the field of anthropology's apparent need for the existence of cannibalism in order to form itself as a valid discipline. His study produced an uproar among anthropologists, who quickly wrote responses focused on proving the existence of cannibalism despite Arens' implications, and thus ironically confirmed Arens' argument--we need cannibals. This need is firmly rooted in the human psyche, as evidenced by cannibalism's consistent appearance in literature, whether in literal or metaphorical form. In the years that followed the discovery of the Americas, the cannibal was re-interpreted and re-presented with varying degrees of sympathy or condemnation, depending on the purpose behind each portrayal of his "reality." Whether anthropophagy occurs by necessity or from desire, through hatred or through ritual, in an act of vengeance or in an act of savagery, the possible motivations for such behavior are outnumbered only by the texts that explore them. The appearance of cannibalism in three works by contemporary Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa reminds us that the cannibal is just as much a part of human nature as it is of history.

In his book Cannibalism: from sacrifice to survival, psychologist Hans Askenasy considers the various reasons why a person would want to consume another person. Besides the obvious reason--hunger--there are a slew of other possible "motivational factors" for cannibalism. In a chapter entitled "Punishment, Indifference, and Unification," Askenasy provides three factors that eerily coincide with separate instances of cannibalism in three different narrative works of Carmen Boullosa. While these three forms of cannibalism (namely, punitive, unitive, and profane cannibalism) appear neatly categorized in Askenasy's work, applying them to Boullosa's characters serves merely as a departure point for an exploration of acts of consumption that seem to result from both a psychological and a physical need to devour the Other. Set in the past, present and future, respectively, Boullosa's Son vacas, somos puercos, Isabel, and Cielos de la tierra all involve bizarre cases of cannibalism that serve to underscore the author's own concerns regarding the destructive impulses behind human behavior.

In Son vacas, somos puercos, set in the Caribbean of colonial times, the protagonist Smeeks serves as ship's surgeon under the tyrannical rule of a French pirate named L'Olonnais, or "Nau." While Smeeks is the primary narrator of the novel, at different moments in the text he cedes narration to others, as in the extraordinary case of Nau's death. Nau narrates his own demise as he is captured and eaten alive by cannibals. It seems a just end for a man who wreaked havoc on colonial society, cruelly abusing both natives and colonists alike. The Indians' cannibalism can be attributed to revenge rather than hunger, as their leader delivers a speech about avenging the deaths of the tribe's loved ones. This punitive cannibalism is preceded by a ritual in which the women of the tribe abuse Nau, tying him to a hammock to force themselves on him before later cutting off his eyelashes and slapping him. The misogynistic pirate continues to blame the female sex for his current situation, even though he isn't sure exactly how they are to blame. He watches as the children devour parts of his body, until the loss of blood causes him to lose consciousness.

Nau's defiance in the face of the tribal women exemplifies the general sense of scorn for the female sex felt among the European pirates, who call themselves free "pigs" as opposed to the domesticated "cows" that marry, settle, and pay tribute to the crowns of Europe.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Consuming the Other: Cannibals and Vampires in Carmen Boullosa's Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.