Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Reproducing the Monstrous Nation: A Note on Pregnancy and Motherhood in the Fiction of Rosario Castellanos, Brianda Domecq, and Angeles Mastretta

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Reproducing the Monstrous Nation: A Note on Pregnancy and Motherhood in the Fiction of Rosario Castellanos, Brianda Domecq, and Angeles Mastretta

Article excerpt

'I should have murdered this, that murders me

[...]

Can such innocence kill and kill? It milks my

life' (1)

In this passage from Sylvia Plath's poem, 'Three Women', the impossible paradoxes of the maternal myth as they are perpetuated at many levels in society are captured simply. The pressure to be the sweetheart, the wife and, above all, the mother of a nation has often been commented on in the context of Latin America, where the oppressive conventions of Catholicism and machismo often conspire to elevate and, at the same time, denigrate the image of the 'abnegada mujercita mexicana'. (2) In this article I explore the dual constructions of pregnancy and motherhood as they appear in the fiction of three women writers from Mexico. They are Rosario Castellanos, Brianda Domecq, and Angeles Mastretta.

It is a feature of much of the work of these writers that pregnant women are portrayed as deformed and repugnant. In my exploration of their work, I argue that these monstrous depictions operate on two distinct levels. First, they work as an indictment of a patriarchal ideology that glorifies and glamorizes both pregnancy and motherhood. Thus, the insemination and subsequent destruction of the female bodies that occurs with pregnancy in these texts signify a destruction of innocence, caused by patriarchal systems of power and an often brutal misogyny. The women's pregnant bodies, therefore, are an indictment of the patriarchal structures that control their lives and share much in common with wider discourses about pregnancy, explored in literature by women outside Mexico. On another level, however, the foetus monsters that invade these women's bodies are the grotesque offspring of the phallic powers that created them. All are products of a tyranny that is sustained by means of the female bodies. The monster that is Mexico is signified figuratively by the monsters about to emerge from these grotesquely deformed female bodies. Women thus are the vehicles through which the existing tyrannical power structures are perpetuated and upheld. The metaphor works to illustrate the perpetuation of politically corrupt systems of power and the contribution of women to this process. This raises the crucial question of the complicity of women in the maintenance of the systems of power that oppress them, an issue that is central to the work of these writers.

Rosario Castellanos's work is concerned with the exploration of female oppression across diverse class and racial divides, and within varying social and cultural contexts. Interestingly, motherhood and its representations in her work have received fairly scant attention from critics. This is unusual given the painstaking excavation of mother-daughter relations in her writings and her own intense personal experience of motherhood, eloquently explored in some of her poems. (3) Here I focus on Castellanos's second novel, Oficio de tinieblas (1962). In this text, Castellanos foregrounds the struggles of the indigenous community in Chiapas in the late nineteenth century as filtered through the consciousness of the central protagonist, Catalina Diaz Puilja. This powerfully ambivalent character is unable to bear children and so appropriates the child of a rape victim, Marcela, as her own. She then goes on to assume the role of shaman to her community and is first worshipped and then reviled by the population. Angeles Mastretta, author of two best-selling novels, is one of Mexico's most successful contemporary writers. Her work is concerned with the location of women in Mexico's tortuous post-revolutionary history in a way that identifies her fiction as part of a feminist project of recuperating the lost voices of the past. (4) Her first novel, Arrancame la vida (1985) spans approximately the years 1927 to 1943. It relates the story of Catalina Guzman in her quest for self-empowerment and fulfilment during a lifetime of marriage to a brutal tyrant, Andres Ascencio, whose character is loosely based on the historical figure of Maximinio Avila Camacho, governor of the province of Puebla during part of this period. …

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