Both writers acknowledge the contributions of their roots and family ties in the process of learning to find remarkable essence in English and love of communicating effectively especially with their parents who occur to be the primary concern in their attempt to simplify approach in writing. Through the use of English to the level of comprehension of Sandra’s father and of Amy’s mother, both authors had been able to satisfy or serve ease of reading for these target audiences.
While it may also be noted that each writer had quite an equal gravity of struggle as the other, Sandra Cisneros was particularly interested in changing his father’s conventional view of her role as a woman and a daughter. Sandra necessitated a creation that would stir her father into realization of her incredible worth as a daughter, and an empowered woman who could go beyond domestic confines and exhibit potentials or perform tasks as well as men can. Besides making her father acquire smooth understanding of her work, Sandra desired to please him so she may obtain fair paternal treatment of her capacity, one equating that of her brothers even when she had not met his expectation of marrying after college.
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SOURCE: "What is Called Heaven": Identity in Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 415-24.
[In the following essay, Thomson surveys the strong, feminist, female characters in Cisneros's second short fiction collection. ]
"The wars begin here, in our hearts and in our beds" says Inés, witch-woman and "sometime wife" to Emiliano Zapata in "Eyes of Zapata," the most ambitious story of Sandra Cisneros's second collection, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. In Inés, Cisneros presents a narrator who is capable of seeing both at a distance and up close, who is able to encompass both the physically violent world of Zapata's revolution and the emotionally violent world of love. She is able to see both worlds and, more importantly, understands how the pain of both worlds is merely a manifestation of the same disease—a failure of love. Cisneros says in a voice that is Inés speaking to Zapata but also Cisneros speaking to the reader (the two are easily confused—even Cisneros claims to have woken from a dream believing she was Inés):
We drag these bodies around with us, these bodies that have nothing at all to do with you, with me, with who we really are, these bodies that give us pleasure and pain. Though I've learned how to abandon mine at will, it seems to me we never free ourselves completely until we love, until we lose ourselves inside each other. Then we see a little of what is called heaven. When we can be that close we no longer are Inés and Emiliano, but something bigger than our lives. And we can forgive, finally.
When a writer claims to identify with a character to the extent that she wakes up unsure who is who, one can assume that that character is going to speak deeply and come as close to the truth as fiction can come to the truth of the human heart. This is true of Inés.
Inés is the fully aware feminine self, a woman who has seen her own reality—her people embroiled in a civil war and led by her deceitful, unfaithful husband—and does not flinch or look away. She takes the deepest pain inside herself and through it claims the power of her own identity. Ingesting the pain of her world by facing it head-on gives her strength and the will to persevere: "And I took to eating black things—huitlacoche the corn mushroom, coffee, dark chilies, the bruised part of the fruit, the darkest, blackest things to make me hard and strong." This is the power of Cisneros's women, to see and to remember, to master the pain of the past and understand the confluence of all things; women continue in a cycle of birth and blood; they become themselves through the honest acceptance of the world beyond the body. Cisneros believes women must overcome and change their worlds from the inside out. They must become the "authors" of their own fate.
Yet what sets Inés apart from most of the women in the collection is her acceptance of all pain, not just female pain. She sees the small boy inside Zapata, the boy thrust unprepared into leadership and war; she sees the bodies of the federale corpses hanging in the trees, drying like leather, dangling like earrings; she sees her father, who once turned his back on her, placed with his back against the wall, ready for the firing squad. What particularly defines this story is the acceptance of masculine suffering as well as feminine. "We are all widows," Inés says, "the men as well as the women, even the children. All clinging to the tail of the horse of our jefe Zapata. All of us scarred from these nine years of aguantando—enduring" (original italics). The image of every widow, male or female, clinging to the horse's tail doesn't absolve men from blame for beginning and continuing this war, but at the same time it doesn't exclude them from suffering.
The union of gender, and gender-based ideologies, is essential to the strong, feminine characters of the later stories of Woman Hollering Creek, because for Cisneros it is necessary to include masculine suffering to achieve a total synthesis. Each of the earlier pieces is independent of the others, yet as whole sections they define specific areas of adversity—specifically feminine adversity. The first section, "My Lucy Friend Who Smells like Corn," takes a form similar to that established by Cisneros in her earlier, applauded collection The House on Mango Street—childhood vignettes. The "Lucy Friend" story sets up the paradigm of the Cisneros's female world:
There ain't no boys here. Only girls and one father who is never home hardly and one mother who says Ay! I'm real tired and so many sisters there's no time to count them. . . . I think it would be fun to sleep with sisters you could yell at one at a time or all together, instead of alone on the fold out chair in the living room.
This is a world without men, where the fathers are drunk or absent, the mothers are left to raise the children alone and the only possible salvation is a sisterhood that more often than not fails.
The stories continue in this vein, establishing aspects of an archetypal Chicana female identity. "Eleven" sets up a system of multiple selves like "little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other" and the difficulty of maintaining a unity of self in the face of authority. "Mexican Movies" and "Barbie-Q" are concerned with stereotypes and enforced identity. From her young girl's voice, Cisneros satirizes the portrayals of Mexicans in film by contrasting a Chicana family's daily life with the films of Pedro Infante (his name itself denotes a childlike, false identity) who "always sings riding a horse and wears a big sombrero and never tears the dresses off the ladies, and the ladies throw flowers from balconies and usually somebody dies, but not Pedro Infante because he has to sing the happy song at the end." Although the barrio life of Cisneros's families is usually far from wealthy, here at least she presents us with a world of safety and security, where the false happiness of women tossing flowers from balconies doesn't interfere with the games the sisters play in the aisles. And then
The movie ends. The Lights go on. Somebody picks us up . . . carries us in the cold to the car that smells like ashtrays. . . . [B]y now we're awake but it's nice to go on pretending with our eyes shut because here's the best part. Mama and Papa carry us upstairs to the third-floor where we live, take off our shoes and cover us, so when we wake up it's Sunday already, and we're in our beds and happy.
The satire is so subtle that one is led to believe the girls and perhaps even her parents do not see the films as stereotypes that limit their ability to be accepted in the white world, but the reader is obviously meant to.
Similarly, in "Barbie-Q" Cisneros attacks artificial feminine stereotypes that are epitomized in every Barbie doll. The narrator and her companion play Barbies with two basic dolls and an invisible Ken (again a comment on the absence of male figures in the culture) until there's a sale on smoke damaged dolls. When the girls are able to buy an assortment of new dolls, Cisneros asks, in a bitingly satiric tone, "And if the prettiest doll, Barbie's MOD'ern cousin Francie . . . has a left foot that's melted a little—so? If you dress her in her new 'Prom Pinks' outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch and hair bow included, so long as you don't lift her dress, right—who's to know?" Cisneros is both attacking and acknowledging the depths our culture goes to in an attempt to hide women's assumed "faults"—not the least of which is the fact that her very sexuality is assumed to be based around the idea of the lack of a penis, as is winked at in Cisneros's linguistic raising of the dress. It is men whose theories and intellectual models have defined women as flawed, but it is also women who perpetuate that myth by buying Barbies for their daughters, in essence supporting male theory through their actions. The responsibility of both men and women for the system that keeps women confined in partial identity is a theme Cisneros will return to again and again. Ultimately, the female characters who escape this system are those who have assimilated characteristics of both sexes.
Perhaps exploring a similar situation from a different angle, "Salvador Late or Early" examines a social system that is not inherently feminine, but because of the absence of masculine figures one must assume its problems and their solutions are left to the resources of women. Like "Alice Who Sees Mice" from Mango Street, in which the title character must rise early and make her father's lunchbox tortillas after the death of her mother, "Salvador Late or Early" is a reworking of one of Cisneros's favorite tropes: children who have lost their childhood. Salvador is "a boy who is no one's friend"; he is a boy trying to be his father, trying to take care of the younger children while his mother "is busy with the business of the baby." Salvador "inside that wrinkled shirt, inside the throat that must clear itself and apologize each time it speaks, inside that forty-pound body of a boy with its geography of scars, its history of hurt . . . is a boy like any other." Cisneros's suggestion that the loss of childhood is normal and common is probably the most damning social criticism of all. She indicts everyone for the common failure of not protecting children from the horrors of the adult world.
The overall theme of these stories is the vulnerability of the mostly female narrators; their world is defined externally to them. The barrios and small towns are, as Barbara Harlow notes about Mango Street, filled with "stories which recount the short histories of the neighborhood's inhabitants embedded in the longer history of Hispanic immigration, relocation, and political displacement in the United States." The vignettes that Cisneros offers are not supposed to be read as isolated incidents, but rather emblematic of a social structure that allows little cultural movement and less possibility for the formation of an identity outside the boundaries of the barrio. Cisneros moves through a paradigm of feminine life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood—exploring avenues of possible escape, possible identity.
Cisneros's second section, "One Holy Night," moves from childhood to the complex world of adolescent female sexuality. Again Cisneros gives the reader narrators who speak in subtle satire, exposing the multiple layers of danger faced by...