Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel is a feminist outline of the oppression in which women live when they love too much. Quiela waits endlessly for someone she knows is not coming back. The fact that the novel deals with two artists gives the work implications about art and love that extend beyond the melodramatic discourse of the letters and Quiela’s process of forgetting about Diego.

During the nine months covered by the letters, Beloff tells her whole story. She has been an independent woman who has developed her technique as a painter as the only real center of her life. She grew up in Russia; her father was an important influence in her life because he always insisted that she have a profession. As an independent woman at the beginning of the twentieth century, she is something of a pioneer and role model, even though her longing for Diego makes her appear weak. In her letters, she expresses the anger and the mixed emotions she feels toward Diego, but she eventually realizes that she has to find her center again; significantly, it takes nine months for her to be reborn. Life will not stop for this woman just because Diego Rivera does not want her.

In Quiela’s last letter, the tone changes completely. She writes to Rivera for the last time and tells him about her already finished illustrations for the Parisian magazine Floreal. Her artistic work is done; she has recuperated with dignity. It is not until 1935, when she goes to Mexico, that she again comes into contact with Rivera; even then, she does not seek him out. (According to Bertram Wolfe’s biography of Rivera, Beloff did in fact contact him in Mexico City because she needed his signature in order to sell some of his paintings that belonged to her. In the novel, this scene is not even mentioned; Poniatowska’s version of the story is more dramatic, since Rivera does not recognize Beloff when they finally run into each other.)

The novel is also about the fascination of Angelina Beloff with anything Mexican. Colors are important also, especially gray and blue. Gray is her color before Diego’s eyes, and blue is the bright color in which Diego describes her. Gray is Europe for Diego, and blue is Mexico.