Helena María Viramontes Short Fiction Analysis
In her short stories Helena María Viramontes provides a vision of Hispanic women in American society, presenting female characters whose lives are limited by the patriarchy of Hispanic society and the imposition of religious values. She provides a humanistic and caring approach to the poor and downtrodden women who inhabit the working-class world of her fiction. She deals with the issues of abortion, aging, death, immigration, divorce, and separation. The stories in The Moths, and Other Stories are arranged in the order of the stages in a woman’s life, beginning with the story of a young girl in “The Moths” moving on to stories of women in the later stage of life. Near the end of the collection, “Snapshots” is the story of a divorced woman who feels that she has wasted her life in the mundane and demanding trivia of housework. “Neighbors” depicts an elderly woman, isolated and living in fear of the young men in the neighborhood.
“The Moths” is the story of a young Chicana girl who finds a safe refuge in caring for her aging grandmother, her Abuelita. Constantly in trouble at home, fighting with her sisters, and receiving whippings, the rebellious fourteen-year-old girl finds a purpose for her life as she works with her grandmother to plant flowers and grow them in coffee cans. Viramontes describes in detail how the two women nurture the plants as they form a world of their own, away from the dominating force of the girl’s father.
The story contains elements of the Magical Realism that characterizes much contemporary Third World American literature. When her more feminine sisters call her “Bull Hands” because her hands are too large and clumsy for the fine work of embroidery or crocheting, the girl feels her hands begin to grow. As her grandmother soothes the hands in a balm of dried moth wings and Vicks, the girl feels her hands shrink back to normal size. Another example of Magical Realism occurs at the end of the story, when the image of the moths is realized as they fly out of the dead grandmother’s mouth.
The women exist in a world of wild lilies, jasmine, heliotrope, and cilantro, working with mayonnaise jars and coffee cans. The vines of chayotes wind around the pillars of the grandmother’s house, climbing to the roof and creating the illusion that the house is “cradled” in vines, safe and protected. In her own home the girl’s Apá, her father, forces her to go to church by banging on the table, threatening to beat her, and lashing out at her mother, her Amá. In one brief scene Viramontes is able to portray the brutal hold the father has on the family. In contrast to this household, the grandmother’s house, devoid of a masculine presence, is a place of peace and growth. When the grandmother dies, the girl finds her, and she bathes her grandmother’s body in a ceremony. As she performs this ritual, the girl sees the old scars on the woman’s back, evidence that she, too, had suffered beatings.
As the story opens, Olga Ruiz, a woman whose husband has left her, reflects on her life and...
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