Castellanos, Rosario (Vol. 39)
Rosario Castellanos 1925–-1974
Mexican short story writer, poet, novelist, and essayist.
Castellanos is best known for works that reveal and challenge social hierarchies and systematic discrimination in her native Mexico. Using a tone of ironic humor, with which she mocked social conventions, Castellanos employed historical and religious metaphors to illuminate a cultural tradition of oppression in which women and native people are deprived of individual freedom. Personal concerns with solitude, depression, and mortality also recur throughout Castellanos's works. She is recognized as a forerunner of Mexican feminism and a predecessor to many contemporary feminist literary critics.
Born in Mexico City, Castellanos was raised on her parents' estate in Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico. Shunned by her parents in favor of her brother, Castellanos witnessed her brother's suicide and became a solitary child who retreated into literature. After her family's estate was appropriated by the Mexican government in the 1941 land reform plan, Castellanos began her studies in the College of Philosophy and Letters at the National University of Mexico in 1944. While at the university, she joined an international group of Hispanic writers known as the Generation of 1950. Following her parents' deaths in 1948, Castellanos published her first long poem, “Trayectoria del polvo,” on the subject of death. In 1950 she received her master's degree in philosophy, writing a thesis entitled “Sobre cultura femenina,” and subsequently serving as the cultural program director of Chiapas. In 1957 she married a university professor and gave birth to their son, Gabriel. Castellanos then worked as the information director of the National University of Mexico from 1960 to 1966. She traveled to the United States in 1967 as a visiting professor of Latin American literature at the universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Colorado, and chaired the Comparative Literature Department at the National University of Mexico upon her return home. By then divorced, in 1971 she was named ambassador to Israel by President Luis Echeverría. While in Israel she taught Mexican literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and continued to write poetry, short stories, essays, and a play—all of which dealt with women's issues. Castellanos died accidentally of electrocution in 1974. Her body was returned to Mexico City, where she received a state funeral, and was buried in the Rotunda de los Hombres Illustros—a tomb reserved for Mexico's most respected leaders and heroes.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Castellanos became aware of gross social and political inequities while growing up as a member of Mexico's wealthy, land-owning class. On her parents' sugar and coffee plantation, she witnessed widespread and officially sanctioned discrimination against the native people who lived in and around Chiapas. As a woman in a male-dominated society, Castellanos was also faced with widespread misogyny. Consequently, injustices against women and minorities were the primary focus of her writings, including her three short story collections: Ciudad Real (City of Kings,) Los convidados de agosto (Guests in August,) and Album de familia (Family Album.) A related issue for Castellanos was language and the ways in which it is used to oppress and manipulate those outside the power structure. Many of Castellanos's stories feature characters who are kept outside of the mainstream by their lack of communication skills, or who simply do not speak the language of the dominant group. Critics have noted a distinct evolution in Castellanos's short fiction: the stories in Ciudad Real are set largely in the rural Mexican countryside, those in Los convidados de agosto in provincial towns, and in Album de familia most of the stories take place in an urban Mexican setting. Additionally, critics have commented on Castellanos's increasing use of humor, frequently ironic, in her later stories, with characters—usually women—quietly but comically subverting the patriarchal status quo using whatever means are available to them in their proscribed domains.
Castellanos has received international attention for her literary works. Some scholars note the importance of her difficult early life in fostering her writing career and formulating her literary themes. Others remark that her adept use of humor throughout her works helps to present more effectively the sensitive issues surrounding women's lives and the exploitation of Indians in Mexico. Several commentators have asserted that her commanding use of language deftly leads her readers towards an understanding of how language itself is the key to determining the social stature of people within Mexican society. Following her death, José Emilio Pacheco wrote: “When the commotion passes and people reread [Castellanos's] works, it will become evident that nobody in her time had as clear a consciousness of the twofold condition of being a woman and a Mexican. And no one else has made of that consciousness the subject matter and the central line of a body of literary work. Of course we didn't know how to read her.”
Ciudad Real [City of Kings] 1960
Los convidados de agosto [The Guests of August] 1964
Album de familia [Family Album] 1971
Apuntes para una declaración de fe (poetry) 1948
Trayectoria del polvo (poetry) 1948
Dos poemas (poetry) 1950
De la vigilia estéril (poetry) 1950
Sobre cultura femenina (essays) 1950
Presentación en el templo (poetry) 1951
El rescate del mundo (poetry) 1952
Balún Canán [The Nine Guardians] (novel) 1957
Poemas (1953–1955) (poetry) 1957
Salomé y Judith: Poemas dramáticos (poetry) 1957
Al pie de la letra: Poemas (poetry) 1959
Lívida luz: Poemas (poetry) 1960
Oficio de tinieblas (novel) 1962
Juicios sumarios: Ensayos (essays) 1966
Materia memorable (poetry) 1969
Poesía no eres tú: Obra poética, 1948–1971 (poetry) 1972
Mujer que sabe latin (criticism) 1973
El uso de la palabra (essays) 1974
El eterno feminino: Farsa (drama) 1975
El mar y sus...
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SOURCE: “Images of Women in Rosario Castellanos' Prose,” in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. VI, No. 11, Fall-Winter, 1977, pp. 68-79.
[In the following essay, Rodriguez-Peralta explores Castellanos's intention in her fiction to demythify cultural and popular images of women.]
The trajectory of Rosario Castellanos' prose begins within the indigenist literature of twentieth century Latin America and extends the line marked by Alcides Arguedas, Jorge Icaza, Gregorio López y Fuentes, Ciro Alegría, and more recently, by José María Arguedas. Indeed, from the modified use of selective contemporary narrative techniques, and a subtle exploration of psychological perspectives, Arguedas and Castellanos form a link between the indigenist novel of protest against injustice and the contemporary novel of existential determinism.
Castellanos' prose, however, takes a sharp turn away from indigenism and the flavor of the province and enters the terrain of contemporary Mexican women—or better, of contemporary feminism. Vertically the two stages of her literary work oppose each other in space and in time, but horizontally an underlying unity is maintained by an increasingly insistent awareness of woman and her situation. The spatial content of Castellanos' work moves from the primitive Indian surroundings in the southern state of Chiapas, to the narrow ambiance of provincial towns, to the...
(The entire section is 6115 words.)
SOURCE: “Rosario Castellanos' ‘Guests in August’: Critical Realism and the Provincial Middle Class,” in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. VII, No. 14, Spring-Summer, 1979, pp. 5-18.
[In the following essay, Miller discusses Castellanos's use of plot, setting, characterization, and narrative techniques in Los convidados de agosto to demonstrate her thoughts on sociopolitical issues.]
Rosario Castellanos (1925-74) was a remarkable prose fiction writer as well as poet.1 Her novels, Balún-Canán [The Nine Guardians] and Oficio de tinieblas [Profession of Darkness], are distinct and original contributions to the body of literature about the Mexican Revolution and to the indigenista novel, respectively.2 Castellanos published, in addition, three volumes of short stories3 and a sizeable number of essays, most of which have been collected.4 This study deals with her volume of short stories of 1964, Los convidados de agosto [Guests in August], referring occasionally to Castellanos' essays in order to probe her method of social criticism and examine aspects of her thought, especially in regard to the ideological concerns implicit in the text and that underlie her choice of a specific temporal and geographical setting, of certain signifying elements of plot and characterization, as well as the use of...
(The entire section is 7284 words.)
SOURCE: “Rosario Castellanos and the Structures of Power,” in Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America, edited by Doris Meyer and Margarite Fernandez-Olmos, Brooklyn College Press, 1983, pp. 22-31.
[In the following essay, Anderson discusses Castellanos's exploration of women and power.]
In 1950 Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974) presented a thesis on feminine culture which has come to be considered the intellectual point of departure for the women's liberation movement in Mexico.1 According to Mexican essayist, Carlos Monsiváis, no one up to that time had expressed so clearly what it meant to be both a woman and a Mexican.2 This became, in effect, the central line of Castellanos' work, but always from a very particular perspective: the relationship of women to their culture within the broader relationship in Mexican society of those with power to those deprived of it.
Although her 1973 book of essays, Mujer que sabe latín … (Woman Who Knows Latin …) is considered the first provocative Mexican analysis of the image of women within the framework of Western culture in general and Mexican culture in particular, it is well within a national tradition of polemical literature which has existed since the seventeenth century. In this tradition Castellanos examines the issues of image and reality, and submission and domination from a consistently...
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SOURCE: “Moving Toward the Other: New Dimensions in Human Relationships in Rosario Castellanos' ‘Album de familia,’” in Chasqui, Vol. XVII, No. 1, May, 1988, pp. 3-7.
[In the following essay, Parham explores Castellanos's focus on alienation and her evolving sense of optimism in the stories in her last work of fiction, Album de familia.]
In Album de familia, Rosario Castellanos' final work of fiction, she no longer concerns herself with the difficulties of relationships between races, and the setting has moved from provincial to urban Mexico.1 As racial strife disappears from the stories, relationships between members of the same sex and of the opposite sex become the principal concern. New elements such as homosexuality and feminism-as-politics appear, and three of the stories explore new ways of dealing with the old problem of alienation, injecting in several instances an optimism largely absent in the writer's previous works.2 In view of these facts, the purpose of this paper will be twofold: to point out and discuss the continued presence of alienation as a central in this last work by Castellanos, while illuminating the emerging tendency—however oblique at times—to a new optimism on the part of the writer.
The narrator of “Lección de cocina,” after having had sexual intercourse with her husband, considers the sleeping man and muses...
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SOURCE: “Alienation in Rosario Castellanos' ‘Ciudad Real,’” in Letras Femeninas, Vol. XV, Nos. 1-2, Spring, 1989, pp. 22-7.
[In the following essay, Parham discusses alienation in Ciudad Real, arguing that Castellanos illustrates modes of social interaction common in Mexican culture that serve to both protect the individual and manipulate others.]
The short stories of Rosario Castellanos' second fictional work, Ciudad Real, all deal in some way with the problem of alienation, especially between Indian and white, though other forms are sometimes equally or even more important, such as alienation between sexes, classes and age groups and between man and nature. Instruments of this alienation include severe codes of courtesy, machismo and other forms of sex-role stereotyping, greed and above all, language barriers.
In “La muerte del tigre,” the role of oral communication in perpetuating alienation is examined. Octavio Paz asserts in this regard that in Mexico “las complicaciones rituales de la cortesía” are a manifestation of a “peligrosa inclinación … por las fórmulas” (Paz 29). These rituals serve both to protect the individual from others and as a means of manipulation of others. This mode of social interaction is observed in the Indians' meeting with the enganchador1 in “La muerte del tigre.” The oldest of the Indians...
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SOURCE: “Rosario Castellanos: Demythification through Laughter,” in Humor, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1989, pp. 19-29.
[In the following essay, Scott argues that Castellanos uses humor to break down cultural myths about women.]
Do feminists have a sense of humor? Perhaps one of the most appropriate people to ask would have been the late Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974), noted for both her wit and her outspoken feminism. In her creative writing as well as her journalism, she unleashed the formidable arsenal of her humor to attack the kinds of mind-sets and myths that were keeping Mexican women relegated to traditional roles of selfless wife and mother. For Castellanos the problem began with Genesis. A woman, she reports, is to be satisfied with her place in the world because once upon a time a man gave up one of his ribs to create her. “In the first place,” she writes, “no one was asking his consent to carry out this operation. Second, while this operation was being performed he was in a state of unconsciousness so complete that when he woke up he had the surprise of that century and all others when he found at his side the seductive creature that in time would incite him to leave paradise. This creature has never stopped beating her breast in repentance for that sin, but in that same breast, lacerated by mea culpas, she harbors the eternal flame of gratitude toward him who gave her her being.” As...
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SOURCE: “Confronting Myths of Oppression: The Short Stories of Rosario Castellanos's ‘Chloe Furnival,’” in Knives and Angels: Women Writers in Latin America, edited by Susan Bassnett, Zed Books Ltd., 1990, pp. 52-67.
[In the following essay, Furnival discusses the “bourgeois male ‘utopia’ that emerged from the Mexican Revolution,” explored by Castellanos in her short stories.]
Rosario Castellanos (1925-74) was born into a white, wealthy landowning family in Mexico City and grew up on the family's estate in the southern, predominantly Indian-populated state of Chiapas. In 1941, President Cárdenas's land reforms1 finally reached this traditionally closed-off state, dramatically scaling down the Castellanos family's land-ownership there and causing the family's migration to Mexico City. Rosario Castellanos studied philosophy at the national university in Mexico City, presenting her Masters thesis in 1950 entitled On Feminine Culture [‘Sobre cultura femenina’]. Later she returned to Chiapas (1956-57) and worked in San Cristóbal de las Casas for the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) on projects that unashamedly aimed at integrating Indians into the mainstream culture.2 Elements of these various stages in her life can be detected in much of her prose and poetry. The thematic focus of her first novel, Balún Canán (1957)3—the...
(The entire section is 9830 words.)
SOURCE: “Language as a Barrier to Communication Between the Classes in Rosario Castellanos's ‘La tregua’ and José Revueltas's ‘El lenguaje de nadie,’” in Hispania, Vol. 74, No. 4, December, 1991, pp. 868-75.
[In the following essay, Duncan examines language used as an instrument of oppression by middle- and upper-class Spanish-speaking Mexicans against native Mexicans in Castellanos's “La tregua” and José Revueltas's “El lenguaje de nadie.”]
Language is normally perceived to be a vehicle that facilitates communication rather than impedes it. Yet, when cultural, social, and economic barriers exist between two or more interlocutors, attempts at communication often fail, and language becomes a useless, empty vessel which neither contains nor carries real meaning. In Mexico, for example, where an unbridgeable gulf separates the working class from the bourgeoisie, an Indian peasant may find that his words do not possess the same significance as those of a wealthy, land-owning white, even when he speaks the same language and uses the same words to convey a specific piece of information.1 Obviously, much more than words is involved in the act of transmitting and receiving a message. Whether a person holds power or lacks it, whether he is perceived to be trustworthy or deceitful, and whether he has been assigned a dominant or a subordinant role by the superstructure of society...
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SOURCE: “Marriage in the Short Stories of Rosario Castellanos,” in Chasqui, Vol. XXI, No. 1, May, 1992, pp. 27-35.
[In the following essay, Geldrich-Leffman discusses the inherent dialogic nature of marriage reflected in Castellanos's short stories.]
Prominent in Latin American letters and a leading voice in early Mexican feminism, Rosario Castellanos goes beyond the limits of conventional feminist questions to more universal problems that transcend gender and are concerned with society, language, and creativity. Critical inquiry into her work has concentrated primarily on her feminism and the image of woman, mostly in her novels and in the collection Album de familia. Quite a few of these studies point to the importance and centrality of the image of marriage in her work (Franco 31; Fiscal, La imagen 51; Fiscal, “Identidad y lenguaje” 27), without examining it from the point of view of linguistic and literary technique. Since we have only one significant study of her short stories,1 I propose to treat the topic of marriage in these narratives and in the process analyze the dialogic nature of these works.
In my emphasis on this approach, I have greatly benefitted from M. M. Bakhtin's theories. The notions of the other, of dialogue, and of the fundamental nature of communication, are a part of his general theory of the social and dialogical nature of...
(The entire section is 7198 words.)
SOURCE: “Rosario Castellanos: ‘Leccion De Cocina,’” in White Ink: Essays on Twentieth-Century Feminine Fiction in Spain and Latin America, Tamesis Books Limited, 1993, pp. 45-53.
[In the following essay, Hart explores what he considers the protagonist's ironic defiance of patriarchal law in “Lección de cocina.”]
In her essay ‘Woman and Her Image’, Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974: Mexico) employs Simone de Beauvoir's study, Le Deuxième Sexe, to analyse the ways in which women have been mythified and therefore dis-abled (either through beauty or angelicness) concluding that ‘woman is stripped of her spontaneity of action, forbidden the initiative of decision, taught to obey the commandments of an ethic that is completely alien to her and has no more justification or basis than that of serving the interests, goals, and end of others’.1 In her essay Castellanos lists the means by which women are incarcerated within the phallocentric code (her most significant test-case is the male's requirement of virginity in his marriage partner), and then points to images of liberated women who range from real life, such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, to the fictional such as Ana Ozores and Anna Karenina: ‘Each one in her way and in her own circumstances denies the conventional, making the foundations of the establishment tremble, turning hierarchies upside down, and achieving...
(The entire section is 3961 words.)