Rosario Castellanos Essay - Critical Essays

Castellanos, Rosario (Vol. 39)

Introduction

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Criticism

Phyllis Rodriguez-Peralta (essay date 1977)

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...

(The entire section is 6115 words.)

Beth Miller (essay date 1979)

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...

(The entire section is 7284 words.)

Helene M. Anderson (essay date 1983)

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...

(The entire section is 4650 words.)

Mary Gómez Parham (essay date 1988)

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 entire section is 2796 words.)

Mary Gómez Parham (essay date 1989)

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...

(The entire section is 2635 words.)

Nina M. Scott (essay date 1989)

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...

(The entire section is 4528 words.)

Chloe Furnival (essay date 1990)

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...

(The entire section is 9830 words.)

Cynthia Duncan (essay date 1991)

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...

(The entire section is 6508 words.)

Hanna Geldrich-Leffman (essay date 1992)

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...

(The entire section is 7198 words.)

Stephen M. Hart (essay date 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 3961 words.)