A Rosario Castellanos Reader presents English translations of selected works by Rosario Castellanos from 1948 to 1974. Influenced by European feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf, Castellanos explores how social, cultural, and economic forces affect the experiences and identity of Mexican women. Her work has had a strong influence upon Chicana feminists and authors, including Sandra Cisneros.
In poems such as “Self-Portrait” and “Learning About Things,” Castellanos challenges women’s restrictive socialization into domestic roles. Castellanos’ poems also express women’s need to develop their own, authentic selves, as in the well-known “Meditation on the Brink,” in which Castellanos reexamines women’s historical and literary role models and concludes that there must be “another way to be human and free.” Some of Castellanos’ poems, such as “Kinsey Report” and “Brief Chronicle,” demystify the culturally taboo subject of women’s sexuality.
Castellanos’ fiction depicts the damaging effects of women’s economic and social dependence on men and of the patriarchal expectations that shape women’s lives. In “Fleeting Friendships,” a young woman who defies convention by eloping with a stranger faces censure but may succeed in creating a life of her own; by contrast, Romelia, in “The Widower Roman,” expects to gain power and wealth through marriage, only to find herself abandoned by a husband who falsely claims that she was not a virgin. In “Cooking Lesson,” marriage again threatens the identity of the female narrator, who compares herself to a piece of steak that is changed and ultimately destroyed by cooking.
Castellanos’ play, The Eternal Feminine, offers an extended examination of the stereotypical roles assigned to women in Mexican culture. Set in a beauty salon, the play contrasts the excessive attention paid to women’s external appearance with the neglected state of women’s inner lives. The main character, Lupita, arrives to have her hair styled for her wedding. A device attached to a hair dryer induces Lupita to dream. Most of Lupita’s dreams reveal the limited options available to Mexican women. In act 2, however, a group of legendary women, including Eve and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, present a feminist revision of Mexican women’s history. At the play’s conclusion, Lupita’s ruined hair symbolizes the situation of women, who, having rejected stereotypical roles, must re-create themselves.