Rosario Castellanos 1925–-1974
Mexican poet, short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism on Castellanos's short fiction from 1972 through 1999.
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 her 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 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 and, subsequently, served 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. Castellanos 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 (1960; City of Kings), Los convidados de agosto (1964; Guests in August) and Album de familia (1971; 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 City of Kings are set largely in the rural Mexican countryside, those in Guests in August in provincial towns, and in Family Album 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 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.
Ciudad Real [City of Kings] 1960
Los convidados de agosto [The Guests of August] 1964
Album de familia [Family Album] 1971
A Rosario Castellanos Reader: An Anthology of Her Poetry, Short Fiction, Essays, and Drama (poetry, short stories, essays, and plays) 1988
Another Way to Be: Selected Works (poetry, essays, and short stories) 1990
Apuntes para una declaración de fe (poetry) 1948
Trayectoria del polvo (poetry) 1948
Dos poemas (poetry) 1950
Sobre cultura femenina (essays) 1950
De la vigilia estéril (poetry) 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 pescaditos (criticism) 1975
Meditación en el umbral: Antología poética [Meditation on the Threshold: A Bilingual Anthology of Poetry] (poetry) 1988
The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos (poetry) 1988
SOURCE: McMurray, George R. Review of Album de familia, by Rosario Castellanos. Books Abroad 46, no. 2 (spring 1972): 275.
[In the following review, McMurray praises Castellanos's portrayal of women in Album de familia.]
The latest work by Rosario Castellanos [Album de familia], Mexico's leading woman author and presently her country's ambassador to Israel, comprises three short stories and one novelette, all of which portray feminine characters in more or less typical contemporary situations. “Lección de cocina,” the best of the collection, records the interior monologue of a young, career-minded housewife whose thoughts wander in phenomenological patterns as she inadvertently burns a steak she is preparing for her tradition-bound husband. The meat, shrunken and toughened through overexposure to heat, appears to symbolize the couple's marriage which is constantly being eroded by friction and rapidly approaching the inevitable breakdown. Here form and content fuse, the protagonist's fleeting psychic digressions reflecting not only the deterioration of her emotional life but the accelerating momentum of change in the physical and social environment as well.
“Domingo” depicts the sterile, frivolous world of an upperclass woman anticipating her next amorous adventure while giving an informal reception, and “Cabecita blanca” focuses on an aging widow's extreme loneliness, the direct product of an absurdly sheltered and not atypical Latin upbringing. The protagonist of “Album de familia,” the book's most extensive narration, is a renowned poetess who has just returned to her native Mexico after winning an international literary award. Ironically, however, her escape from a hostile environment into the realm of art, instead of liberating her, has driven her to the point of paranoia.
Rosario Castellanos' hallmarks include linguistic precision, psychological penetration, and wry humor. Her vivid portraits of females groping vainly for identity through a maze of crumbling traditions in a male-dominated society dramatize the plight of today's alienated woman and help explain the mounting incidence of communication failures.
SOURCE: Dorward, Frances R. “The Short Story as a Vehicle for Mexican Literary Indigenismo.” Letras Femeninas 13, nos. 1-2 (1987): 53-66.
[In the following essay, Dorward compares the indigenista short stories of Castellanos, María Lombardo de Caso, and Emma Dolujanoff.]
In this article it is proposed to examine the largely contemporaneous short stories of three Mexican women writers: Rosario Castellanos, María Lombardo de Caso, and Emma Dolujanoff, in order to produce not only an evaluation of the indigenista short-story output of each individual author but also to cast some light on the relationship between cuento and novel in the...
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SOURCE: Ahern, Maureen. “Reading Rosario Castellanos: Contacts, Voices, and Signs,” In A Rosario Castellanos Reader: An Anthology of Her Poetry, Short Fiction, Essays, and Drama, edited by Maureen Ahern, pp. 31-8. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.
[In the following excerpt, Ahern discusses several factors that shaped Castellanos's development as a short fiction writer.]
FICTION: UNDER A MAN'S HAND
Rosario Castellanos' fiction centers on two areas of experience long overlooked in Mexican letters: the critique of racial and cultural oppression of indigenous peoples in Chiapas and the status of women in provincial and urban Mexico. The...
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SOURCE: Schaefer, Claudia. “Introduction.” In City of Kings, translated by Robert S. Rudder and Gloria Chacón de Arjona, pp. 13-19. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Schaefer examines the major thematic concerns of the stories in City of Kings.]
A writer capable of plotting the most superbly ironic of situations for her characters and a woman deeply aware of her own role in the everyday ironies of the Mexican social reality in which she lived and wrote, Rosario Castellanos would undoubtedly find a certain amount of joyful paradox in the translation of Ciudad real [City of Kings] (1960) for an...
(The entire section is 2886 words.)