Castellanos, Rosario (Vol. 67)
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,...
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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...
(The entire section is 310 words.)
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 evolution of Mexico's indigenista literature.
The short story has tended to be neglected in studies of Mexican literary indigenismo. One reason for this is perhaps that the various significant collections of short stories within the indigenista genre, mostly emerging alongside the later novels, complicate the chronological linear evolution from early novels like Gregorio López y Fuentes' El indio (1935) to Rosario Castellanos' Oficio de tinieblas (1962) that many critics have attempted to see in Mexico's indigenista novel. Nonetheless, in its approach to the Indian and in certain technical innovations, the indigenista cuento does in fact tally with developments in the later...
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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 stories translated in this anthology [A Rosario Castellanos Reader], represent those major foci of her prose: a perversion of signs and values in “The Eagle” and women as signs of solitude and conflict under patriarchal rule in “Fleeting Friendships” and “The Widower Román.” “Three Knots in the Net” and “Cooking Lesson” are concerned with women's struggle to assert their authentic selves. However, before we turn to the texts, let us consider some of the factors that shaped Castellanos' development as a narrator of social reality in Mexico.
CHIAPAS AND CULTURAL OPPRESSION
Upon her return from Europe in 1951, Castellanos went straight to Chiapas, where she worked and wrote...
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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 English-speaking audience during the time of the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus' fateful landing on the American continent. For were it not for the act of the translator, the cultural intermediary, we perhaps could not even begin to fathom how historical events would have transpired or been reported through the centuries; and were it not for Castellanos' painfully self-conscious awareness of her own acts of cultural interpretation, we as readers would lose the rich texture of ambiguity which so permeates the relationships between the cultures of which she speaks.
The beauty—as well as the tragic irony—of Castellanos' stories in this collection and indeed of her entire written legacy to us is that while it was her fate to...
(The entire section is 2886 words.)
SOURCE: Geldrich-Leffman, Hanna. “Woman's Emerging Voice: Rosario Castellanos.” In The Dialogue of Marriage in Contemporary German and Latin American Short Stories, pp. 7-19. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.
[In the following essay, Geldrich-Leffman offers a feminist perspective on Castellanos's short fiction.]
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 (1971). 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.1
Examining Castellanos's short stories from the point of view of Bakhtin's dialogism provides new insights into her texts' treatment of marriage as a structural element and as the sign for her search for a meaningful dialogue. In fact, the turning to or away from the other, that is, the possibility or absence of communication, and the exploration of the relationship with the...
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Stoll, A. K. “‘Arthur Smith salva su alma’: Rosario Castellanos and Social Protest.” Crítica Hispánica 7, no. 2 (1985): 141-47.
Examines “Arthur Smith salva su alma” as a story of social protest expressed through mythic structures.
Additional coverage of Castellanos's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53–56, 131; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 58; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 66; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 113; DISCovering Authors: Multicultural Authors; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Feminist Writers; Hispanic Literature Criticism, Ed. 1; Hispanic Writers, Ed. 1; Latin American Writers; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; and Short Story Criticism, Vol. 39.
(The entire section is 128 words.)