Ferré, Rosario (Short Story Criticism)
Rosario Ferré 1939-
See also Rosario Ferre Contemporary Literary Criticism.
One of the first overtly feminist writers from Puerto Rico, Ferré is known for writing fiction, poetry, and essays that critique traditional Puerto Rican culture. Often considered a magical realist for the ways in which she fractures time, shifts points of view, and uses surrealist imagery, Ferré draws attention to how women have been depicted in Western myths of femininity, often focusing on the relationships between gender and class, in particular the privileged class. Her first collection of short stories, Papales de Pandora (The Youngest Doll), criticizes historical representations of women as dolls and other figures who exist primarily for the gratification of male desire. However, Ferré's stories do more than merely describe women's subordinate social and cultural positions; they also underscore the possibility and necessity for transformation.
Rosario Ferré was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the daughter of financier and future governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Ferré, and Lorenza Ramirez Ferré. The same year that she was born her mother's brother died in a plane crash, a loss that haunted Ferré's early childhood. Because she was preoccupied with mourning for her brother, Lorenza Ferré could not provide much joy for her daughter. When the family hired a nanny, Gilda Ventura, to take care of Rosario, her life changed. As happy as Lorenza Ferré was sad, Gilda introduced Roasario to the world of myth and fairytales where, though terrible things happened, the heroes and heroines escaped unharmed. Ferré frequently uses myths and fairytales as narrative foundations from which to examine sociopolitical issues. She published her own stories and edited those of others in Zona de carga y descarga, a literary journal she helped found in 1972. While a Master's candidate in Spanish literature at the University of Puerto Rico in the early 1970s, Ferré further developed her knowledge of literature and Puerto Rican history under the mentorship of Hispanic American scholars Mario Vargas Llosa and Angel Rama. In 1976 Ferré published her first collection of short stories, The Youngest Doll, for which she won an award from Ateneo Puertorriqueno, the prestigious Puerto Rican cultural institution. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1986.
In stories that center on the interweavings of race, class, gender, and sexuality in Puerto Rico, Ferré merges Puerto Rican folktales and Western myths to explore the multiple causes for how the island's past affects its present. Her primary concern is Puerto Rican women, who historically have been tied to ideas of passivity and domesticity. In "La muñeca menor" ("The Youngest Doll"), for example, Ferré overturns common feminine stereotypes, while showing their relationship to the socio-economic structure of Puerto Rico. The image of the doll in this story recurs in many Ferré stories as a symbol of idealized femininity. Ferré, however, demonstrates how this very image has helped to limit women's progress, detailing the ways in which class expectations undergird gender roles. As Carmen S. Rivera noted, "Ferré seems to warn her readers that when a woman's voice and sexuality is confined and 'gagged' by male oppression, she begins to rot and smell as decomposed flesh beneath the ever passive beauty of her porcelain face." In the controversial story "When Women Love Men" Ferré examines the partnership between a repressed, privileged widow and a black prostitute, both named Isabel, who loved the same man and received equal shares of his property after his death. The story concerns miscegenation in Puerto Rico, changes in the island's social structure, and the multiple sexual identities of women. Ultimately, according to Ferré, it "is a story which points to specific social problems: the frigidity of women of the higher social class as well as the sexual exploitation of prostitutes are both a consequence of an unjust social hegemony in the hands of men."
The initial response to Ferré's short fiction was one of shock and rage. Copies of her sexually charged story "When Women Love Men" were publically burned at its first publication in 1972. Even so, with the translation of her works into English and the increasing popularity of Latin American women's fiction, Ferré's reputation in the United States is growing. Her use of metafictional devices, such as multiple narrators, and her reworkings of myth and fairytale put her squarely in the school of "magical realist" writers, with one difference: in addition to changing the stereotypes of women in literature, Ferré wants to change how women are seen in life as well.
Papales de Pandora [The Youngest Doll] (short stories and poetry) 1976
Las dos Venecias (short stories and poetry) 1990
Sweet Diamond Dust and Other Stories (short stories) 1996
Other Major Works
Sitio a Eros: trece ensayos literarios (essays) 1980
Fábulas de la garza desangrada (poetry) 1982
El acomador: una lectura fantástica de Felisberto Hernández (criticism) 1986
Maldito amor [Sweet Diamond Dust] (novel) 1986
El árbol y sus sombras [essays] 1989
El coloquio de las perras (essays) 1990
The House on the Lagoon (novel) 1995
Eccentric Neighborhoods (novel) 1998
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SOURCE: "Power and the Text: Rebellion in Rosario Ferré's Papales de Pandora," in The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring, 1984, pp. 70-80.
[In the following essay, Vélez details the narrative structure of Ferré's story "Sleeping Beauty" to demonstrate how the protagonist undermines patriarchal authority, a recurring theme in Ferré's short fiction.]
Rosario Ferré is a Puerto Rican feminist who has published a considerable number of essays, short stories, and newspaper articles. At present she lives in the United States and is working on a novel. "Sleeping Beauty" ("La Bella Durmienta"), the short story whose narrative structure I will discuss here, appears in a collection of short stories entitled Papeles de Pandora, which I have translated as Pandora's Sisters.1 The broadest questions I shall address concerning this text are: what are its narrative strategies, and how and to what extent do these strategies lend themselves to a subversion of patriarchal norms? In particular, I shall examine the "pastiche" form in an attempt to understand why it seems so well suited for this subversion. Explaining the ideological effectiveness of the pastiche will lead me subsequently to focus attention on the orders of representation found in the text: what extrinsic texts are present, how are they rewritten or transformed in the...
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SOURCE: "The Writer's Kitchen," translated by Diana L. Vélez, in Lives on the Line: The Testimony of Contemporary Latin American Authors, edited by Doris Meyer, University of California Press, 1988, pp. 212-27.
[In the following essay, adapted by the author from a speech, Ferré discusses her personal motivations for writing fiction. Ferré states: "Writing is for me above all a physical knowledge, an irrefutable proof that my human form — individual and collective — exists. But writing is also an intellectual knowledge, the discovery of a form that precedes me. It is only through pleasure that we can encode the testimony of the particular in the experience of the general, as a record of our history and our time."]
I HOW TO LET YOURSELF FALL FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE
Throughout time, women narrators have written for many reasons: Emily Brontë wrote to prove the revolutionary nature of passion; Virginia Woolf wrote to exorcise her terror of madness and death; Joan Didion writes to discover what and how she thinks; Clarice Lispector discovered in her writing a reason to love and be loved. In my case, writing is simultaneously a constructive and a destructive urge, a possibility for growth and change. I write to build myself word by word, to banish my terror of silence; I write as a speaking, human mask. With respect to words, I have much for which to be...
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SOURCE: "Rosario Ferré," in Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out, Rutgers University Press, 1993, pp. 83-103.
[In the following interview, which took place in 1991, Ferré discusses her background and fiction, particularly her stories.]
In 1974, Puerto Rican artist Francisco Rodón displayed a portrait of writer Rosario Ferré, surrounded by flames and wearing newsprint. Entitled Andromeda, the painting invokes the mythological daughter sacrificed for her mother's follies and, with her father's complicity, put on a rocky ledge to be devoured by a serpent. Andromeda was rescued by Perseus, but no one rescued Ferré when the furor arose which led to the painting.
The daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico and a graduate student in Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico, Ferré had broken a cultural taboo. In 1972, in the seventh issue of Zona de carga y descarga ("Loading and Unloading Zone"), a literary magazine she founded and edited at the university, she published "When Women Love Men," a short story she had written to shock. In sexually explicit language, the story explores the thoughts and personalities of an upper-class widow and a prostitute who meet after the death of the man they shared. So outraged were some Puerto Ricans that they burned the magazine (thus the flames in Rodón's painting). They labeled Ferré a traitor to her class...
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SOURCE: Foreword to Papales de Pandora: The Youngest Doll, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, pp. ix-xiv.
[In the following essay, Franco comments briefly on the themes connecting Ferré's stories in Papales de Pandora.]
In her essay "The Writer's Kitchen," Rosario Ferré asserts that imagination is "irreverence towards the establishment," that it is "always subversive." Ferré's irreverence is directed toward the class into which she was born, and beyond that to the patriarchal ties that bind the overprotected lives of upper-class women and the oppression and marginalization of working-class women of color. The heritage of slavery in Ferré's native Puerto Rico not only continues to mark the underclasses with both its concealed and not-so-concealed racisms but it has affected the telling of Puerto Rico's official history in which the people of color have been all but invisible.
The problems of Puerto Rican identity have been compounded by its anomalous situation as a commonwealth or Estado Libre Asociado—the only country in the world which is still attached to the United States without being fully integrated as a state nor fully autonomous. Puerto Rico became one of the first areas of Latin America to feel the full effects of global Americanization, to witness the massive emigration of people from the land and into the cities, first to San Juan and then to New York; it was also the...
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SOURCE: "How I Wrote 'When Women Love Men'," in Papales de Pandora: The Youngest Doll, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, pp. 147-51.
[In the brief essay that follows, Ferré details her rationale for the story "When Women Love Men." The author asserts "'When Women Love Men,' in short, is a story which points to specific social problems: the frigidity of women of the higher social class as well as the sexual exploitation of prostitutes are both a consequence of an unjust social hegemony in the hands of men."]
Anger has caused innumerable women writers to write well. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Mexican nun, for example, would talk of her poems as fencing foils, with which she would both stab her opponents and defend herself from attack; Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and the Brontë sisters were all angry writers who personified, in their Gothic monsters and deranged heroines, the frustrations they themselves experienced as women. The fact that Virginia Woolf spoke so energetically against anger in A Room of One's Own is ironically a proof of the importance of suppressed anger in her own novels. A Room of One's Own is an essay built on anger, although on a special type of anger: that which has been refined in the crucible of irony.
There are two kinds of irony in literary convention: irony can be a play on words (a pun, a parody, a paradox can all be ironic), in which...
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SOURCE: "Porcelain Face/Rotten Flesh: The Doll in Papales de Pandora," in Chasqui, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, November, 1994, pp. 95-101.
[In the essay below, Rivera discusses the significance of the doll motif in Ferré's short story collection Papales de Pandora, concluding that "Ferré seems to warn her readers that when a woman's voice and sexuality is confined and 'gagged' by male oppression, she begins to rot and smell as decomposed flesh beneath the ever passive beauty of her porcelain face."]
"En esta casa las mujeres hablan cuando las gallinas mean," says Don Julio de la Valle to his wife in "Maldito amor"(24). This popular saying summarizes the silent role that has been prescribed for women in Puerto Rican social, political, economic, and religious institutions. Hélène Cixous warns us that women have been silent for a long time: "Muffled throughout their history, they have lived in dreams, in bodies (though muted), in silences, in aphonic revolts" (886). She believes that the repression of language and feminine sexuality go hand in hand and that the only way for women to have their own voices, their own discourse, is by claiming their bodies: "By writing her self, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her . . . Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time" (880).
Rosario Ferré uses the doll motif in Papeles...
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SOURCE: "Rosario Ferré's 'La muñeca menor' and Caribbean Myth," in Chasqui, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, November, 1994, pp. 102-10.
[In the following essay, Zee examines the abundant "indigenous cultural and mythological references and allusions" in Ferré's story "La muñeca menor."]
There have been numerous studies of Rosario Ferré's short story "La muñeca menor," the first piece in Papeles de Pandora (1976). While many of these studies are insightful as regards both the fantastic aspects of the work and the feminist quality which underlies it, to date no examination has been made of the indigenous cultural and mythological references and allusions which are pervasive throughout. I should like to investigate Ferré's use of Caribbean/Greater Antilles traditions, customs and mythology, which will serve to contextualize and further elucidate one of the finest stories of the fantastic mode in the Spanish language.
Lucia Guerra-Cunningham explains Ferré's often generous use of specifically Puerto Rican imagery and vocabulary, and helps us understand why the author has turned to Taino mythology in order to address twentieth-century issues and propose solutions:
el sometimiento de lo natural y autóctono . . . debiera ser recibido . . . con ira que conduzca a la acción y la rebelión. En este sentido la oposición entre los elementos tipicos...
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SOURCE: "Text and Countertext in Rosario Ferré's 'Sleeping Beauty*," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 33, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 207-18.
[Below, Glenn offers an informative analysis of Ferré's short story "Sleeping Beauty," focusing in particular on the author's methods for conveying her message of social oppression and its consequences.]
Rosario Ferré is one of a group of angry young Puerto Rican women authors who have seized the pen and wielded it effectively. Educated on the island and the mainland, Ferré is the daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico and by birth a member of the upper-class, conservative society she satirizes in her fiction. She has acknowledged that writing is for her a destructive as well as a constructive endeavor and that she is driven by a need for vengeance and a desire to give permanence to what hurts and to what attracts her ("Writer's Kitchen" 215). The anger that impels much of her work is evident in her 1976 collection of stories and poems, Papeles de Pandora (Pandora's Papers or Pandora's Roles).1 In Greek mythology, Pandora is identified as the first woman and is given by each of the gods some power that could bring about the ruin of man. According to certain accounts, her husband, Epimetheus, opens the vessel containing the gifts and thereby releases plagues, sorrow, and mischief upon mankind. The version...
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Hintz, Suzanne S. Rosario Ferré, A Search for Identity. New York: Peter Lang, 1995, 275 p.
Presents an overview of the author and her works from a feminist perspective.
Olmos, Margante Fernández. "From a Woman's Perspective: The Short Stories of Rosario Ferré and Ana Lydia Vega." In Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America, edited by Doris Meyer, pp. 78-89. Brooklyn: Brooklyn College Press, 1983.
Compares Ferré's stories to those of Ana Lydia Vega, centering on the authors' treatment of feminist and cultural issues.
Skinner, Lee. "Pandora's Log: Charting the Evolving Literary Project of Rosario Ferré." Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 29, No. 3 (October 1995): 461-76.
Traces Ferré's narrative development, focusing in particular on her essay "La cocina de la escrita," her short story "La muñeca menor," her novel Maldito amor, and her short story collection Las dos Venecias.
Additional coverage of Ferré's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Group: Hispanic Literature Criticism Supplement.
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