Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
So Far from God is a tragicomedy that details the adventures and misadventures of Sofi and her four daughters, Esperanza, Caridad, Fe, and La Loca (Hope, Charity, Faith, and the Crazy One), all of whom possess unusual traits. Set in a small desert town in New Mexico, the novel relates the rather strange occurrences in the life of Sofi, a fiercely independent and strong-willed woman who works hard to raise her daughters and continues to care for them when they return home suffering from the effects of ill-starred love affairs.
The three oldest sisters follow society’s expectations by initially pursuing romantic love and marriage. In the case of Esperanza, her lover, Ruben (who renamed himself Cuauhtemoc during his chicano activist days), leaves her to marry a wealthy Anglo woman. After she accepts a job as a television reporter in Washington, D.C., she is sent to cover the Persian Gulf War; she is kidnapped and disappears for some time. The family finds out that she has been killed when the well-known figure of Mexican legend, La Llorona (“the Weeping Woman”), appears to La Loca to tell her that Esperanza is dead. The family receives the official news later.
Caridad, the second daughter, a hospital orderly, marries her high school boyfriend, Memo, after she becomes pregnant. Memo goes back to his former girlfriend, however, and Caridad has an abortion that is performed by her youngest sister, La Loca (who subsequently repeats the...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
A native of Chicago, Castillo is a chicana, a term with the connotation of political activism as used by Mexican Americans. Initially a poet published by small Latino presses, she later turned to fiction. In more recent years, she has been “discovered” as a Latina writer by mainstream publishers and a more general readership. Chicana critics have often defined Castillo’s literary work as social protest and feminist. Her writing, however, reflects the perspective of a chicana feminist; that is, it is a feminism infused with issues of culture, ethnicity, and social justice, as well as gender-specific concerns. So Far from God exemplifies this tendency. The novel is not necessarily a “feminist” work; nevertheless, the narrative is written from a chicana feminist perspective. The emphasis on female protagonists to the exclusion of males, except as adjuncts to the narrative, is clear. The heroic Sofía is an exemplary mother whose qualities of independence, strength, and determination are often ascribed to males.
So Far from God is a change of pace for Castillo. Her first work of fiction, The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986), is an epistolary novel with a well-defined feminist focus, written in a lyrical prose. This story of the intimate friendship between two women reveals the effects of the sexual repression imposed on women by Mexican culture and the women’s rebellion against this tradition. Unlike Castillo’s first novel,...
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The Feminist Chicana Movement
The Chicano/a Movement was born in the wine-growing region of California in the early 1970s when Cesar Chavez organized the mainly Hispanic migrant farmworkers into an effective, vocal labor union. Within a few years authors, poets, actors, and politicians were demonstrating and demanding equal rights for Americans of Hispanic descent in terms of language recognition, cultural integrity, and political power. As the movement grew, many women within the movement began to feel left out or misunderstood. Writers like Sandra Cisneros, Josaphina Lopez, and Gloria Anzaldua argued for a pro-female wing to the movement, saying that the concerns of Hispanic women were being ignored by the traditional macho attitude of the male leaders. Ana Castillo enlivened the debate by casting doubts on both the traditional definitions of womanhood and the newer "liberated" Hispanic woman put forward by the Feminist Chicana Movement.
So Far From God also criticizes the lack of enforcement of the federal government's rules in the workplace (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the environment (Environmental Protection Agency). Castillo subtly argues, through the tragic death of Fe, that most of this enforcement comes too little, too late. OSHA is a federal agency that is supposed to monitor working conditions and the health of America's workers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, OSHA's...
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Point of View
So Far From God is told by a third-person fully omniscient narrator who intrudes in the text as almost a separate character. She is funny, witty, and irreverent. Each chapter begins with a lengthy title similar to the ''argument'' before each canto of an epic poem. The narrator then enters the text with a funny summary of the coming action. However, all this plot preview in no way detracts from the novel's excitement or the reader's enjoyment. Rather, it builds anticipation by letting readers know what is going to happen and then letting them sit back and enjoy the ride.
In her interview with Simon Romero, Castillo explains that though she did not grow up or live in the New Mexico area, she wanted to capture the style of language spoken there. She suggests that the English and the Spanish are highly localized and unlike the language spoken in California or Chicago. She mixes Spanish phrases into the text with great regularity and tries to elongate the sentences, to mimic the conversation style of the peoples of the area. In her use of Englished Spanish and Spanished English, Castillo attempts to create a new language, one that all her readers can understand and enjoy.
So Far From God is written as a kind of satirical prose epic in the tradition of Cervantes's Don Quixote. Castillo's use of the supernatural, high language, episodic structure, and the witty...
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Topics for Further Study
After researching the effects of gambling addiction and its prevalence in states with lotteries, race tracks, and casinos, compare the way gambling addiction works to Domingo's situation in the novel.
Compare the spiritual and psychic healing methods practiced by Dona Felicia and Dr. Tolentino to both more traditional forms of Western medicine and faith-healing.
How do Fe's work experiences and Sofi's local activism compare to the more national program of labor and social reformers of the Hispanic and African-American communities?
Considering how the Chicano/a movement began in the U.S., how does the novel illustrate the difficulties of being female and Hispanic in American culture?
Research and view some Spanish language "tele-novellas,’’ (Hispanic soap operas). Compare the narrative structure of these "tele-novellas'' to So Far From God.
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What Do I Read Next?
Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands: La Frontera (1987) is a collection of personal essays and poetry from one of the major authors of the Chicana/o movement. The first half of the work (personal essays) deals with how Anzaldua sees herself as a woman, an Hispanic, and a lesbian. The second half is a collection of poetry written from Anzaldua's soul, which speaks of heartbreak, joy, loss, and triumph. The text is written in English with a large amount of Spanish without an attempt at translation. Anzaldua argues that her use of Spanish in an English text makes her non-Spanish readers feel just like Hispanic people do in an English-only world.
The House on Mango Street (1989) and Woman Hollering Creek (1991) are the two major works by Sandra Cisneros, perhaps the most recognized writer of the Chicana/o Movement. Both works, the first a novel, the second a collection of short stories, deal with the problems of being female and Hispanic in Anglo-America. The House on Mango Street is a coming of age novel about a Chicago girl named Esperanza, who through coming to grips with the poverty, class hatred, and ethnic stereotypes, creates a world of her own. Woman Hollering Creek is a collection of stories dealing with a vast array of Hispanic women from the young girl discovering sex to a professional woman trying to break the chains of Hispanic wifedom and motherhood.
Gabriella Ibieta's 1993 collection of short stories by...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Alarcón, Norma, et al., eds. Chicana Critical Issues. Berkeley, Calif.: Third Woman Press, 1993. This text focuses on issues of identity and difference and includes critical essays on chicana literature that will broaden the context for So Far from God. The bibliography by Lillian Castillo-Speed, “Chicana Studies: An Updated List of Materials, 1980-1991,” is currently the most comprehensive in print.
Castillo, Ana. “A Conversation with Ana Castillo.” Interview by Elsa Saeta. Texas College English 26 (Fall, 1993): 1-6. In this interview, Castillo discusses her development as a writer, her literary influences, and her philosophical perspectives. Helps to place Castillo’s work in context by providing insights into the personal, philosophical, and political concerns that define her work.
Castillo, Ana. “Massacre of the Dreamers—Reflections on Mexican-Indian Women in the U.S.: Five Hundred Years After the Conquest.” In Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing, edited by Philomena Mariani. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. In this critical essay, Castillo discusses some of the theoretical perspectives that influence her work. Castillo defines her poetics and examines Chicana writers’ relationship to their culture, their language, and their history.
Castillo, Ana. A MELUS Interview:...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Anzaldua, Gloria, Borderlands: La Frontera, the New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Books, p. 203.
Delgadillo, Theresa, ‘‘Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo's So Far From God,’’ in MFS, Vol. 44, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 888-916.
Lanza, Carmela Delia, ‘‘Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo's So Far From God,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 65-79.
Platt, Kamala, ‘‘Ecocritical Chicana Literature: Ana Castillo's 'Virtual Realism,’’' in Greta Gaard and Patrick Murphy's Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, University of Illinois Press, 1998, pp. 139-57.
Romero, Simon, ‘‘An Interview with Ana Castillo,’’ in NuCity, June 18-July 1, 1993.
Saeta, Elsa, "A MELUS Interview: Ana Castillo,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 133-49.
Walter, Roland, ‘‘The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 81-97.
Ferriss, Susan, Ricardo Sandoval, and Diana Hembree, editors, The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement, Harcourt Brace, 1997, p. 288.
A recent biography of Chavez and the Farmworkers' Union. Discusses his role in starting the Chicano/a...
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