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 procedure) without their mother’s knowledge. Her loving nature moves her to seek substitutes for Memo until she is bodily attacked by an evil force, a beast of legend, that almost kills her....
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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, So Far from God does not present the inner thoughts of women caught between two cultures with diverging viewpoints on the sexuality of women; instead, the reader perceives a multitude of issues concerning society as a whole, told by a narrator with a strong feminist perspective.
Most of Castillo’s poetry has feminist themes with a deeply erotic strain. Her fiction, however, is provocative and varies thematically and in literary technique. Nevertheless, in both genres, Castillo propagates her own brand of feminism.
Castillo’s first novel received the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award. Similarly, So Far from God has garnered two awards: the Carl Sandberg Literary Award in Fiction and the Mountain and Prairie Regional Booksellers Award in Fiction.
Topics for Further Study
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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...
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