Despite its apparent objectivity as “A summary report of the Yelcho expedition to the Antarctic, 1909-1910,” the story “Sur” is a surprising piece of gently subversive fiction, narrated by an unnamed woman some years after the events of the story take place. The surprise and the subversion result from the story’s feminist stance and from the attendant replacement of the value of “achievement” by “what is large.”
In the early paragraphs of the story, its feminism remains latent, hinted at only by the items with which the report will be kept—children’s clothes and toys, wedding shoes and finneskos—and by the atypical purpose stated for the expedition: “[T]o go, to see—no more, no less.” Further, the trouble encountered in gathering an expeditionary force hints at the narrator’s dissatisfaction with what women are or have been made to be, with the stark limits imposed on the average woman by her socially determined role: “So few of those we asked even knew what we were talking about—so many thought we were mad, or wicked, or both!” The following sentences, with their references to parents, husbands, children, and the responsibilities to family that are traditionally a woman’s concern, prepare the reader for the first explicit indication that this is to be an all-female expedition: the list of its participants. The knowledge of this expedition’s special character colors the rather ordinary story of travel and exploration that follows.
The report of the expedition itself proceeds naturally enough with accounts of the voyage to Antarctica on the Chilean vessel Yelcho, the choice of a site for base camp and the building of “Sudamerica del Sur,” the sledge-journey to the South Pole, and the return to base and, finally, to civilization. Each part of this report, however, reveals in various ways its feminist character. During the initial voyage, for example, the Yelcho is nicknamed la vaca valiente (the valiant cow) in memory of the “far more dangerous cows” of Juana’s past, and the members of...
(The entire section is 856 words.)