Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Wicked Girl,” with its ironic ending, focuses on two of Isabel Allende’s favorite themes: the power of passion and the strength of ordinary Latin American women such as Elena and her mother. Males dominate Latin American society, and Bernal seems to have everything under control. He makes the boardinghouse adhere to his schedule of demands by seducing the owner and bewitching her daughter. When he almost succumbs to Elena’s seduction techniques, he calls her “wicked” for tempting him to break ancient taboos about having sex with young girls.

What he is not prepared for, however, is the effect of this seemingly inconsequential event involving a nondescript young girl. The power she has over him becomes his obsession, making him an outcast from mainstream society, sneaking around spying on young girls exactly as Elena spied on him and the other boarders.

Elena, on the other hand, prospers. Being sent away from her oppressive home situation opens up opportunities. She goes on to college and gets a job in a bank, certainly better than waiting on roomers in a boardinghouse. When she returns to visit Bernal for the first time, she is still shy and not attractive, but the young man with her is begging to marry her, and she has a successful career. She, not Bernal, is in the position of power. She shows her real strength at the end of the story, when Bernal pours out his years of pining for her. She is astounded. She has forgotten the incident, filing it away with life’s other learning experiences. This strong woman has developed coping skills that Latin Americans usually associate with men.

In the women’s lives, passion is important. Throughout the story, love transforms. Elena’s mother, who had grown unattractive from years of hard work, blossoms under Bernal’s caresses, acting like a young girl in love. Elena shows the immature obsession of a first awakening to sexual feelings as she stalks her prey around the boardinghouse and watches her mother make love. Love and sex are a part of women’s lives. The strong woman enjoys these things but does not let them rule her life.