Study Guide

Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

Woman Hollering Creek Essay - Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Sandra Cisneros

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Sandra Cisneros

Introduction

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories Sandra Cisneros

Mexican American poet, short story writer, novelist, and author of children's books.

The following entry presents criticism of Cisneros's short fiction collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991) from 1994 through 2002. See also, Sandra Cisneros Criticism.

Published in 1991, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories is Cisneros's second book of short fiction. The stories in the collection explore the struggle of several women living near the border of Mexico and the United States to balance the patriarchal culture of their community and their need for autonomy and self-expression. Critics commend the collection for its innovative compositional style; in fact, commentators have credited the volume—which exhibits the overall completeness of a novel, the dynamic energy of a short story, the pointedness of a vignette, and the lyricism of poetry—with transcending the boundaries of traditional literary genres.

Plot and Major Characters

Woman Hollering Creek features twenty-two narratives that involve numerous Mexican American characters living near San Antonio, Texas. Ranging in length from a few paragraphs to several pages, the stories are first-person narratives of individuals who have been assimilated into American culture but feel a divided sense of loyalty to Mexico. Critics note that the stories can be grouped into three sections. The first category of stories concerns young girls, around the age of eleven, growing up in Mexican villages or barrios in the United States. In these stories, these young girls encounter the growing tension between their Mexican heritage and the demands of an American culture. In “Mericans,” Micaela attends a Mexican church with her grandmother and reflects on her disconnection with the Spanish language and Mexican customs; as an American, she feels alienated from both American and Mexican cultures. The second group of stories in Woman Hollering Creek includes adolescent girls experiencing an initiation or epiphany. “My Tocaya” chronicles the unsuccessful attempt of a young girl, Patricia, to escape the drudgery and servitude of her life, which is defined by working long hours under difficult circumstances at her father's taco stand. The third and largest group of stories explores the challenges of mature women struggling to act against familial and cultural pressures as well as traditional gender roles. In “Woman Hollering Creek,” a Mexican bride, Cleófilas, is given in marriage to an abusive, domineering man living across the border in Texas. After numerous beatings, infidelities, and humiliations, she manages to escape her husband and returns to her father's house—only to find herself subjugated by yet another controlling male presence. In “Never Marry a Mexican,” a young Hispanic woman expresses feelings of contempt for her white lover that are fueled by her emerging sense of inadequacy and guilt resulting from her inability to speak Spanish. “Little Miracles, Kept Promises” recounts the ridicule Rosario faces when she rejects traditional gender roles and chooses an independent, educated life.

Major Themes

Critics have identified the major themes of Woman Hollering Creek as poverty and cultural suppression, the search for self-identity, and the role of women in Mexican American culture. Misogyny, violence, domestic abuse, rape, and the limitations of traditional gender roles are recurring issues for Cisneros's female characters. As many of these women realize the soul-deadening restrictions of familial and cultural expectations, they struggle toward self-definition and control over their own destinies. In several stories, her heroines attempt to escape the patriarchal limits of their culture through education and self-expression. Commentators have investigated the roles that Mexican popular culture as well as mythical figures such as La Llorona, La Malinche, and the Virgin of Guadalupe play in the stories comprising Woman Hollering Creek. Borderland themes are central to the stories in the collection, and border crossing functions as a metaphor for several characters attempting to cross cultural and artistic boundaries. Critics contend that in her stories Cisneros perceptively depicts the situation of Mexican American women caught between two distinct cultures—a kind of cultural borderland.

Critical Reception

Reviewers maintain that Woman Hollering Creek follows a structural and thematic pattern similar to her first collection of short fiction, The House on Mango Street (1983), but the female protagonists are more mature and complex. A few critics have deemed Cisneros's dialogue overly simplistic and contend that her recurrent portrayal of male violence toward women in her fiction presents an unflattering view of Hispanic life. Yet others have lauded these same elements in Cisneros's fiction, asserting that her distinctive literary and innovative techniques have been greatly unappreciated and that her concentration on cultural imperialism and women's issues has universal appeal. According to these critics, it is these aspects, in addition to her skillful prose, striking realism, and dynamic characterizations, that have established Woman Hollering Creek as a noteworthy and compelling work of short fiction.

Principal Works

The House on Mango Street (short stories) 1983

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (short stories) 1991

Bad Boys (poetry) 1980

The Rodrigo Poems (poetry) 1985

My Wicked Wicked Ways (poetry) 1987

Hairs: Pelitos (juvenilia) 1994

Loose Woman (poetry) 1994

Caramelo (novel) 2002

Criticism

L. M. Lewis (essay date fall 1994)

SOURCE: Lewis, L. M. “Ethnic and Gender Identity: Parallel Growth in Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek.Short Story 2, no. 2 (fall 1994): 69-78.

[In the following essay, Lewis classifies the stories in Woman Hollering Creek into three groups and asserts that the stories in the collection concern minority women who “find themselves confronting an external, dominant set of values.”]

Sandra Cisneros once characterized the stories in The House on Mango Street as “lazy poems” (“Do You Know Me?” 79). The collection is surely more crafted than lazy, but her latest collection, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, grows dynamically beyond it in form and in theme. According to one account, Mango Street [The House on Mango Street] portrays only “two types of girls”: those who try to escape the patriarchal limits of their culture through education, and those who trade fathers for husbands, one patriarch for another (Olivares 164). In Woman Hollering Creek [Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories], the protagonists grow in several ways, through several ages, from being defined by others, toward some self-definition, from confusion on the margins of two or three ethnic cultures, to a mature and expansive synthesis. In a parallel sequence, the same girl breaks away from a series of patriarchs, acquires a fierce independence, and celebrates her membership in a sustaining community of women. The collection is composed of three parts. The first is of children: all the characters except one are about eleven years old and live in Mexican villages or barrios in the United States. They regard their homes as safe and nurturing, expecting to be happy in them. The girls in the second group of stories are adolescents who experience an initiation or epiphany. One is seduced, learns the truth about sex, and thus becomes wise (“One Holy Night”). The other girl discovers that a father's power is hard to escape, and, as implied by the title “My Tocaya,” (namesake), she sees that all Chicana women share different versions of the same experience. The third group, the longest and most substantive, includes the half-dozen stories in which women act against the dominance of tradition, first to protect themselves, but ultimately to define themselves.

Cisneros' women begin with the work of all minority groups who find themselves confronting an external, dominant set of values. They must “syncretize,” or mix language, social protocol, and mythologies of the two cultural forces. Mayans and Aztecs were eventually forced to incorporate medieval Christian and Spanish symbols and figures into their daily lives and define Mexico for themselves; in the same way, a character like Cleófilas in Cisneros' title story, who has been literally transported into Texas from el otro lado (the other side), must construct a life for herself out of memories of her life in Mexico, episodes from telenovelas [soap operas] and the realities of Seguin, Texas. She sometimes sat on the bank of the creek, recalling stories of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) from her childhood while her own child played on a Donald Duck blanket (51). Cleófilas is not as successful as other characters in establishing synthesis, but her conflict represents the forces which will eventually be reconciled—the behavior and artifacts of two competing groups.

In early stories, the protagonist, as a child or adolescent, speaks or encounters language which is difficult, alien, clumsy, rough, or mysterious because of an incomplete reconciliation of Spanish and English in communities which demand both. In a group of later stories, there is a shift from painful conflict to a wistful regard for Spanish and an instinct to embrace those who speak it, particularly if they speak it well. Micaela, in “Mericans,” particularly exhibits the pain of not belonging. The girl shifts uneasily from knee to knee in the Mexican church, which is to her grandmother a sanctuary from a grotesque and threatening world. Raised in the U.S., which her grandmother considers barbaric, Micaela can only understand Spanish when she is “paying attention” (19). When the children speak in English, they reveal themselves as not Mexican, but not quite Americans either; they are “Mericans” (20).

There are early efforts to deny the forces of time and the dominance of English. In “One Holy Night,” a young man materializes in a Mexican American neighborhood, identifying himself as Chaq Uxmal Paloquin from “the ancient cities” in the Yucatan (27), “speaking a strange language that no one could understand,” and intending to restore the “ancient ways” and “grandeur” of his people (29-30). However, Chaq did not belong in the old culture he claimed for himself. Most of his mail was addressed to “Occupant” and his real name was Chato (Flat Face) Cruz (32). He was born, not in the Yucatan, home of the Mayan rain god, Chaq, but “on a street with no name” (33). His sister had long since compromised any connection to the ancient ways—she is a Carmelite nun (33). Instead of adopting a fanciful identity from her heritage, one of the Patricias in “My Tocaya” “adopted a phony British accent” and a “breathless” Marilyn Monroe delivery, as if to escape her place in her family and her community (37). Cleófilas abruptly moves from a small town in Mexico to a small town in Texas, remains disenfranchised because she speaks no English, and must listen to “gruff Spanish” (46) or Spanish “pocked with English” (55).

“Never Marry a Mexican” is a pivotal story, one of syncretism which is unsatisfying, bitter, even violent. In it, Clemencia is older and more mobile than earlier characters, but she is not fully at ease with her mixed identity, calling herself an “amphibian who doesn't belong to any class” (71). She is the daughter of “a Mexican girl who couldn't even speak Spanish” (69) and a father who moved to the U.S. and “must've found U.S. Mexicans very strange” (71). Appropriately, she makes part of her living by translating travel brochures, but is still uncomfortable with her idiom: “I can't even get the sayings right, even though I was born in this country” (73). The Mexican American neighborhood she chooses is not apt, but only “cute”; it looks like Sesame Street (72).

Clemencia's lover, Drew, was her “Cortés” with pale skin and a dark beard; her own skin was dark against his (74). She felt some delight at the contrast because he called it “beautiful” and made love to her in Spanish (74). However, their bond, and her resulting identity, never lasted past dawn when he would leave her her to return to his pale-skinned wife who was emphatically “not a Mexican” (74). The relationship is symbolic of a painful, perplexing syncretism. Drew, figuring as the invasive and dominating Cortés, called Clemencia his “Malinche—the Mexican name for Doña Marina, who became Cortés' mistress (Meyer and Sherman 102). She, like Clemencia, must have felt classless, amphibious. A royal Mayan child, she had been sold as a slave to one Aztec tribe, traded to another, then given to the Conquistador, Cortés. The legend demonstrates the cost of her survival and that of Clemencia. “Malinche” is traditionally a traitor's name: she became a spokesman for Cortés, encouraged Aztecs to betray their leaders, ultimately allowed the European conquest of Mexico, and bore the first “mestizo”—child with mixed blood. Clemencia uneasily confronts her alliance with Drew in those terms. She says she can live with herself because Drew's wife wasn't “a brown woman,” but admits “a bit of crazy joy” in sleeping with husbands of other women (76-77). She, like Malinche, has been used and discarded as unacceptable. Drew is fond of Mexican women, “all golden and sun-baked,” but would never marry one (76). Nor would Clemencia consider any Hispanic for a lover, rejecting a whole catalog: “Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban Chilean. …” (69). This, according to some critics, was Malinche's greatest betrayal. Her acceptance of Cortés was a “renunciation of the American Indian male,” symbolic of a “repudiation of the native in favor the foreign” (Cypess 35).

Ramon Saldivar says that Chicano literature, by its nature, must reflect such internal conflicts. It does not portray characters who can establish happy identities for themselves through a synthesis of competing cultures; the narrative “reveals the dialectical tension” without resolving it (174). In his account of Mexican American cultural development, James Vigil also characterizes synthesis as most often difficult, confused, or “shaky” (134). This is Clemencia's condition. However, she anticipates a healthy synthesis that Vigil says is also possible: a “cooperation of a sort” that can occur when the minority group assumes the dominant culture without “unlearning the native one” (134).

Lupita, in “Bien Pretty,” is the Chicana who finally constructs a full, cooperative, and comfortable ethnic identity for herself, one more expansive than a synthesis of only competing cultures. She is a Mexican American who at first wanted, in a way, to be Mexican. Her Spanish is competent, but in her mind not authentic. She had learned some of it in American schools and some from “crazy Graham,” but he “was Welsh and had learned his Spanish running guns to Bolivia” (153).

Flavio is Lupita's last and most likely lover. He ultimately fails her, but because of gender conflicts, not because he fails as a Mexican. His sense of his cultural identity is genuine, not like Chaq's which was a mask to disguise his real, shameful origins. When Flavio makes love to Lupita in Spanish, his phrasing is delicate and devout. He does not call her “Malinche” as Drew had called Clemencia. Flavio's words whispered, crooned, swept, startled, murmured, “whirred like silk, rolled, and puckered, and hissed” (153-4). His speech evokes all the sense of nurture and home from the early stories. And to Lupita, Flavio is an archetype figure. He is, in the folk tale of his grandmother, an Aztec god's third and best effort at making men (152).

Despite his fluency in Spanish which stirred Lupita's soul, she learns that he had achieved a comfortable synthesis of cultures. He moves with ease between English and Spanish, often combining them. Attributing his knowledge of myth and “indigenous” dances to his grandmother, rather than to the Popul Vuh or early ancestors (149), he will not pander to her wish to see him as the end of a clean line from the Mayans or Aztecs. When she scolds him for wearing a shirt with an alligator on it and for anglicizing words, he responds easily: “I don't have to dress in a serape and sombrero to be Mexican. I know who I am” (151). She suggests that they “‘let go of [their] present way of life and search for [their] past,’” but he corrects her:

You think old ages end, but that's not so. It's ridiculous to think one age has overcome another. American time is running along side the calendar of the sun, even if your world doesn't know it.

(150)

Ultimately Lupita discovers that she also is a combination of all the cultural forces she encounters and of all the times of her past. Her mature view is anticipated early when she moves into the home of a “Texas poet” who is “directly descended from Ixtaccihuatl or something,” holds a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, is married to a “Huichol curandero” [folk healer] and is currently in Nayarit on a Fulbright (139). The apartment is cluttered with artifacts from Haiti,...

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Alesia García (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: García, Alesia. “Politics and Indigenous Theory in Leslie Marmon Silko's ‘Yellow Woman’ and Sandra Cisneros' ‘Woman Hollering Creek’.” In Folklore, Literature, and Cultural Theory; Collected Essays, edited by Cathy Lynn Preston, pp. 3-21. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995.

[In the following essay, García contends that Leslie Marmon Silko's story “Yellow Woman” and Cisneros's “Woman Hollering Creek” are “two contemporary stories in which these writers recognize the importance of their indigenous heritage in relation to their thinking, writing, and identity as Native women in the 20th century.”]

As with any generation
the oral...

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Jacqueline Doyle (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Doyle, Jacqueline. “Haunting the Borderlands: La Llorona in Sandra Cisneros's ‘Woman Hollering Creek’.” Frontiers 16, no. 1 (1996): 53-70.

[In the following essay, Doyle examines Cisneros's utilization of the La Llorona myth in her story “Woman Hollering Creek” and argues that the story “charts psychological, linguistic, and spiritual border crossings.”]

Aiiii aiiii aiiiii

She is crying for her dead child

the lover gone, the lover not yet come:

Her...

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Michael Carroll and Susan Maher (essay date winter 1997)

SOURCE: Carroll, Michael, and Susan Maher. “‘A Las Mujeres’: Cultural Context and the Process of Maturity in Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek.North Dakota Quarterly 64, no. 1 (winter 1997): 70-80.

[In the following essay, Carroll and Maher maintain that the stories in Woman Hollering Creek traverse artistic and cultural borders in that “her narratives unfold within a temporally variegated framework of Latina sisterhood, stretching back to mythic Aztlan yet detailing the very real confines of contemporary barrio life.”]

This is a powerful time we're living in. We have to let go of our present way of life and search...

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Susan E. Griffin (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Griffin, Susan E. “Resistance and Reinvention in Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek.” In Ethnicity and the American Short Story, edited by Julie Brown, pp. 85-96. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.

[In the following essay, Griffin considers how cultural influences shape and limit the lives of the women in Woman Hollering Creek.]

In her prefatory poem to My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Sandra Cisneros asks, “What does a woman [like me] inherit that tells her how to go?” (x). This question about the cultural inheritance of Mexican American women and how it shapes their perceptions of the choices available to them is central to Cisneros' work....

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Laura Gutierrez Spencer (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Spencer, Laura Gutierrez. “Fairy Tales and Opera: The Fate of the Heroine in the Work of Sandra Cisneros.” In Speaking of the Other Self: American Women Writers, edited by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, pp. 278-87. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Spencer views “La Fabulosa: A Texas Operetta” as a retelling of the opera Carmen and asserts that by allowing her heroine to live, Cisneros is subverting the traditional fate of strong female protagonists in opera and fairy tales.]

Take away the mantillas, the golden colors, the cigars—take away Egypt and the memory of Isis—and the tale you will...

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James Phelan (essay date October 1998)

SOURCE: Phelan, James. “Sandra Cisneros's ‘Woman Hollering Creek’: Narrative as Rhetoric and as Cultural Practice.” Narrative 6, no. 3 (October 1998): 221-35.

[In the following essay, Phelan utilizes the dialogue form in order to explore the relationship between “Woman Hollering Creek,” Phelan's rhetorical analysis, and the cultural criticism found in The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau.]

Note: This essay emerged out of my efforts to think about the relations among Sandra Cisneros's moving story, “Woman Hollering Creek,” the kind of rhetorical analysis I have done in the past, and the kind of cultural criticism suggested by de...

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Veronica A. Guerra (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Guerra, Veronica A. “The Silence of the Obejas: Evolution of Voice in Alma Villanueva's ‘Mother, May I’ and Sandra Cisneros's ‘Woman Hollering Creek’.” In Living Chicana Theory, edited by Carla Trujillo, pp. 320-51. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, Guerra traces the evolution of voice in Chicana literature through an analysis of “Woman Hollering Creek” and Alma Villanueva's poem “Mother, May I.”]

Silenciosa: adj. quiet: person, house, object: noiseless.

Silenciar: v. to muffle, hush up, to cast into oblivion.

...

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Mary Pat Brady (essay date March 1999)

SOURCE: Brady, Mary Pat. “The Contrapuntal Geographies of Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.American Literature 71, no. 1 (March 1999): 117-50.

[In the following essay, Brady examines the representation of space in Woman Hollering Creek, arguing that “Cisneros's stories perform their critique of the production of space in multiple ways, within individual stories and through the interplay between and among them.”]

Driving down streets with buildings that remind him, he says, how charming this city is. And me remembering when I was little, a cousin's baby who died from swallowing rat poison in a building like these....

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Ana Maria Carbonell (essay date summer 1999)

SOURCE: Carbonell, Ana Maria. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.”1MELUS 24, no. 2 (summer 1999): 53-74.

[In the following essay, Carbonell investigates the influence of the fertility goddess Coatlicue and the mythical Mexican figure of La Llorona in “Woman Hollering Creek” and Helena Maria Viramontes's “The Cariboo Café.”]

In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua discusses the significance of the pre-conquest fertility goddess, Coatlicue, to contemporary Chicana feminist struggles. According to Anzaldua, “Coatlicue states which disrupt the smooth flow (complacency) of life are exactly...

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Katherine Payant (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Payant, Katherine. “Borderland Themes in Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek.” In The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature: Carving out a Niche, edited by Katherine B. Payant and Toby Rose, pp. 95-108. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Payant explores the borderland theme in the stories comprising Woman Hollering Creek.]

For a writer with quite a small oeuvre—a novella, a volume of poems, and a book of short fiction—Chicana feminist Sandra Cisneros has become widely read and known. Cisneros blurs lines between genres, calling her fiction, often vignettes rather than structured narratives,...

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Alexandra Fitts (essay date January 2002)

SOURCE: Fitts, Alexandra. “Sandra Cisneros's Modern Malinche: A Reconsideration of Feminine Archetypes in Woman Hollering Creek.International Fiction Review (January 2002): 11-22.

[In the following essay, Fitts discusses Cisneros's representations of three Hispanic female icons in the stories of Woman Hollering Creek: La Malinche in “Never Marry a Mexican;” the Virgin of Guadalupe in “Little Miracles, Kept Promises;” and La Llorona in “Woman Hollering Creek.”]

Sandra Cisneros's collection of stories Woman Hollering Creek [Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories] (1991) depicts the situation of the Mexican-American woman:...

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