How does becoming a mother change Cleofilas's outlook on her situation in Woman Hollering Creek? Does she define herself through motherhood?

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dashing-danny-dillinger eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Becoming a mother does in fact change the way that Cleófilas perceives her desperate situation, but not in the way readers may initially expect. Sandra Cisneros subverts readers’ expectations that Cleófilas will somehow be driven to escape her abusive husband to protect her child by having Cleófilas subtly acknowledge her child as an extra burden. Cleófilas does not define herself as a mother; indeed, it is society that defines her this way. When she considers going back to her father’s house to leave her abusive, uncouth husband, she mentally runs through the societal consequences that she would face:   

 “Sometimes she thinks of her father's house. But how could she go back there? What a disgrace. What would the neighbors say? Coming home like that with one baby on her hip and one in the oven. Where's your husband?” (50).

Cleófilas is unable to run from her dire situation because she has the added responsibility of being encumbered by a child. In one particularly dark scene, she contemplates the story of La Llorona, and relates to the grim tale:

“Is it La Llorona, the weeping woman? La Llorona, who drowned her own children.... La Llorona calling to her. She is sure of it. Cleófilas sets the baby's Donald Duck blanket on the grass. Listens. The day sky turning to night. The baby pulling up fistfuls of grass and laughing. La Llorona. Wonders if something as quiet as this drives a woman to the darkness under the trees” (51).

The subtext of this quote is that Cleófilas understands the plight of La Llorona, and can relate to the story. It is only when Cleófilas encounters the free-spirited Felice that she seems to be actively changed. Thus, it is not her status as a mother that influences Cleófilas to change and grow, but rather when she witnesses genuine feminine strength and independence. Only then does she decides to no longer play the role of a victim and grows beyond her restrictive societal script as a long-suffering mother.

Read the study guide:
Woman Hollering Creek

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