Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born on a hacienda near present-day Mexico City in 1648. During this period, Spain was a powerful colonial force, sending people across the Atlantic to occupy what they would call the "New World." Colonialism during this time drove Spain's economy. Through violence and the spread of communicable disease, Spain exploited the indigenous lands of the Americas for their natural resources, human labor, and crops. In this way, Spain grew in power and in wealth while the society of the colonized Spanish America became striated. At the top of the social pyramid were the Europeans, followed by those born in the colonies to European settlers. In this way, those of European descent maintained power over the indigenous population. This oppressive social stratification affected many lives, including that of Sor Juana.
A common theme across Sor Juana's body of work is colonial violence. She writes of the power of European royalty, questioning their racist values. In epigram 94, "In Which She Reveals the Honorable Ancestry of a High-Born Drunkard," she writes:
Alfeo claims he comes from kings,
he boasts of blood of royal hue...
But have no doubt, when in cups,
he's king—in spades—the King of Jokers.
Here Sor Juana mocks the role of nobility in society. One could argue she is bitter and in pain. The use of the word "claims" further suggests an ironic tone, in which nobility is posited to be nothing but a fabrication, a ruse. And in the final line, by calling the king "the king of jokers," she makes fun of him and everything the colonizers stand for.
The theme of nobility can also be seen in Scene I of Loa for the Auto Sacramental. Sor Juana writes,
Most noble Mexicans,
whose ancient origin
is found in the brilliant rays
cast like arrows by the Sun...
worship the all-powerful God of Seeds!
The word "noble" here indicates a similar tone of cynicism, in which she mocks the way nobility is conceived in Spanish colonial culture. But in contrast, the nobles are the Mexicans, the indigenous people who do not worship God and Jesus—they worship the Sun, the God of Seeds. These are natural tenets of indigenous religions and therefore a direct provocation against the Church and the Spaniards. In this vein, nobility can be manipulated as a tool of empowerment.
Another major theme is womanhood. Womanhood becomes a question of equality, as well as an avenue for empowerment. In her letter "Response to the most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz," she responds to the message of Sor Fioltea de la Cruz. It is worth noting that Sora Folitea was not a nun but rather the Bishop at the time, who disapproved of Sor Juana's writing. Sor Juana writes, "If the evil is attributed to the fact that a woman employs [the arts and sciences], we have seen how many have done so in praiseworthy fashion; what then is the evil in my being a woman?" In this line, she questions why the Bishop has a problem with a woman writing. No harm has truly come of it. In this letter, womanhood becomes a tool which she uses to question the patriarchal nature of Catholicism (and society as a whole).
Womanhood is a theme in poem 92, in which she writes,
If [women] love, they are deceived,
if they love not, hear you complain.
There is no woman suits your taste,
though circumspection be her virtue:
ungrateful, she would does not love you,
yet she who does, you judge unchaste.
In these lines, womanhood becomes a place of victimization. Sor Juana exposes the hypocrisy of men and demonstrates the way in which women can never satisfy societal demands: there will always be something wrong. Women, in this scenario, exist to serve men. Rather than womanhood being a place of empowerment, womanhood is also a complex identity which includes victimization and pain. While both quotes about womanhood outline the injustices Sor Juana experienced, they illustrate different aspects of womanhood.