Please give a summary of the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's "Reply."  "Reply" is also known as "La Respuesta a Sor Filotea."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's letter entitled "La Respuesta a Sor Filotea" (also known simply as "Reply"), this brilliant young nun responds to a variety of issues.

She writes first about an opinion that was spread abroad that she should concentrate more on "the study and explication of the Scriptures." She explained that she did not feel well-versed enough to address these topics, and that they should be left to those better suited. Her studies have been conducted to help her to grow intellectually, but she says she does not have enough expertise to teach—in fact, she says it would be "boundless arrogance in me." She simply wants to study for the sake of learning.

Sor Juana admits that she has a passion for learning that she has had all her life. She does not know if it is a blessing or a curse, but knows that when she tries to stop, there is an explosive reaction within her that makes her want to study and learn more than before.

Noting one mother superior who refused to let Sor Juana read, the young nun reports that she obeyed and did not pick up a book for the three months when she was under this mother superior's supervision. However, it was impossible to stop learning. The world around her—nature—became her primer rather than a book.

Cooking comes up in her letter. Sor Juana reports that she spent time in the kitchen learning "woman's work." She writes:

...my Lady, what can we women know, save philosophies of the kitchen?

(Her tone is deferential, but I find it hard to believe that Sor Juana actually believed this, in that she started reading very young—being considered by many a child prodigy—and could hardly keep from philosophizing as an adult.)

Next Sor Juana wonders what she has done wrong. She does not teach by writing for she feels she is not educated enough to do so. If people disagree with what she writes, they have that option, just as she disagreed with Vieira. She is simply sharing her opinions.

Finally she refers to her poetry, stating that many people condemn and "vilify" it. She doesn't understand these responses. She has tried to find a reason for it, but cannot. If someone writes something that is inappropriate, she challenges that it is not the fault of the art but the artist: she notes that problems arise from...

...the bad practitioner who debases [poems], fashioning devil's snares of them. And this occurs in all the faculties and sciences.

If there is evil, it exists everywhere, not just in poetry. Sor Juana cannot imagine that the problem with poetry is because a woman is writing it. She closes the letter defending her poetry by saying:

...I wager not a soul has ever seen an indecent verse of mine.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote a reply to the Bishop of Puebla, whom she addresses as Sor Filotea de la Cruz, to contest his assertion that she should spend more time on religious study than on secular study. Before contesting the bishop's assertions, she first humbles herself before him and states that she has nothing worthwhile to tell him. She then launches into the story of her life and her unquenchable thirst for wisdom, which started at age 3. She defends her pursuit of secular wisdom, as it informs her religious studies. She says, for example, "Without logic, how could I possibly know the general and specific methods by which the Holy Scriptures are written?" She recounts that she was tormented by nuns who thought her studies unholy, but she says Jesus Christ was also tormented with a crown of thorns because he too was full of wisdom.

She recounts a long list of women of antiquity who were scholars and then says that while Arce wrote that women should not speak or study publicly on scripture, women should be allowed to study scripture privately. She believes that just as Jerome educated his daughter, Leta, Leta's disciples, the nuns, should also be educated. Having older women who are educated, she writes, would make it unnecessary for young women to learn with potentially lecherous male teachers. In addition, secular learning would allow women to more deeply understand difficult texts in the scripture. She concludes her reply with a defense of her poetry, which she claims she always did for others, and promises to show her writing to the bishop for corrections. 

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