Heart of Aztlán

by Rudolfo Anaya

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Is the Anaya presenting a feminist critique in this text?

There are many ways to pull a feminist critique from Rudolfo Anaya's novel Heart of Aztlan. One way is to look at the difference between Clemente and Adelita. While Clemente insists that he's "the man of the house," it's Adelita who's sober and understanding. Another way is to think about the different narrative arcs for the daughters and the sons. While the sons get caught up in gangs, the daughters aren't allotted equal dynamism or drama.

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Are there ways in which we can discern a "feminist critique" in Rudolfo Anaya's novel Heart of Aztlan? That's a thoughtful question. One way to formulate a feminist interpretation of the novel might be by looking at central male figure.

Clemente is the head of his family—the "patriarch" we might say. Yet Clemente drinks, physically abuses his children, can't control his temper, and loses his job. What does this have to do with feminism? If Clemente—the self-proclaimed "man of this house"—has so many unsavory traits, we might wonder if Anaya is asking us to question the outsize role men play in families. Should men automatically be the one in charge? Might the Chavez family be better off if Adelita had more power?

While Clemente is unable to change with the times, Adelita comes across as understanding, adaptable, and compassionate. When Juanita and Ana want to go outside and hang out with the men they met at the store, think about the contrast between Clemente's and Adelita's responses. Clemente is irate that the men didn't knock and come inside to "meet the man of the house." But Adelita is more sober and reasonable. "Things are different here," she tells her husband.

Another way to put this novel under the feminist microscope is to think about how much attention is granted to Juanita and Ana and how much attention is allotted to their brothers Jason and Benji. While we read about Juanita and Ana going out with boys and fighting over a dress, their story doesn't have the scope as their male counterparts. Both Benji and Jason become entangled with gangs, and Jason even has an affair with a rich man's daughter.

How do these developments conform to gender stereotypes? Can girls not join gangs? Can girls not have affairs? These are some questions to think about as you consider how Anaya's novel interacts with feminist ideas and critiques.

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