Sor Juana was a complex figure: a woman in a patriarchal society, a court favorite, a nun who once fired her confessor. Find passages from Sor Juana’s work that help explain or illuminate her cultural power. What do these passages suggest about the woman, her world, and her enduring legacy?

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz seems very modern in her attitude to such social questions as gender dynamics, making many of the same points as modern and contemporary feminists. However, she also appears timeless and universal in her contemplative poetry on the mysterious of the cosmos.

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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz writes on a wide range of subjects with a combination of passionate intensity and intellectual enquiry. These qualities make her seem both modern and timeless. The main thing she tells us about seventeenth-century Mexico is that it was not very different from our own culture. In terms of her social commentary, Sor Juana was an early feminist, who commented scathingly on the patriarchal society in which she lived with poems such as "You Foolish Men." This contains criticism of male behavior towards, and views of, women which are echoed in twentieth and even twenty-first century feminism:

With foolish arrogance
you hope to find a Thais
in her you court, but a Lucretia
when you've possessed her.

What kind of mind is odder
than his who mists
a mirror and then complains
that it's not clear.

Thais was a Greek courtesan, a companion of Alexander the Great. Lucretia was the model of Roman virtue, a woman who would rather die than submit to the advances of a man to whom she was not married. Sor Juana exposes the hypocrisy of men by showing that the kind of woman they want, sexually available and adventurous but at the same to perfectly pure and chaste, not only does not exist, but could not possibly exist. Her point that men make every effort to seduce women, then complain that they are impure, is a similarly modern one.

However, Sor Juana is timeless as well as modern. Her long philosophical poem, First Dream, articulates the bewilderment of the human soul, faced by the incomprehensibility of the universe. While her contemporaries in New England were coming up with trite sectarian answers to the same ultimate questions of meaning, Sor Juana's responses combine universality with negative capability in her poetic exploration.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 16, 2020
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