What did Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's work reveal about colonialism—especially Spanish colonialism in the Americas?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was first known as...

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana [and] was born in colonial Mexico, a closed society dominated by the Catholic church and by men. There was little room for an intelligent, educated woman.

Colonialism is defined as:

...the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory.

At one point, Spain's realm, which expanded through colonialism, spread so far that it was said that on this empire...

...the sun never set.

In the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese and the Spanish were searching for new trade routes. The "Spanish Empire" was made up of "territories and colonies" in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, etc. With Christopher Columbus leading a Spanish expedition, the discovery of the "New World" presented unparalleled opportunities not only for colonization, but also to acquire enormous wealth.

The Age of Discovery is seen as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era...

Growing knowledge of places being discovered all over the globe aroused a great deal of curiosity, and Mexico City would not have been immune. Sor Juana, at the age of eight, went to Mexico City and nine years later was invited by the viceroy (Viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo) to be an "intellectual companion" to his wife. Sor Juana had begged for an education, but women did not attend universities, and she had to teach herself to read and to further her education by sneaking into her grandfather's library to borrow books. It would come, then, as no surprise that Sor Juana was believed to be a prodigy at the age of three. Reflecting a more modern attitude was the viceroy's desire that his wife have an intellectual companion—this, in a strongly male-dominated society. In this environment, moving throughout elevated social circles, as well as finding herself in the company of government officials at court, Sor Juana would (with her keen intellect) have been just as entranced by stories of foreign lands and the New World, ushering in a "modern age" into Spain.

Sor Juana eventually joined the convent at St. Jerome. As a woman who desired to learn more, unless a husband permitted such a thing (and she did not want to marry), the Church would be her only haven for "education." The Roman Catholic Church had long been the seat of higher learning, and its "members" were also the keepers of history because they had the ability to read and write.

Sor Juana's writing would have reflected the fascination of countries throughout Europe, particularly Spain of newly discovered cultures. Though a respected poet, Sor Juana's work seems to have been influenced by the new knowledge coming from the New World, including information regarding, for instance, science and the natural world.

Juana excelled at the observation and analysis of natural phenomena and was determined to extend those intellectual skills in the study of theology—queen of the sciences.

Additionally, as the world grew "smaller," with Spain playing a large part, Sor Juana would have been a staunch supporter of:

...the progression of human knowledge.

As colonization knew few boundaries, Sor Juana's intellectual pursuits would have mirrored the national desire to take a strong position in the modern world forming throughout the world, especially in Europe.

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