What hints are there in “Respuesta a Sor Filotea” that indicate that Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is responding to some criticism?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “Respuesta a Sor Filotea” by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, there are quite a few references that show that she was responding to criticism when she wrote it.

In one case, Sor Juana humbles herself by stating that she is not a learned person (untrue), and declares that she does not want to get in trouble with the Church:

What understanding do I possess, what studies, what subject matter, or what instruction...? They can leave such things to those who understand them; as for me, I want no trouble with the Holy Office, for I am but ignorant and tremble lest I utter some ill-sounding proposition or twist the true meaning of some passage.

Sor Juana explains that she has received many "reprimands," that God has given her the gift of intelligence, and that she has prayed that God would diminish her "intellect" so that she can better do God's work—and only God's work. This indicates to me that all she has and is struggling to confine what she does—defending that God has given her a need to study and learn. As a nun, in that God has given her a gift, it could only be condemnation on someone else's part that would make her ask God to take away some part of the blessing he felt appropriate to give her. She also alludes to the idea within society that a woman with too much knowledge is dangerous.

For ever since the light of reason first dawned in me, my inclination to letters was marked by such passion and vehemence that neither the reprimands of others (for I have received many) nor reflections of my own (there have been more than a few) have sufficed to make me abandon my pursuit of this native impulse that God Himself bestowed on me. His Majesty knows why and to what end He did so, and He knows that I have prayed that he snuff out the light of my intellect, leaving only enough to keep His Law. For more than that is too much, some would say, in a woman...

Sor Juana goes on to note that while she has tried to change, she has been unable to escape her greatest enemy: herself.

I thought I was fleeing myself, but --- woe is me! --- I brought myself with me, and brought my greatest enemy in my inclination to study...

Sor Juana's use of the word "transgression" in her question directly challenges a critic as to what she has done wrong:

Then where is my transgression, if I refrain even from that which is permissible to women --- to teach by writing --- because I know myself to lack the abundant talent needed for it...?

There is also a defensive note in the following with the use of the word "crime" as written by Sor Juana:

If my crime lies in the "Letter Worthy of Athena"...

Additional phrases in her writing of “Respuesta a Sor Filotea” create a tone of defense against criticism:

Then what harm can verses cause...For their misuse is no fault of the art...And if the evil lies in their being used by a woman...

Sor Juana did receive a letter of praise and criticism which prompted her to write “Respuesta a Sor Filotea.” Though it was written ostensibly by another poetess, it actually came from a bishop who suggested that she stop writing for a non-religious ("secular") world and devote herself to her faith. She sold her books—said to number about four thousand. Though greatly admired as a writer, she removed herself from the public arena and, while seeing to the needs of some fellow nuns who had become ill from an epidemic, she too succumbed to the same illness and died at the age of forty-four.

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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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