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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A third-person omniscient narrator supplies information on Constancia’s age and appearance and the details of her daily life: At thirty-eight she is “still a pretty woman. Her olive face unlined, the black, wavy hair slightly gray.” She is much like her neighbors, in a Mexican neighborhood of first-and second-generation Mexicans in Southern California in the 1940’s—the time and place on which Ponce focuses much of her writing. Ponce’s occasional use of Spanish words (such as el lavadero for washroom, cocido for stew, and hija mía for my daughter) gently reinforces the Latino context.

Ponce’s use of Constancia’s point of view lifts the narrative above mere social realism of place to create an intimate portrait of a woman straddling the boundaries of several conflicting worlds—Mexico versus the United States, the past versus the present, the present versus the future, freedom versus commitment, youth versus maturity, and most important, death versus life and despair versus hope. Ponce uses a variety of symbols and metaphors to represent these conflicts. The name Constancia (“constancy”) is the most obvious example, for despite her reverie and a certain longing for the halcyon days of her youth in Mexico, she is indeed constant. She fulfills all of her obligations as a wife and mother despite personal cost. Although her husband, Justo, may not have fulfilled the promise of his youth, he provides well for his family and is an honorable and just man, respected by all.

The month of “Enero” used as the title of the story seems carefully chosen to symbolize new beginnings and hope. The rosebush that Constancia tends is a metaphor for her situation as the mother of so many unplanned children: The suckers that spring up at the base of the rosebush are its attempt to propagate itself, and yet its “offspring” divert the rose’s vitality to themselves, hampering its growth just as...

(The entire section is 489 words.)