Themes and Meanings
Roberta Fernández’s “Esmeralda” is a feminist story in the most basic sense of the term, in that it concerns itself with women and vindicates them. It is about the harm that men do to women, and the ways that women cope. It is also about resisting victimization and is about love. The two epigraphs that introduce the story announce these themes. One is from popular culture, the other from a writer. There is some tension between them; in many respects, they may be reduced to opposites. For example, one may point out that in the story, popular culture speaks with flowery language about love and beauty (the song, the columnist’s words), and that, with education and experience, one learns to distrust such messages (Ntozake Shange’s poem, Verónica’s experience). Fernández, however, is interested in more than sending a message. Her characters and events are rarely simply opposites or symbols. For example, the men are not all bad. The twins Orión and Orso are insensitive and immature, but they—not the police—do what they can to help protect Verónica. Omar and David are loving and gentle. This makes the evil of Alfredo and the Mondragón brothers more believable.
Likewise, Fernández’s women characters are not all good. Verónica marries not for love but as a means of escape. She retreats. The story is feminist simply in its advocacy of the women characters and its insistence on the realities of women’s experience. Women do get raped; they also fall in love (even with the song’s sweet and total surrender).
Another theme that pervades the story can be seen in its numerous acts of revealing and concealing. Family secrets are kept and told; Verónica, who is put on public display, remains quiet and out of reach even to Nenita, and lives a lie with her husband; Alfredo’s angry “discovery” of Verónica and Omar uncovers his morally reprehensible, yet unspoken (hidden) desires.