Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

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Characters Discussed

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Luis Alberto Molina

Luis Alberto Molina (lew-EES ahl-BEHR-toh moh-LEE-nah), a window dresser imprisoned for the corruption of a minor. Molina is a homosexual who views himself as a woman; he even refers to himself as a girl. He believes that in any relationship he has with a man, that man should be dominant, while Molina, as the female figure, should be passive. He has an exceptional memory for films, and he entertains and distracts Valentin by telling the story lines of romantic films that he has seen. Warmhearted and caring, Molina nurses Valentin, who becomes ill after eating the doctored prison food. Molina then cleverly prevents Valentin from eating the prison food by having the warden give Molina food as a cover for Molina’s absences from the cell. Even Molina’s efforts to be released from jail are not out of selfishness; he is concerned about his mother’s weak heart. At the same time, he cannot betray Valentin, whom he has come to love. It is Molina’s selflessness (and perhaps his need to die as a “heroine”) that leads him to sacrifice himself to Valentin’s revolution.

Valentin Arregui Paz

Valentin Arregui Paz (vah-lehn-TEEN ah-RREH-gee pahs), a revolutionary who is being held indefinitely as a political prisoner. Valentin is in many ways the exact opposite of his cellmate, Molina. Valentin is a “man’s man,” and he believes that emotions are a weakness that, as a revolutionary committed to his cause, he cannot afford. A change occurs in his personality, however, when he finally admits that he is not pining for his equally politically committed girlfriend but, rather, that he intensely misses his former lover, Marta, who had no interest in politics, only in love. Molina’s storytelling helps Valentin to become gradually less repressed, and he becomes gentler toward Molina, culminating in the kiss he gives Molina the night before Molina’s release.

Themes / Characters

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Through the two characters, Molina and Valentin, Puig presents a number of oppositions, many of which have appeared in previous novels. In particular, he draws the usual contrast between the sensitive, creative, effeminate character and the strong, coldly reserved man of action, in this case the solitary revolutionary who suppresses his desire for personal gratification for the sake of his political goals. Characteristically, Valentin pores over his political science books while Molina helps them both pass the time by telling stories from movies — the more fantastic, the better. Again the theme of escapism versus commitment to positive action surfaces together with the inevitable question of the role of the artist. As Molina relates one of his favorite films, a story that takes place in Nazi-occupied France, Valentin objects that it is an unconscionable piece of Nazi propaganda. If this fact has even occurred to Molina, it is not an issue that would hinder his enjoyment of the picture, for the romantic heroine appeals to his imagination. Thus, the important issue of the responsibility of art to represent truth and morality is raised, but not resolved.

Undoubtedly Molina, who arranges for clean sheets and exotic foods and who helps the hours pass quite pleasantly with his movie stories, represents a quality of imagination that makes life bearable. He gilds reality and transforms the prison cell into a haven. So what, one might ask, is wrong with sustaining such a world of illusion? Perhaps, Puig suggests, imagination is all there is. Valentin, on the other hand, is so committed to his idealistic political vision that he refuses to allow himself even the illusion of love because it would distract him from the more important...

(This entire section contains 654 words.)

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business of the revolution. Valentin is rigorous in his demands on himself and expects others to live with the same moral rectitude. Furthermore, his loyalty is to a political ideal, a principle, and never to an individual. Molina's life, on the other hand, is directed by his love for a few people — a young waiter, his mother, and eventually Valentin.

Molina, as the spider woman of the title, eventually ensnares Valentin in his web of fictions and seduces him quite literally as well. At the same time, Valentin manages to convince Molina that his life of masquerading as a woman is frivolous and uncommitted and that he should become politically involved. As they exchange their dreams, Molina feels himself taking on Valentin's identity; so, once freed from prison, he tries to deliver a message to Valentin's comrades. He dies quite uselessly in the endeavor — which he undertakes more out of love for Valentin than out of any genuine political sentiments. After his death, Valentin wonders whether Molina was merely living out another romantic fantasy, entering into his role in this scheme with the fervor of a movie heroine. At any rate, the two men do seem to exchange identities in the end as Molina dies in action and Valentin slips into a pleasant morphine-induced dream of the girlfriend he had given up for the revolution. Moreover, upon further examination, Valentin's idealistic notions of a great cause may be no less far-fetched than Molina's movie plots. This exchange of identities is typical of Puig in that it illustrates the similarity of two positions thought to be opposites as well as the way the human mind constructs fictions to live by.

As in the novels previously discussed, the major theme is the betrayal of the individual by the illusions for which he lives. Yet, in this novel Puig seems to go a long way toward admitting that without these fictions, howsoever they may ensnare their victims, there is not much left but the prison cell of reality. Puig, the author, is also the metaphoric spider woman. The conclusion of the novel, "This dream is short but this dream is happy," reflects on the novel itself and reaffirms the value of the world of illusion.


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Valentin Arregui Paz
Valentin is a Marxist revolutionary, imprisoned for his political activism. His cellmate, Molina, is a homosexual window-dresser with no political convictions whatsoever. Valentin is at first disdainful of Molina because of his homosexuality. Nevertheless, Valentin is willing to listen to Molina's descriptions of some of his favorite classic Hollywood movies in order to pass the time. Valentin becomes increasingly tolerant of Molina, and after Molina selflessly cares for him during his illness, Valentin becomes increasingly emotionally attached to Molina. Eventually, Valentin, despite his initial anti-homosexual prejudices, becomes Molina's lover. When Molina is released from prison, Valentin asks him to pass important information on to his revolutionary comrades. Soon after Molina leaves, however, Valentin is severely beaten and tortured by the prison officials, who inflict third-degree burns on his body and his groin. While he is in the prison hospital ward, a clinician offers secretly to inject him with a strong dose of morphine in order to ease the pain. As the story ends, Valentin slips into a morphine-induced fantasy in which his former lover, Marta, takes him out of the prison and to a fantasy island in the sea.

Marta is Valentin's former lover, whom he renounced because she was from the upper classes and therefore considered the oppressive enemy against whom his political ideals caused him to struggle. Valentin finds, however, that, despite his political convictions, he still loves Marta. When, at the end of the story, he slips into a morphine-induced fantasy, he imagines that Marta has come to release him from prison and lead him to a fantasy island in the sea. The novel ends with Valentin's fantasy of Marta assuring him that he will never lose her because "this dream is short but this dream is happy."

Referred to as "Molina" throughout most of the novel, this character's full name is Luis Alberto Molino. The "masculine" ending of "o" in Molina's last name has been changed in his nickname to the "feminine" ending of "a," as an expression of his desire to be thought of as a woman. Pamela Barcarisse has referred to the "'hyper-feminine'" Molina as "one of the truly great creations in modern fiction." Molina is a homosexual window-dresser in prison for sexual "perversion." While in prison, he tells the stories of some of his favorite movies in great detail to Valentin, his cellmate, a Marxist revolutionary, in order to pass the time and relieve the boredom. While Molina is obsessed with the romantic fantasy elements of these movies, Valentin is disdainful of them and makes fun of Molina. Yet Valentin reluctantly asks Molina to continue describing the movies. Valentin, however, continues to express disdain for Molina, based on his sexual orientation and his desire to think of himself as a woman. Molina is eventually requested by the prison authorities to try to win Valentin's trust in order to elicit information from him about his revolutionary comrades, in exchange for Molina's early release from prison. Molina, however, becomes increasingly emotionally attached to Valentin and does his best to stall the process of providing the prison officials with any information. When Valentin becomes ill from the food poisoning, which has been planted in his meals, Molina selflessly takes care of him. Out of gratitude, Valentin softens to Molina, and the two men eventually become lovers. When Molina is eventually released from prison, without having given away any important information from Valentin, he agrees to pass important information from Valentin to his revolutionary comrades outside of prison. This becomes a self-sacrifice, however, as Molina is followed by government agents on this mission and is then shot by the revolutionaries themselves, in order to keep him from confessing anything to the authorities. Molina dies as a result, his sacrifice ultimately ineffective.




Critical Essays