The Narrative Technique in Puig's Novel

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2123

Puig is known for his experimental narrative techniques, and Kiss of the Spider Woman is no exception. The narrative fabric of this novel is woven from the threads of embedded narrative, dialogue, footnotes, official reports, and internal subjective voice, from which the reader is invited to piece together the story. Puig is also known for his concern with social and political issues, as expressed through the struggles of his individual characters in socially and politically oppressive environments. Each specific narrative technique in this novel has the effect of further developing central social and political themes of the story: homosexuality as a social and political issue, the nature of storytelling as a means of escapist fantasy, the struggles of the politically committed individual, and the questionable nature of objective, versus subjective, renditions of reality.

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A central narrative technique of Kiss of the Spider Woman is that of embedded narrative. This means that a character within the frame story tells a story, usually to another character within the story. Thus, Molina's narration to Valentin of his favorite movies constitutes an embedded narrative. Furthermore, the fact that Molina is narrating the story presented in a fictional movie presents the narrative at a further remove. The reader is presented through the narrative technique of dialogue with the story of a man (Molina) telling another man (Valentin) the story he was told through the fictional medium of the movie. This narrative technique is significant to broader themes of the novel on several levels. The focus on the storytelling process indicates to the reader that Puig is concerned with the medium of fiction, as well as the content of the story he is telling. Puig's fiction has been noted for its concern with the ways in which his characters utilize popular narratives, such as movies or romance novels, as a means of escapism from societal restrictions. In this novel, stories, either in oral, written, or cinematic form, are central to the fantasy lives of the characters.

This novel consists primarily of dialogue between the two principle characters. The emphasis on dialogue is in part rooted in Puig's early career plans as an aspiring screenwriter. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, Puig skillfully develops his characters and his story without standard narrative explanation or description. This puts the reader in the position of having to actively work to "fill in the blanks," so to speak, by constructing the details of the story solely from the dialogue. This is particularly significant in the lovemaking scene between Molina and Valentin the night before Molina is released from prison. The reader is provided with only minimal dialogue between the two men, devoid of any graphic or physical description of their interaction with one another:

You're not cold taking your clothes off? … How good you look … Ah … Molina … What Nothing … I'm not hurting you? No … Ow, yes, that way, yes. It hurts you? Better like last time, let me lift my legs. This way, over your shoulders … Like this …

Clearly, Puig would have been aware that, given broad social prejudice against homosexuality, particularly in terms of the details of homosexual acts, this scene would be inherently controversial. In some ways, the use of dialogue without description avoids a narrative approach which could have dwelt upon the graphic details. On the other hand, the silences implied by this minimalist dialogue force the reader to piece together the physical details of what it is these two men are doing. It could be argued that this was a quite radical choice on the part of Puig because of the way in which it invites the reader to mentally internalize a scene of homosexual lovemaking.

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