Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

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What other social issues, besides homosexuality, does Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman address?

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I think that one of the most powerful issues brought out in Puig's play is the idea of political idealism.  The idea of a Marxist revolutionary going against a political machine that is the embodiment of repression and seeking to do whatever can be done to bring down an unjust authority structure is a theme that drives the drama.  Valentin represents the political idealist who suffers for his belief.  The incarceration as well as the abuse that goes along with it is representation of this.  The drama is just as much about his own struggle to maintain his political idealism as much as it is about being gay. 

Yet, I would pivot to suggest that the drama suggests that human beings are more complex than to be reduced to simply political beings or apolitical beings.  It is here where I think that Puig's play is fairly profound.  Molina is about as non- political as they come.  Valentin lives and breathes for the political struggle.  Yet, as their lives converge through incarceration, they move close towards the other's domain.  Molina dies a political revolutionary's death, being gunned down by the resistance movement for fear of being caught.  He dies in the streets, the very same streets that fuel Valentin's political idealism.  When Valentin dies, his death is not in a Marxist vision or a reality crafted by political notions of the good.  He dies in a dream, with a woman, and affirming the power and redemption of love.  In fact, Valentin dies in the same type of schmaltzy Hollwood- like script story that Molina had been reciting throughout their time together.  In this ending, Puig suggests that human consciousness has a political aspect, but also a non- political one, as well.  Political idealism is a part of human construction of identity, but it is not the sole basis for such a construction.  Individuals are both public and private beings, shown  in Puig's drama.

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What social concerns are addressed in Kiss of the Spider Woman?

The most important social concern in Kiss of the Spider Woman is its treatment of homosexuality; at the time, homosexuality was beginning to become an accepted lifestyle, but still suffered under societal stigma and criminal laws. By showing a complex, flawed, and human homosexual character in Molina, author Manuel Puig works to destigmatize the nature of sexual orientation. Molina's orientation is both part of his character and a direct plot point; he is able to get information and win the trust of his cellmate, a Marxist revolutionary. Molina even explains his strategy directly:

It was because I'm gay that he didn't want to let me come near him. Because he's an absolutely straight guy. But little by little, dropping a few words here, a few there, I made him see I respected him, and he started telling me little things about his life.
(Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Google Books)

The notions of homosexuality and its origins and effects are discussed both by the characters, in their prison conversations, and in scholarly footnotes, some of which are factual and some deliberately invented. By making a homosexual character the co-protagonist of the novel instead of a minor or comic relief character, Puig allows the humanity of sexual orientation to show through the stereotypes and stigma.

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