Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

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What makes Kiss of the Spider Woman outstanding for its time?

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The Kiss Of The Spider Woman is an outstanding novel of its time because the author tells his tale in the context of political and psychological issues as a collection of stories within stories featuring an undercurrent of dangerous times and conflicted sexual identity. Puig creates a masterpiece of the seventies by drawing all these elements together.

Trust and the betrayal of that trust creates a powerful tension and suspense as two prisoners try to while their time away in a jail in Argentina. One man is a political prisoner as he is suspected of stoking revolution; the other has been convicted of homosexuality. Molina tells stories to make the time pass more quickly, narrating movie story lines. He starts with Cat People, and goes on to recount tales concerning Resistance movies from France under the Nazis and also some Zombie films. This is a useful tool for Puig as he weaves tales about tales and explores many profound human concerns.

The exchange of dialogue makes the novel very personal so that readers feel as if they are there with the characters, almost like being in a theater. This is an outstanding feature of the novel. Puig even provides footnotes exploring the psychological issues around homosexuality. The author uses a plethora of techniques and forms, which is also unusual for a novel of this time. This could be due to a reaction by the author against perceived censorship of earlier work, as Puig seems to be unmoved to water down his art in response to what he may see as fear and bigotry.

Although readers may see only trivial exchanges at first, it soon becomes clear that significant changes are taking place in both characters. Valentin, even as he is being poisoned by the authorities, starts to see Molina’s stories as an escape from his troubles, so much so that he develops a sensual and sensitive side and even has a physical relationship with Molina. The latter, selfish to a fault, starts to develop empathy and feels compassion for the other prisoner. He goes from leaning on his buddy for secrets to barter for quicker release to risking his preferential status with the warden to help his new friend.

The Kiss Of The Spider Woman was written at the height of the author's talent and is regarded by many as Puig’s most famous and most outstanding novel. It was also the first novel he wrote after leaving Argentina to get away from the political repression there. It is outstanding because it refuses to change course or bow to the oppressive forces which tried to belittle his previous work.

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