Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

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Fantasy and Escapism
As in many of Puig's novels, Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on the theme of escapism through fantasy. In particular, Molina uses his memories of classic movies as a means of escape. He is particularly drawn to melodramatic movies with a strong romantic theme, which is the central focus of his retelling of the movies. On one level, Molina wishes to escape the oppression and boredom of his prison cell. He retells the movies to Valentin as a means to entertain them both during their long hours of imprisonment. For Molina, however, the movies also function as a form of escapism from the social oppression he suffers as a homosexual. Furthermore, Molina identifies with the female characters in all of his movies; the movies then represent for him an escape from his designated sex as a man, for he prefers to think of himself as a woman. Valentin is at first disdainful of Molina's romantic obsessions; to Valentin, such fantasies are trivial and self-indulgent compared to his political idealism and activism. But Valentin slowly becomes drawn into the movies and, in the process, to a romantic relationship with Molina. In the end, Valentin completely succumbs to a world of escapist fantasy. After Molina is released from prison, Valentin is severely beaten. In the hospital ward, an attendant mercifully gives him a strong dose of morphine to relieve him of the physical pain. In accepting the morphine, Valentin gives in to the escapism he has been resisting all along. The film ends with Valentin's morphine-induced fantasy of romance in a dream of paradise. This represents the defeat of Valentin's political principals, which the prison officials have effectively beaten out of him.

Political Idealism
Puig is concerned with the struggle between the ideals of Marxist political philosophy and the human urge to fulfill personal desires. The character of Valentin, imprisoned for his revolutionary activities, begins the novel with a strong dedication to his political ideals, which he prioritizes over personal relationships and the satisfaction of physical desires. However, the inconsistency of Valentin's idealism is indicated by the fact that he still loves an upper-class woman who politically represents the oppressive enemy of the working people. Valentin thus struggles with the disjunction between his emotions and his politics. Molina, on the other hand, is pointedly apolitical in the beginning of the novel. Molina is homosexual, but shows no interest in a political analysis of his oppressed position in society, or in any efforts at social and political empowerment of homosexuals. Through the influence of Valentin, however, Molina ultimately makes the decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of Valentin's political cause. He agrees that once released from prison, he will relay important information to Valentin's comrades. Molina, however, seems to be aware of the fact that he is risking his life by committing to this action. Thus, while Valentin succumbs to the escapist fantasy of a morphine-induced hallucination, Molina rises to the level of political idealism Valentin has espoused. In the end, however, Molina's sacrifice is completely ineffective, accomplishing nothing.

Puig in this novel addresses the issue of homosexuality as a social and political subject. In the footnotes which accompany the body of the story, Puig presents a rather dry, scholarly explanation of various psychological theories regarding homosexuality. The character Molina, a homosexual, represents the oppression of the homosexual in Latin American society. Valentin, although a Marxist revolutionary, at first embodies all of the standard prejudices against Molina as a homosexual. He is disdainful of Molina, mocks and insults him for his sexual orientation, and even physically abuses him for his resistance to traditional masculine behavior. Valentin, however, eventually grows to love Molina, as a friend and then as a lover. Valentin's softening from an aggressively masculine man to the point of loving another man forces him to question and then reevaluate his attitude toward homosexuality.

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