The Legend of La Llorona

by Rudolfo Anaya

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Legend of La Llorona, part of Anaya’s shift in the 1980’s away from longer narrative to more restricted genres such as poetry, drama, children’s stories, and short fiction, appropriates the story of one of Mexico’s most reviled historic figures. In a slender narrative (barely seventy pages), Anaya examines the pre-Colombian culture at the very moment that marked its eventual extinction: the invasion by European conquistadores, from their arrival in 1519 to their entrance in November, 1521, into Tenochtitlán. In focusing on Malinche, the beautiful Aztec woman whose felicity with languages enabled her to serve as interpreter for the Spaniards, Anaya investigates thorny issues of assimilation and cooperation, specifically the massive influence of a brutalizing Anglo culture that simply dismissed an empire that had existed in Central America long before the conquistadores “discovered” it.

In Anaya’s retelling, however, Malinche is no caricature villain. She is more than her culture’s Eve-figure, deserving of the nearly five hundred years of contempt that she has received at the hands of both historians and folklorists who see in her cooperation with the marauding Cortés the unforgivable act of cultural betrayal. Rather Malinche is in part a victim of oppressive Aztec social customs: Despite her beauty and her intelligence, she is sold in the slave trade after the birth of a brother, who enjoys family favor only by virtue of his gender; Malinche is subsequently simply given to the Europeans at Tabasco. Adept at native languages, she quickly masters Spanish and serves first as translator but, ultimately, becomes Cortes’s mistress, bearing him a son in 1522. When Cortés summons his own wife from Spain, however, Malinche and her son are no longer welcome. She is abandoned. Indeed, her son will later be killed while taking part in a doomed insurgency.

Dispensing with traditional historic investigation for a symbolic interpretation, Anaya recasts Malinche as tragic victim by fusing her story with that of the Mexican folklore figure of La Llorona (the crier). Although many versions of the story exist in Hispanic tradition, the general outline is consistent: A proud, beautiful woman seduced and then abandoned by a wealthy, dashing ranchero is driven to drown the children she had conceived with him. Immediately riven by inconsolable guilt, the woman runs along the river crying for her lost children. She is found dead by the river the next day. Generations of Hispanic children have been cautioned not too wander too far from home on the night of a full moon, as La Llorona still haunts the world looking for children to take. Interestingly, more than a decade after The Legend of La Llorona, Anaya published a children’s version of the tale that softens this a bit—the woman does not kill her children but rather loses them to a sinister allegorical figure, Señor Tiempo, or Time.

In asserting Malinche as the historic prototype for the Weeping Woman, Anaya moves beyond the two traditional readings of the woman: on one hand, the long-held view of her as reviled figure whose name has become in Hispanic culture a slang term for prostitute and, on the other, the contemporary feminist reading of her as an empowered female undone by male duplicity. Rather Anaya sees Malinche with a poetic eye, allowing her as character to suggest a symbolic level, suspended between simplistic interpretations and left ambiguous, both victim and victimizer, a complex precursor of Anaya’s own generation’s struggle with the dilemma of accommodation and the profound sorrow over lost cultural identity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access