What does Anzaldua's "Shadow-Beast" represent, and how does it relate to "otherness" in ourselves and society?

"There is a rebel in me—the Shadow-Beast. It is a part of me that refuses to take orders from outside authorities."

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Gloria Anzaldua doesn't provide us with a clear meaning about what the "Shadow-Beast" is de facto, and for good reason, for relative obscurity is an admirable property of literature and storytelling. Still, we are inclined to think, in accordance with the surrounding context of the quote, that the "Shadow-Beast" means a few different things in relation to how it pertains to "otherness in ourselves and society."

Recalling the possibility of different meanings implied by the Shadow-Beast, we consider a few different meanings here. As such, the Shadow-Beast could be some general phantom of human nature that "refuses to take orders from [our] conscious will," that "threatens the sovereignty [our] rulership," and that "hates constraints of any kind" (par. 3). In addition, the "Shadow-Beast" could mean something of someone (or someone else) formed by culture. Whether that something of someone (or someone else) is instrumentally good or instrumentally bad, it's difficult to know; Anzaldua provides us little objectivity to identify either respect with certainty. But nevertheless, there are points of objectivity concerning the instrumental good, or bad, of the Shadow-Beast which are worthy of discussion.

How does the Shadow-Beast pertain to "otherness in ourselves and society"? Anzaldua's "Shadow-Beast" reminds us about Nietzsche's identification of the instrumental good (i.e., suffering) in obtaining individual self-sufficiency, which is, in fair academic opinion, something concerned about oneself only. However, in combining Nietzsche's identification of the benefits of suffering as an instrumental good, we can appreciate Anzaldua's Shadow-Beast as something significant to others, such as other individuals. Following the pattern of Simone de Beauvoir's objectification of women by a categorization of them as a second sex, or as "the other" Anzaldua continues the notion of an objectification of woman by identifying woman's Shadow-Beast as "man's recognized nightmarish piece," and this "nightmarish piece" of woman sends man into "a frenzy of anger and fear" (par. 5). So, in relation to Nietzsche's identification of suffering as an instrumental good for the individual, the Shadow-Beast may be considered a relational-piece of suffering by which others, such as man and woman, rise above their own lack of self-sufficiency and therein become self-sufficient in relation to each other. We can ask, as Anzaldua does concerning the meaning of the Shadow-Beast: "How do you like the life of suffering and being an outcast?" (par. 1).

In conclusion, there are a variety of meanings about the Shadow-Beast, and it is important for us to consider the meanings thereof in relation to Anzaldua's literary context of suffering, culture, womanhood and manhood, human nature, and also instrumental value. In so doing, we have a rich understanding about a term in relation to oneself and to others.

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This quotation from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza effectively describes her position as occupying the frontier, in many ways. In her specific case, the “other” statuses she claims and situates on the border are the statuses of being female, Mexican American, and queer.

In the “rebel . . . Shadow-Beast” quotation, she mentions the “authorities” that are “outside” and contrasts this with personal integrity, “the sovereignty of my rulership.” She associates taking orders with all constraints, even if the limits are “self-imposed.” When she senses limitations are being imposed on her by others, the Shadow-Beast “kicks out” and “bolts.” This means that we ourselves must take action to remove ourselves from those limits.

Later in this writing, Anzaldúa specifically connects difference with queerness and ascribes the need to impose limits or authority to a fear of “being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore sub-human, in-human, non-human.” Her words resonate with the fundamental idea of “alterity” in postcolonial theory, with related attention to both the external markers and internal values of colonized or formerly colonized peoples. For Mexican Americans, color and language are two prominent markers; Anzaldúa repeatedly calls attention to the latter in her bilingual Spanish-English writings.

In today’s society, authority's limits are seen in the liminal status of Latin American immigrants, some of whom physically cross the United States–Mexico border. Those who face discrimination for speaking Spanish also are clearly invoked by her words. In regard to artists in visual, rather than verbal, arts, the protests of Alma Lopez’s 2001 work Our Lady also bring attention to the boundaries that queer Chicanas face.

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Gloria Anzaldua says that the shadow-beast is that part of women that scares men and makes them want to "control and devalue" women and their culture.

In a sense, then, the shadow-beast is the other.  The other is that which is opposite of ourselves.  As such, it is something that must always be controlled and devalued.  Because it is our opposite, it is necessarily opposed to us.

Within our own selves, we try to suppress the parts of us that are (we think) opposite of what we want ourselves to be.  In society, we do the same.  We tend to see things that are unfamiliar and fear and suppress them rather than trying to broaden our horizons by understanding them.

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