Manuel Puig Puig, Manuel (Vol. 133) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Manuel Puig 1932-1990

Argentine novelist, dramatist, screenwriter, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Puig's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 5, 10, 28, and 65.

Manuel Puig burst onto the literary scene with his first novel, La traición de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth), and was a leading contributor to the international prominence and popularity of contemporary Latin American literature. He employed an innovative narrative style that synthesized the conversations and interior monologues of his characters with fragments from newspapers, soap operas, Hollywood movies, and popular songs to investigate how individuals escape painful truths through fantasy.

Biographical Information

Puig was born in the rural pampas of Argentina on December 28, 1932. To escape the barrenness of this desolate prairie, Puig spent much of his childhood in the local movie house, where he developed a love for the escapism and fantasy of Hollywood movies. In the early 1940s, Puig moved to Buenos Aires to attend school, later obtaining a scholarship to the Cinecittà in Rome where he studied film direction. After a year, Puig moved to Paris and began writing screenplays, one of which he expanded into his first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, which was adapted into a successful film in 1985 and adapted by Puig into a successful play. Although considered politically vocal, Puig never aligned himself with a particular political party and considered himself an independent socialist. In 1974, Puig left Argentina after his life was threatened. He lived for a short time in both Mexico and New York, but in 1981 he moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he continued to write novels, screenplays, and travel journals. Puig died in 1990 from postoperative complications.

Major Works

Puig's first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, is constructed of stream-of-consciousness monologues delivered by various characters. The main character, Toto, is a young boy who loves movies and attempts to relate events in the movies to those of real life. He is constantly disappointed when real life does not tie up its loose ends as neatly as portrayed in the movies. The narrative is filtered through the minds of the different characters and is often cyclical. In The Buenos Aires Affair (1973), the main characters, Gladys D'Onofrio, a sculptress, and Leo Druscovich, an art critic, struggle with the violence and alienation of contemporary Argentine life. The novel is a detective story but subverts the form by making the crime and investigation secondary to the narrative. El beso de la mujer araña (1976; Kiss of the Spider Woman) relates the story of two convicts in an Argentine prison, Molina, a homosexual convicted of corrupting minors, and Valentin, a heterosexual political activist. In order to pass the time, Molina relates movie plots to Valentin, who then comments on the action. Through this interaction Puig develops the characters, allowing the reader to watch them change. Puig's fascination with the cinema serves this novel structurally in both the interweaving of multiple narratives—movie plots become sub-stories within the novel—and also in Puig's use of cinematic techniques to create a graphic visual perception. Pubis angelical (1979) represents a change in Puig's narrative technique from his earlier novels, in which he employed a combination of letters, dialogue, and narration. In Pubis angelical Puig uses an intermingling of dream and fantasy sequences to relate the story of three women who represent spiritual sisters. The women—a 1930s actress in Hollywood, a contemporary Argentine woman in a Mexican clinic, and a public concubine in a future totalitarian state—share common experiences of sexual and cultural enslavement. Cae la noche tropical (1988; Tropical Night Falling) tells the story of two eighty-year-old Argentine sisters, Nidia and Luci, who are living in Brazil and are exiles from their homeland and native language. In this, his last novel, Puig returns to a mixture of dialogue and letters. In the sisters' conversations readers learn of an ill-fated affair of their young neighbor and their differing attitudes toward romance. Puig uses the sisters' story to introduce discussions about alienation and exile, the breakdown of Argentine society, family relationships, and the effect of past experiences on the present.

Critical Reception

Puig gained immediate critical attention for his artful use of experimental techniques in his first novel, but critics were also impressed with the novel's substance. Ronald De Feo praised Puig's Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and called the novel, “a rarity in contemporary fiction, an experimental novel that is not concerned more with technique than with emotion.” Critical acclaim followed Puig's next three novels. Ronald Christ asserted, “In his three novels, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, Heartbreak Tango and The Buenos Aires Affair, Puig has shown an incrementing skill, range of perception and control of varying emotions.” Although Puig received tremendous critical attention early in his career, his later works met with a mixed response from critics. Some critics asserted that his later work was inferior in quality, but others argued that his later novels represented a different and courageous phase of the novelist's career. Many reviewers noted Puig's use of popular forms within both the form and content of his novels. As a result, a few reviewers have relegated him to the ranks of pop culture, but others do not dismiss his work as light or lowbrow. Douglas C. Thompson stated, “Puig uses popular forms but only in order to create something far more serious and meaningful out of them.” Reviewers generally agree that one of Puig's greatest strengths is his ability to let his characters speak for themselves. His authorial voice does not intrude upon the narrative and generally is not heard at all. Bella Jozef stated, “Beginning with his first novel he let go of his characters, who were liberated unto themselves in a kind of self-exposition. With this he withdrew from all direct participation.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

La traición de Rita Hayworth [translated by Suzanne Jill Levine as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth] (novel) 1968; revised edition, 1976

Boquitas pintadas: Follétin [translated by Levine as Heartbreak Tango: A Serial] (novel) 1969

The Buenos Aires Affair: Novela policial [translated by Levine as The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel] (novel) 1973

El beso de la mujer araña [translated by Thomas Colchie as Kiss of the Spider Woman] (drama) 1976

Pubis angelical [translated by Elena Brunet] (novel) 1979

*Eternal Curse upon the Reader of These Pages (novel) 1982; translated as Maldición eterna a quien lea estas paginas 1982

Sangre de amor correspondido [translated by Jan L. Grayson as Blood of Requited Love] (novel) 1982

La cara del villano; Recuerdo de Tijuana (drama) 1985

Mystery of the Rose Bouquet [translated by Allan Baker] (drama) 1987

Cae la noche tropical [translated by Levine as Tropical Night Falling] (novel) 1988

Kiss of the Spider Woman and Two Other Plays (drama) 1994

*Puig originally wrote this work in English, then translated it into Spanish.

Ronald De Feo (review date 3 January 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Life as a B-Movie,” in Nation, Vol. 214, No. 1, January 3, 1972, pp. 26-7.

[In the following review, De Feo lauds Puig's Betrayed by Rita Hayworth as “a funny, poignant, perceptive piece of fiction which is not overwhelmed by its adventurous techniques.”]

In The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West imagined a world populated by people who seemed to be “on,” acting out rather than simply living their lives. Some of them became so immersed in their roles that they often found themselves play-acting even in quite serious and threatening real-life situations. Life had become one big B-movie. The world in which they existed (a surrealistic Hollywood) did not shake them out of their dream lives, for it was as artificial and ridiculous as their adopted personalities.

Manuel Puig's characters, who live in a small Argentine town, are not as badly off as West's, not nearly as pathetic or lost, but they too have been influenced by second-rate movies and cheap novels. They talk to themselves throughout most of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and in their lengthy, elliptical, stream-of-consciousness monologues, we come upon vaguely familiar phrases, patterns of thought, patches of description—familiar because they originated with some hack screen writer or novelist whose work we have had to endure.

Toto, a young boy who is a devoted moviegoer, is always drawing parallels between life as it is lived and life on the screen. He is disturbed when real situations do not resolve themselves as conveniently and romantically as fictional ones. He feels, for example, that an acquaintance, Raul García, is too handsome to become involved with the rather unattractive girl he has been seeing: the movies have taught Toto that the beautiful marry the beautiful. Raul reminds him of a bad gangster who has turned good, and therefore he deserves a beauty. Even the first-grade teacher is a more likely partner for Raul, since “she's pretty and she's one of those who are poor in the beginning and have to start off as a chorus girl. …”

Although the characters of the novel blow up certain events in their lives to movie-screen proportion, many of these are rather cheaply dramatic in themselves. Even before they were modified, they resembled incidents in second-rate films and novels. Puig is interested here in showing how very similar life can be to low-grade fiction, and he often erases the line separating comedy from tragedy, exaggeration from truth. A genuinely tragic event can quite easily be seen as an absurdly theatrical and comic one. A horrible fear can seem laughable; an overwhelming desire hilarious. Toto, for example, fears the end of the world—a realistic enough fear. But his vision of it (influenced by a nun's account), with...

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Ronald De Feo (review date 29 October 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Laying Out the Evidence,” in National Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 41, October 29, 1976, pp. 1194-95.

[In the following review, De Feo offers a tempered assessment of Puig's The Buenos Aires Affair.]

In a book season that has not been exactly memorable for fiction, we must be especially grateful for the interesting and challenging novels that continue to come to us from Latin America. Several months ago, A Brief Life, one of the major works of the Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti, appeared in English translation (after an inexplicable delay of some 25 years). More recently, the excellent Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier broke a long silence with the...

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Ronald Christ (review date 24 June 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Buenos Aires Affair, in Commonweal, Vol. 104, No. 13, June 24, 1977, pp. 412-14.

[In the following review, Christ praises Puig's accomplishment in The Buenos Aires Affair, but complains that the English translation “frequently goes flat.”]

In life, the myth of the prodigal son is an accepted guide to judging ultimate worth; so much so, that a famous feature in Esquire once advised the prospective college student to do poorly on his early assignments and then gradually improve in order to give his professor the moral satisfaction of witnessing a return to the ordered ways of study. In literature, though, we ruthlessly...

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Manuel Puig with Jorgelina Corbatta (interview date Fall 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Brief Encounter: An Interview with Manuel Puig,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 3, Fall, 1991, pp. 165-76.

[In the following interview, which was conducted in September 1979, Puig discusses his career as a writer and the various influences on his work.]

This interview with Manuel Puig took place during a weekend in September 1979, after he was part of a Congress of Hispanic-American Writers in Medellin, Colombia. Other participants in the event were Camilo José Cela, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Mexican short-story writer and novelist Juan Rulfo.

[Jorgelina Corbatta:] What role does...

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Douglas C. Thompson (essay date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manuel Puig's Boquitas pintadas: ‘True Romance’ for Our Time,” in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1981, pp. 37-44.

[In the following essay, Thompson discusses Puig's use of popular forms in Boquitas pintadas and how the substance of the texts subverts those forms.]

Manuel Puig's second novel, Boquitas pintadas (Heartbreak Tango) (1969), is generally considered a follow-up to or an elaboration on techniques which he first experimented with in La traicion de Rita Hayworth (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth) (1968). Chief among these techniques are the devices which have been called “cinematic”1 and...

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Frances Wyers (Weber) (essay date Spring 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manuel Puig at the Movies,” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 163-81.

[In the following essay, Wyers analyzes the relationship between Puig's El Beso de la mujer arañaand the movies.]

Movies have a powerful effect on us because the photographic reproduction of the material world is put at the service of wishes and fantasies. The impression of reality is much greater in film than in novels, plays, or figurative painting because we are plunged directly into the imaginary.1 A writer might have recourse to this experience of a paradoxically dreamlike reality or realistic dream by incorporating the devices of...

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Manuel Puig with Judy Stone (interview date October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manuel Puig Dreams in Technicolor,” in American Film, Vol. 10, No. 1, October, 1984, pp. 70-1.

[In the following interview, Puig discusses how he began his career in the film industry before becoming a novelist.]

Night after night, in a Buenos Aires penitentiary, Molina, a thirty-seven-year-old homosexual window dresser, re-creates movie magic for his Marxist cellmate, Valentin. Molina's inimitable way of spinning out melodrama—with loving attention to all the details of sets and costumes, the characteristics of the stars, and the convolutions of the plot—reflects the lifelong obsession of Manuel Puig, the distinguished Argentinean novelist whose...

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Manuel Puig with Barbara Mujica (interview date May-June 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Imaginary Worlds of Manuel Puig,” in Américas, Vol. 38, No. 3, May-June, 1986, pp. 2-7.

[In the following interview, Puig discusses the movie adaptation of his novel Kiss of the Spider Womanand his work as both a screenwriter and a novelist.]

Manuel Puig has been recognized as one of Latin America's leading novelists since 1968, when Betrayed by Rita Hayworth was published. Puig's seven novels deal with a wide range of themes and take place in a variety of locations—a small town in the Argentine pampas, great metropolises such as Buenos Aires, Mexico, New York. His most recent novels are Eternal Curse on the Reader of These...

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Inga Karetnikova and Susanna Barber (essay date 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cinematic Qualities in the Novel Kiss of the Spider Woman,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 3, 1987, pp. 164-68.

[In the following essay, Karetnikova and Barber trace the role film has in the structure and content of Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman.]


Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is an entirely cinematic book. Its content and style, indeed every sentence of the novel, appeals directly to the reader's visual perception. There are no author's digressions or abstract concepts which often intersperse a novel's text; Puig's main concern is with what people do and say,...

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Marcella L. Paul (essay date May 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cancer as Metaphor: The Function of Illness in Manuel Puig's Pubis angelical,” in Chasqui, Vol. XVII, No. 1, May, 1988, pp. 31-41.

[In the following essay, Paul analyzes the use of illness as a sign in Puig's Pubis angelical.]

Among the recurring themes in the narrative of Manuel Puig is the problem of personal alienation and integration in contemporary society.1 His novels frequently explore this issue as it is affected by the relationship between the sexes, addressing power-possession, the repercussions of male dominance and the possibilities of positive change.2 A study of Puig's narrative reveals that his developing...

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Manuel Puig with Ronald Christ (interview date Autumn 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Last Interview with Manuel Puig,” in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 571-80.

[In the following interview, Puig discusses questions of sexuality and repression raised by his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman.]

The last time I talked to Manuel Puig, he was calling from the airport, as he usually did when just passing through New York; this time he especially wanted to know about our friend Gregory Kolovakos. That was April 1989, and Gregory was dying of AIDS, as we all knew. Already grieving the recent death of another friend, Enrique Pezzoni, the brilliant editor and publisher in Buenos Aires, we commiserated; and he came as close...

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Bella Jozee (essay date Autumn 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manuel Puig: The Masks and the Myths,” in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 643-47.

[In the following essay, Jozee traces Puig's narrative technique and the author's presentation of myth in his work.]

When I met Manuel Puig in 1971, he had already published two of his eight novels, La traición de Rita Hayworth (1968; Eng. Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971) and Boquitas pintadas (1969; Eng. Heartbreak Tango, 1973). From that point onward until his death we corresponded, and for a time we resided in the same city, Rio de Janeiro, a fact that occasioned my sharing in the creation of his books by reading,...

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Leonard A. Cheever (essay date Spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manuel Puig's Pubis Angelical: The Characters' Dreams or the Reader's Fantasy?” in Literature and Psychology, Vol. 38, Nos. 1 and 2, Spring, 1992, pp. 105-114.

[In the following essay, Cheever analyzes how the reader is to interpret the place of dreams in Puig's Pubis Angelical, concluding that “we may either force Puig's text to tell us that beautiful things do not exist, or we may allow it to show us that they do.”]

“Desde La traición de Rita Hayworth hasta Pubis angelical el factor de la contradicción—implicita of explícita—ha sido uno do los recursos más importantes para configurar la...

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John Butt (review date 3 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “No End to the Affair,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4657, July 3, 1992, p. 26.

[In the following review, Butt lauds Puig's Tropical Night Falling, asserting, “It has a gentle wit that recalls his finest pages, but it also displays a simplicity and lightness of touch which suggest that it could have inaugurated a rich third phase in his writing.”]

Unkind reviews almost scuppered Puig's career as a novelist. He had early successes with Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, Heartbreak Tango, The Buenos Aires Affair and Kiss of the Spider Woman, all written before 1977. The signs were that he would carry the triumphs of the...

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Kenneth E. Hall (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Von Sternberg, Lubitsch, and Lang in the Work of Manuel Puig,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, 1994, pp. 181-86.

[In the following essay, Hall traces the influence of filmmakers Josef von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, and Fritz Lang on Puig's work.]

As is well known, the work of Manuel Puig has been greatly influenced by the cinema. Critical literature has often noted the debt of Puig to the work of certain actresses as well as to Alfred Hitchcock and, less frequently, to Jacques Tourneur, a director for Val Lewton; but less work has been done on the nature of his indebtedness to Josef von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, and Fritz Lang.


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Leonard A. Cheever (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ices Everlasting and Passions Perverted: The Physical and Moral Climates of Puig's Anti-utopia,” in Climate and Literature: Reflections of Environment, edited by Janet Pérez and Wendell Aycock, Texas Tech University Press, 1995, pp. 99-106.

[In the following essay, Cheever asserts that “the bleak and frigid physical landscape” of Part III of Puig's Pubis Angelical “is an appropriate metaphor for the moral atmosphere of the ‘polar age’ of human sexuality.”]

But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”


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Bart L. Lewis (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Reader and Manuel Puig: The Invention of Sangre de amor correspondido,” in Crítica Hispánica, Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1995, pp. 286-92.

[In the following essay, Lewis studies the readers' role in Puig's Sangre de amor correspondido,and how their interaction with the text affects the novel's message.]

Manuel Puig's literary task in his 1982 novel Sangre de amor correspondido is to create for his reader a testimonial voice in interpreting the fictional life of Josemar, Brazilian soccer player, electrician, breaker of young hearts and demonic corrupter. Puig has readily and repeatedly expressed a deference to his audience, a desire to...

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Ciaran Cosgrove (essay date January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Discursive Anarchy or Creative Pluralism? The Cases of Cortázar and Puig,” in Modern Language Review, Vol. 90, No. 1, January, 1995, pp. 71-82.

[In the following essay, Cosgrove analyzes two Argentine novels, Puig's El beso de la mujer arañaand Julio Cortázar's Rayuela,in terms of their opposition to the notion that “novels should be enabling vehicles for presenting fictional worlds of coherence and stability.”]

Critics, theorists, and novelists, as diverse as George Steiner, Michel Foucault, and John Barth have made compelling cases that the narrative voice of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is somehow primordially emblematic...

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Michael Issacharoff and Lelia Madrid (essay date May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Between Myth and Reference: Puig and Ionesco,” in Romanic Review, Vol. 87, No. 3, May, 1996, pp. 419-430.

[In the following essay, Issacharoff and Madrid discuss the use of myth, stereotypes, and repetition in Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman and Under a Mantle of Stars, as well as in Eugène Ionesco's La Cantatrice chauve.]

What is myth? Why link it to reference? We have shown elsewhere that myth and reference are diametrically opposed to one another, given their different relationship with time.1 Myth eschews specific spatiotemporal coordinates. As Lévi-Strauss put it, “Tout se passe comme si la musique et la mythologie...

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Shari A. Zimmerman (essay date Fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pubis Angelical: Where Puig Meets Lacan,” in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 38, No. 1, Fall, 1997, pp. 65-77.

[In the following essay, Zimmerman traces the role of Lacanian psychoanalysis in Puig's Pubis Angelical.]

Manuel Puig: [C]an people change their eroticism after a certain age? I believe it's almost impossible. Those sexual fantasies have crystallized during adolescence and imprison you forever.

—Ronald Christ, “A Last Interview with Manuel Puig,” 572

Any time we talk about body types, scenarios, or fantasies, we're...

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Lloyd Davies (essay date April 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Angelic Truth in Manuel Puig's Pubis Angelical,” in Modern Language Review, Vol. 93, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 400-10.

[In the following essay, Davies discusses the role of psychoanalytic theory and gender conflict in Puig's Pubis angelical. He concludes that “Though Puig trifles with the conventions and mocks the excesses of psychoanalytic and feminist discourses, he does not repudiate them. …”]

Puig's fifth novel, Pubis angelical, published in 1979, has not attracted the attention, let alone the critical acclaim, that greeted his earlier works, notably Boquitas pintadas (1969) and El beso de...

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