(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The stories of this collection provide an analysis of the forces that divide women from their own integrity, from one another, from their children, and ultimately from their lives. Viramontes inscribes an encompassing suppression and fragmentation of life in her connection of sexual violence against women, gang violence, abortion, Mexican serfdom, and Central American death squads. All these phenomena can be traced back to the power dynamics that are present in the patriarchal family.

Female gender ideology is presented through the authoritative model in Mexican and Chicano culture of the Catholic Holy family, a model that extols women’s self-sacrifice to male relatives and separates them from one another. The opening story, “The Moths,” presents a rebellious adolescent girl who rails against her proper, ladylike, parsimonious sisters and her condemning father, who “strategically directed his anger at Amá for her lousy way of bringing up daughters.” The girl recognizes the father’s angry response as strategic in that it indirectly enlists the mother’s resentment as a further punitive measure against the daughter’s lack of religious devotion and femininity. The father pits mother against daughters and sister against sister.

In “Growing,” Viramontes depicts a father who is pitting sisters against one another by forcing the youngest girl in the family to chaperone the oldest and to report her actions back to him. Their mother escapes by deferring to male authority. Naomi needs chaperoning, according to the father, simply because she is a female who is now of childbearing age. She is now judged to be untrustworthy. In “The Broken Web,” Tomás verbally batters his wife with accusations of being “la chingada” when he is caught being unfaithful. The wife thinks, she “was so tired and wrinkled and torn by him, his God, and his word.” In the two stories in which women abort their fetuses because they lack the wherewithal to care for children, the characters are judged negatively as acting “like God,” as opposed to men, who kill to uphold their honor as men. Women are deemed innately dishonorable and untrustworthy, and they are...

(The entire section is 890 words.)