Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In The Moths, and Other Stories, Helena Maria Viramontes has collected eight short stories that focus on the lives of Latin American women who are oppressed by the gendered expectations of a variety of institutions—patriarchal families, the Catholic church, totalitarian governments—and who seek to resist those institutions and their teachings. Viramontes also examines cultural responses to women’s reproductive function as well as women’s efforts to gain control of their bodies. Her stories are windows through which the reader has a glimpse into the inner lives of female characters struggling with their environments and themselves.

The stories are arranged in a loosely chronological fashion, moving through the life stages of women from adolescence to old age. The first two stories—“The Moths” and “Growing”—look at the strict expectations imposed upon Mexican American girls at the onset of menses and at the ways in which wedges are driven between young women and their mothers and sisters within patriarchal families. “Birthday” traces the thoughts of a young woman who is undergoing an abortion, a practical and ethical dilemma that, for Catholic women, has special problems. Issues of marriage and adultery are explored in “The Broken Web.” “The Long Reconciliation” addresses the roles of poverty and economic and sexual exploitation in the disintegration of marriages. Viramontes casts her political net beyond southern...

(The entire section is 527 words.)