Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419
Naked Ladies, Alma Luz Villanueva’s second novel, explores four women’s struggle for identity and survival within the confines of their racially biased and male dominated culture. The novel’s title, taken from the name of a Northern California wildflower, symbolizes these four women’s exuberant spirit of resilience and their unwavering determination to defy all threats of domination and destruction.
Alta, the novel’s main character, and her friends, Katie, Rita, and Jackie, live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite differences in ethnic and class backgrounds, their lives have in common the struggles of child-rearing, homemaking, working, and obtaining an education. Their struggles are often aggravated by an array of problems, such as alcoholism, violence, infidelity, rape, incest, cancer, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). To prevent her family from falling apart, Alta tries everything she can to endure and change the abusive behavior of her husband, Hugh, to whom she was married at the age of fifteen. She blames herself for all the miseries and pains in her life because she feels inferior and ashamed of being a Mexican American woman. What devastates her most is Hugh’s confession that he has contracted AIDS from an old man with whom he has been having a homosexual affair since the age of seventeen.
Like Alta, her friends have serious battles to wage. In their persistent struggle to survive, Alta and her friends realize that they can depend on one another for understanding and support. They also learn that they must stand up for their rights, pursuing the freedom and fulfillment of which they have long been dreaming.
The second part of the novel takes place in 1999. Alta has recovered from her sorrow over the death of Hugh, who died of AIDS, and the deaths of Katie and Rita, who died of cancer. She has managed to rear her two children, finish her college education, and start her career as a counselor. Alta falls in love with Michael, her African American colleague, has another baby, and becomes a grandmother. The ending thus brings hope of a better future for those who have survived.
The novel has received mixed reviews since its publication. Some praised the freshness and creativity in its narrative structure. The novel also has been praised for its portrayals of the complexities of interracial relationships. Others have criticized the novel’s candid description of violence and sex. Naked Ladies has been highly regarded for its provoking but compelling presentation of women’s search for self-realization.
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