Rosario Ferré 1939-
See also Rosario Ferre Contemporary Literary Criticism.
One of the first overtly feminist writers from Puerto Rico, Ferré is known for writing fiction, poetry, and essays that critique traditional Puerto Rican culture. Often considered a magical realist for the ways in which she fractures time, shifts points of view, and uses surrealist imagery, Ferré draws attention to how women have been depicted in Western myths of femininity, often focusing on the relationships between gender and class, in particular the privileged class. Her first collection of short stories, Papales de Pandora (The Youngest Doll), criticizes historical representations of women as dolls and other figures who exist primarily for the gratification of male desire. However, Ferré's stories do more than merely describe women's subordinate social and cultural positions; they also underscore the possibility and necessity for transformation.
Rosario Ferré was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the daughter of financier and future governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Ferré, and Lorenza Ramirez Ferré. The same year that she was born her mother's brother died in a plane crash, a loss that haunted Ferré's early childhood. Because she was preoccupied with mourning for her brother, Lorenza Ferré could not provide much joy for her daughter. When the family hired a nanny, Gilda Ventura, to take care of Rosario, her life changed. As happy as Lorenza Ferré was sad, Gilda introduced Roasario to the world of myth and fairytales where, though terrible things happened, the heroes and heroines escaped unharmed. Ferré frequently uses myths and fairytales as narrative foundations from which to examine sociopolitical issues. She published her own stories and edited those of others in Zona de carga y descarga, a literary journal she helped found in 1972. While a Master's candidate in Spanish literature at the University of Puerto Rico in the early 1970s, Ferré further developed her knowledge of literature and Puerto Rican history under the mentorship of Hispanic American scholars Mario Vargas Llosa and Angel Rama. In 1976 Ferré published her first collection of short stories, The Youngest Doll, for which she won an award from Ateneo Puertorriqueno, the prestigious Puerto Rican cultural institution. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1986.
In stories that center on the interweavings of race, class, gender, and sexuality in Puerto Rico, Ferré merges Puerto Rican folktales and Western myths to explore the multiple causes for how the island's past affects its present. Her primary concern is Puerto Rican women, who historically have been tied to ideas of passivity and domesticity. In "La muñeca menor" ("The Youngest Doll"), for example, Ferré overturns common feminine stereotypes, while showing their relationship to the socio-economic structure of Puerto Rico. The image of the doll in this story recurs in many Ferré stories as a symbol of idealized femininity. Ferré, however, demonstrates how this very image has helped to limit women's progress, detailing the ways in which class expectations undergird gender roles. As Carmen S. Rivera noted, "Ferré seems to warn her readers that when a woman's voice and sexuality is confined and 'gagged' by male oppression, she begins to rot and smell as decomposed flesh beneath the ever passive beauty of her porcelain face." In the controversial story "When Women Love Men" Ferré examines the partnership between a repressed, privileged widow and a black prostitute, both named Isabel, who loved the same man and received equal shares of his property after his death. The story concerns miscegenation in Puerto Rico, changes in the island's social structure, and the multiple sexual identities of women. Ultimately, according to Ferré, it "is a story which points to specific social problems: the frigidity of women of the higher social class as well as the sexual exploitation of prostitutes are both a consequence of an unjust social hegemony in the hands of men."
The initial response to Ferré's short fiction was one of shock and rage. Copies of her sexually charged story "When Women Love Men" were publically burned at its first publication in 1972. Even so, with the translation of her works into English and the increasing popularity of Latin American women's fiction, Ferré's reputation in the United States is growing. Her use of metafictional devices, such as multiple narrators, and her reworkings of myth and fairytale put her squarely in the school of "magical realist" writers, with one difference: in addition to changing the stereotypes of women in literature, Ferré wants to change how women are seen in life as well.