So Far From God

by Ana Castillo

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Historical Context

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The Feminist Chicana Movement
The Chicano/a Movement was born in the wine-growing region of California in the early 1970s when Cesar Chavez organized the mainly Hispanic migrant farmworkers into an effective, vocal labor union. Within a few years authors, poets, actors, and politicians were demonstrating and demanding equal rights for Americans of Hispanic descent in terms of language recognition, cultural integrity, and political power. As the movement grew, many women within the movement began to feel left out or misunderstood. Writers like Sandra Cisneros, Josaphina Lopez, and Gloria Anzaldua argued for a pro-female wing to the movement, saying that the concerns of Hispanic women were being ignored by the traditional macho attitude of the male leaders. Ana Castillo enlivened the debate by casting doubts on both the traditional definitions of womanhood and the newer "liberated" Hispanic woman put forward by the Feminist Chicana Movement.

OSHA/EPA Enforcement
So Far From God also criticizes the lack of enforcement of the federal government's rules in the workplace (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the environment (Environmental Protection Agency). Castillo subtly argues, through the tragic death of Fe, that most of this enforcement comes too little, too late. OSHA is a federal agency that is supposed to monitor working conditions and the health of America's workers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, OSHA's policies were relaxed and the number of inspectors was reduced. The federal government of the period preferred a more business-friendly policy and so did not rigorously enforce OSHA regulations. The EPA was run in a similar manner. Castillo's novel attacks this "hands-off" approach as being deadly and dangerous.

Literary Style

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Point of View
So Far From God is told by a third-person fully omniscient narrator who intrudes in the text as almost a separate character. She is funny, witty, and irreverent. Each chapter begins with a lengthy title similar to the ''argument'' before each canto of an epic poem. The narrator then enters the text with a funny summary of the coming action. However, all this plot preview in no way detracts from the novel's excitement or the reader's enjoyment. Rather, it builds anticipation by letting readers know what is going to happen and then letting them sit back and enjoy the ride.

Language
In her interview with Simon Romero, Castillo explains that though she did not grow up or live in the New Mexico area, she wanted to capture the style of language spoken there. She suggests that the English and the Spanish are highly localized and unlike the language spoken in California or Chicago. She mixes Spanish phrases into the text with great regularity and tries to elongate the sentences, to mimic the conversation style of the peoples of the area. In her use of Englished Spanish and Spanished English, Castillo attempts to create a new language, one that all her readers can understand and enjoy.

Epic Fiction
So Far From God is written as a kind of satirical prose epic in the tradition of Cervantes's Don Quixote. Castillo's use of the supernatural, high language, episodic structure, and the witty narrator all contribute to this form. Sofi's tragedies and triumphs are described in epic terms, and the story of a no-name woman in the middle of a tiny Hispanic New Mexico town takes on great themes and ideas. Sofi rises from being an abandoned wife to the head of an international organization. Castillo's novel is full of wit, humor, and a sadness that challenges her readers to redefine what being great and successful means.

Bibliography

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Alarcón, Norma, et al., eds. Chicana Critical Issues . Berkeley, Calif.: Third Woman Press,...

(This entire section contains 856 words.)

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1993. This text focuses on issues of identity and difference and includes critical essays on chicana literature that will broaden the context forSo Far from God. The bibliography by Lillian Castillo-Speed, “Chicana Studies: An Updated List of Materials, 1980-1991,” is currently the most comprehensive in print.

Castillo, Ana. “A Conversation with Ana Castillo.” Interview by Elsa Saeta. Texas College English 26 (Fall, 1993): 1-6. In this interview, Castillo discusses her development as a writer, her literary influences, and her philosophical perspectives. Helps to place Castillo’s work in context by providing insights into the personal, philosophical, and political concerns that define her work.

Castillo, Ana. “Massacre of the Dreamers—Reflections on Mexican-Indian Women in the U.S.: Five Hundred Years After the Conquest.” In Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing, edited by Philomena Mariani. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. In this critical essay, Castillo discusses some of the theoretical perspectives that influence her work. Castillo defines her poetics and examines Chicana writers’ relationship to their culture, their language, and their history.

Castillo, Ana. A MELUS Interview: Ana Castillo, by Elsa Saeta. MELUS 22 (Fall, 1997): 133-149. In this extended conversation, Castillo discusses her writings, particularly the feminist perspective of her novels, and provides information about her career. The interviewer calls her “one of the most articulate, powerful voices in contemporary Chicana literature.”

Delgadillo, Theresa. “Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.Modern Fiction Studies 44 (Winter, 1998): 888-889. Explores Castillo’s characterization of Chicanas as a group of passive people who become victims of oppression and a patriarchal church, and their eventual emergence from subjugation.

Herrera-Sobek, Maria, and Helena Maria Viramontes, eds. “Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature.” The Americas Review 15, nos. 3 and 4 (1987). This special double issue of the literary journal includes chicana literature and criticism. Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano’s essay “Chicana Literature, from a Chicana Feminist Perspective” discusses the relationship between chicana feminist literature and political activism in the community. This essay will give the reader of So Far from God a better understanding of Castillo’s feminist perspective.

Horno-Delgado, Asunción, et al., eds. Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. This volume contains feminist criticism of Latina writers. The authors’ introduction analyzes Latina literature as an expression of cultural heritage and historical circumstances not as a search for identity. The authors also include a selected bibliography of works by and criticism of Latina writers. The article on Castillo by Norma Alarcón, “The Sardonic Powers of the Erotic in the Work of Ana Castillo,” although written before the publication of So Far from God, gives the reader some insights into the author’s work; in particular, Alarcón places the sexual ironies in Castillo’s poetry and her first novel within the context of the cultural tradition of the chicana.

Kingsolver, Barbara. “Desert Heat.” Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 16, 1993, pp. 1, 9. Kingsolver’s review suggests that the novel could be “the offspring of a union between One Hundred Years of Solitude and General Hospital: a sassy, magical, melodramatic . . . delightful novel.” Kingsolver discusses the novel’s strengths specifically: the characters and their development, the narrative voice, and Castillo’s venture into North American Magical Realism.

Lanza, Carmela D. “Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 65-79. Lanza’e essay compares Castillo’s book to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, identifying So Far from God as a “postmodern inversion” of Alcott’s novel. Both novels deal with the relationships between four sisters, but Castillo’s book is “infused with political resistance” where women of color have an opportunity to grow spiritually and politically.

Limón, José E. “La Llorona, the Third Legend of Greater Mexico: Cultural Symbol, Women, and the Political Unconscious.” In Between Borders: Essays on Mexicana/Chicana History, edited by Adelaida R. Del Castillo. Encino, Calif.: Floricanto Press, 1990. Limón’s essay focuses on the three women who dominate Mexican culture: La Malinche (Hernan Cortez’s interpreter and mistress), the Virgen de Guadalupe (Mexico’s patron saint), and La Llorona (the Weeping Woman). This scholarly article will acquaint the reader with the complex and interrelated symbolism of the three women.

Mirandé, Alfredo, and Evangelina Enriquez. La Chicana: The Mexican American Woman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. The first book published on chicanas, it gives a comprehensive historical and sociological perspective on Mexican American women. The first chapter includes an overview of legendary female figures in Mexican history, folklore, and mythology (some of whom are referred to in So Far from God). There is also the chapter “Images in Literature,” which looks at the stereotypical images of Mexican women as portrayed by Anglo writers in the nineteenth century, followed by a discussion of contemporary chicano and chicana writers.

Walter, Roland. “The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo.” MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 81-97. Walter addresses the politics of dislocation and relocation as a “key aspect of interacting social and cultural practices and ideological discourses” in Castillo’s novels.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Anzaldua, Gloria, Borderlands: La Frontera, the New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Books, p. 203.

Delgadillo, Theresa, ‘‘Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo's So Far From God,’’ in MFS, Vol. 44, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 888-916.

Lanza, Carmela Delia, ‘‘Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo's So Far From God,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 65-79.

Platt, Kamala, ‘‘Ecocritical Chicana Literature: Ana Castillo's 'Virtual Realism,’’' in Greta Gaard and Patrick Murphy's Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, University of Illinois Press, 1998, pp. 139-57.

Romero, Simon, ‘‘An Interview with Ana Castillo,’’ in NuCity, June 18-July 1, 1993.

Saeta, Elsa, "A MELUS Interview: Ana Castillo,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 133-49.

Walter, Roland, ‘‘The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 81-97.

Further Reading
Ferriss, Susan, Ricardo Sandoval, and Diana Hembree, editors, The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement, Harcourt Brace, 1997, p. 288.
A recent biography of Chavez and the Farmworkers' Union. Discusses his role in starting the Chicano/a Movement.

Gonzalez, Maria, ‘‘Love and Conflict: Mexican American Women Writers as Daughters,'' in Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in 20th-Century Literature, edited by Brown, Guillory, and Elizabeth, University of Texas Press, 1996, pp. 153-71.
Compares the work of Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, and Ana Castillo in terms of family, language, and female identity.

Jones Hampton, Janet, ‘‘Ana Castillo: Painter of Palabras,’’ in Americas, Vol. 52, No. 1, January/February, 2000, pp. 48-53.
The article casts Castillo as a verbal and visual artist dealing with her ideas of turning forty.

McCracken, Ellen, ‘‘Rupture, Occlusion and Repression: The Political Unconscious in the New Latina Narrative of Julia Alvarez and Ana Castillo,’’ in Confrontations et Metissages, edited by Benjamin Labarthe et al, Maison des Pays Iberiques, 1995, pp. 319-28.
McCracken explores the narrative structure of Castillo's So Far From God and Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

Montabanc, William, ‘‘Latin America: A Quixotic Land Where the Bizarre Is Routine,’’ in Marilyn Smith Layton's Intercultural Journeys, HarperCollins, 1991, pp. 107-10.
A collection of true reports from Latin America makes Montabano explore and question the reality and the absurdity of life "south'' of the border.

Sachez, Rosaura, ‘‘Reconstructing Chicana Identity,’’ in American Literary History, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1997, pp. 350-63.
Explores how Hispanic-American women writers have defined and redefined women in light of the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement, and the Labor Movement.

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