Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

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Cleofilas Enriqueta DeLeon Hernandez is a young, innocent Mexican woman with much curiosity and a head full of dreams of a life of love and passion derived from her beloved books, song lyrics, and soap operas. When her father, Don Serafin, offers her in marriage to Juan Pedro Martinez Sanchez, a man from "el otro lado"—the other side of the border, she hastily makes her bridal gown, gathers flowers for her makeshift bouquet, and goes off with the "man she has waited her whole life for 'to find' passion in its purest crystalline essence," even the passion women often pay for with sweet pain. She leaves her father and six brothers in Mexico and drives with Juan Pedro to start a new life as his wife in a ramshackle house in a dusty little Texas town. Across a stream called Woman Hollering Creek, Cleofilas soon finds that she has left the boring yet peaceful life she shared with her father and six brothers for the tumultuous, lonely, desperate life of a woman with an abusive husband. Her new life, which was supposed to have been full of the passion she had seen on television soap operas, grows "sadder and sadder with each episode," even though she believes that "when one finds, finally, the great love of one's life, [one] does whatever one can, must do, at whatever the cost."

Juan Pedro, an abusive and alcoholic husband, does not share his wife's dream of an ideal marriage. His only intention was to marry his young Mexican bride quickly and take her back to his life of poverty in Seguin, Texas. There he could resume his habit of drinking and carousing with his foul-mouthed friends at the local ice house. Soon after their marriage, he reveals himself to be faithless, violent, and quick to cry tears of remorse and shame, which are predictably followed by renewed episodes of physical abuse. Juan Pedro disdains the romance that feeds his wife's fantasies and hates the music and soap operas she adores. Short, husky, and scarred from acne, he is also overweight from all of the beer he drinks. Consistent with the gender-role socialization of his youth, he demands that his wife provide dinners like the ones his mother prepared. He also insists that Cleofilas take care of all his needs and those of his children without complaint.

Cleofilas is trapped with her infant son and widowed neighbors, Dolores and Soledad, along the banks of the creek with the name no one can explain. Dolores, whose name means "sorrow" in Spanish, is Cleofilas's neighbor on the right. A widow who lives in a house full of incense and candles, mourning her husband and two dead sons, she grows immense sunflowers and sad-smelling roses to decorate their small graves in the nearby cemetery. She worries about Cleofilas and her baby getting sick if they are ever out in the night air where the ghostly La Llorona, the mythical Weeping Woman who is said to have drowned her children, might find them. Soledad, whose name means "alone" in Spanish, is Cleofilas's neighbor on the left in Seguin, Texas. Soledad says she is a widow, but rarely talks about her husband. Local gossip claims he died, ran off with another woman, or went out one day and never came back. Soledad is one of the few people Cleofilas can visit, but she does not offer any hope for relief from the abuse Cleofilas suffers. She frustrates Cleofilas because she cannot explain the name of Woman Hollering Creek. Cleofilas herself wonders if it is pain or anger that caused the woman to holler. No one can answer; no one remembers.

Pregnant with her second child and promising to hide her most recent bruises, Cleofilas begs her husband to take her to the clinic for a checkup. The physician at the clinic, Graciela, realizes that Cleofilas is an abused woman who speaks no English, is completely cut off from her family, and desperately needs help to escape from her husband. Graciela calls her friend, Felice, who agrees to drive Cleofilas and her baby, Juan Pedrito, to San Antonio where they can get a bus to take them back to her father in Mexico. Felice is an independent, spirited woman who owns her own truck and who is willing to help other women in distress. A woman who rejects traditional sex roles and fiercely and fearlessly defends women who are trapped in restricted, traditional lives, she transforms the holler of Woman Hollering Creek from a cry of pain or rage to a shout of laughter and liberation. Cleofilas is shocked when, as they cross the bridge over Woman Hollering Creek, Felice opens her mouth and yells "like Tarzan."

Characters

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Dolores
Dolores, whose name means "sorrow," is Cleofilas' neighbor on the right. She is a widow who lives in a house full of incense and candles, mourning her husband and two dead sons. She grows immense sunflowers and sad-smelling roses to decorate their small graves in the nearby cemetery. She worries about Cleofilas and her baby getting sick if they are ever out in the night air where the ghostly La Llorona might find them.

Felice
Felice is an independent, spirited woman who owns her own truck and who is willing to help other women in distress. Along with the clinic physician, Graciela, she conspires to help Cleofilas escape from her abusive husband. Felice is a woman who rejects traditional sex roles and fiercely and fearlessly defends women who are trapped in restricted, traditional lives. She tranforms the holler of Woman Hollering Creek from a cry of pain or rage to a shout of laughter and liberation.

Graciela
Graciela, whose name means "'grace," is the clinic physician who, like Felice, has rejected traditional sex roles. She takes the initiative to get Cleofilas away from her husband by calling Felice to drive the battered woman to the bus depot in San Antonio.

Cleofilas Enriqueta DeLeon Hernandez
Cleofilas is a young, innocent Mexican woman with much curiosity and a head full of dreams of a life of love and passion derived from her beloved books, song lyrics, and soap operas. When her father offers her in marriage to a man from "el otro lado"—the other side of the border, she hastily makes her bridal gown, gathers flowers for her makeshift bouquet, and goes off with the "man she has waited her whole life for'' to find ''passion in its purest crystalline essence," even the passion women often pay for with "'sweet pain."

After her husband, Juan Pedro, begins to abuse her, she stays quiet even though she shudders at the thought of all the dead women she reads about in the newspapers. She realizes how dangerous her situation is, but pride prevents her from returning to her father in Mexico. "Where's your husband?" she knows they would ask. Cleofilas eventually musters enough courage to leave, though she obtains help from Graciela and Felice. Relying on the strength of these women, whom Cleofilas finds fascinating, she leaves Juan Pedro behind and returns to her former life.

Juan Pedro Martinez Sanchez
Juan Pedro is Cleofilas's abusive, alcoholic husband who only wants to marry his young Mexican bride quickly and take her back to his life of poverty in Seguin, Texas. There he can resume his habit of drinking and carousing with his foul-mouthed friends at the local ice house. Soon after their marriage, he reveals himself to be faithless, violent, and quick to cry tears of remorse and shame, which are predictably followed by renewed episodes of physical abuse.

Juan Pedro is a man who disdains the romance that feeds his wife's fantasies, and hates the music and soap operas she adores. He is short, husky, scarred from acne, and overweight from all of the beer he drinks. Consistent with the gender-role socialization of his youth, he demands that his wife provide dinners like his mother prepared. He also demands that Cleofilas take care of all his needs and those of his children without complaint.

Don Serafin
Don Serafin is Cleofilas' father, who told her as she left his house with her new husband, "I am your father, I will never abandon you." Still, he sends her off to ' 'el otro lado''—the other side—with a man neither he nor his daughter really knows. Even as she leaves, he wonders if she will someday dream of returning to her hard life of chores with him and her six brothers. Don Serafin teaches Cleofilas that the love between parent and child is different and stronger than the love between a man and a woman, a lesson she remembers as she looks at her infant son. After his daughter's disastrous, violent marriage, to which he initially consented, he is there to welcome her and her children home.

Soledad
Soledad, whose name means "alone," is Cleofilas's neighbor on the left in Seguin, Texas. Soledad says she is a widow, but rarely talks about her husband. Local gossip claims he either died, ran off with another woman, or went out one day and never came back. Soledad is one of the few people Cleofilas can visit, but she does not offer any hope for relief from the abuse Cleofilas suffers. She frustrates Cleofilas because she cannot explain the name of Woman Hollering Creek, and she is full of warnings about the dangers of walking alone at night.

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