Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

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How does motherhood change Cleófilas's outlook in Woman Hollering Creek? Does it define her?

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The decisive moment is perhaps when Cleófilas reflects that the love between a woman and her husband can sour, but a woman's love for her child lasts forever.

It's conceivable, in the context of the story, that Cleófilas would never have decided to leave her abusive husband if she hadn't become a mother. But apart from her realization about the difference between spousal and maternal love, there's no way of knowing this. One would almost think that having had a child and having another on the way would make it more likely in a conventional scenario for her to stay with Juan Pedro, despite his physical (and mental) abuse to her. Having a child already would seemingly make her prospects of finding a boyfriend or new husband after her return to Mexico more difficult.

The evident lack of relevance of this fact, however, might be one of the main points of the story. The idea, or the chance, of getting a new man in her life isn't Cleófilas's priority. The primary concern, as it should be, is her own happiness and that of her son and coming child.

The symbolism inherent in names in this story is significant. The arroyo, or creek, over which the women cross to Cleófilas's freedom is La Gritona (the hollering woman), in contrast to the La Llorona (the weeping woman) story of which Cleófilas is thinking of as an emblem of her own life. And the woman driving her is named Felice (happy). Felice enacts the symbolic liberation by hollering as they cross the creek in her pick-up truck. Cleófilas, we are told, is the name of "one of those Mexican saints... a martyr." The two women at the maternity clinic seem to puzzle over the name, as if it represents something about the non-liberated past that they have personally superseded.

The irony of the story, however, is that we don't know if, in the long run, Cleófilas is going to be significantly happier by returning to Mexico. But when she no longer has to deal with the abusive Juan Pedro, of course, one element of an unsatisfactory and squelched life will be resolved.

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Becoming a mother allows Cleófilas to realize that there is a way out of her current situation. Before becoming a mother, Cleófilas sees love only romantically, like the way it is portrayed in her telenovelas. Before she has a child, she realizes that marriage with Juan Pedro is not the idealistic love she sees on television and believes she is stuck in her situation. Cisneros writes, “this husband till kingdom come,” which shows that Cleófilas believes there will be no change in her situation.

Motherhood, however, redefines love for Cleófilas:

when a man and a woman love each other, sometimes that love sours. But a parent’s love for a child, a child’s for its parents, is another thing entirely.

This discovery allows her to remember the words her father spoke when she was young and too distracted in anticipation of marrying Juan Pedro. Cisneros writes,

She would not remember her father’s parting words until later. I am your father, I will never abandon you. Only now did she remember. Now when she and Juan Pedrito sat by the creek’s edge.

Her son reminds her of a parent’s love for their child, which allows her to be open to returning to her father—thus returning to a love that is true.

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Becoming a mother changes everything for Cleófilas. For one thing, it completely destroys the idealized view of marriage she'd gained from watching all those telenovelas. Cleófilas has effectively been living in a fantasy world all these years, but now life just got very real indeed. Now Cleófilas realizes that she is as dependent on the men in her life as her baby is dependent on her. The patriarchal society in which she's lived her whole life has kept Cleófilas in a state of extended childhood, holding back her development as an adult woman.

For the first time in her life, she's been placed in a position of responsibility over another human being's life, and this forces her to recognize that she's been living a lie all this time. In that sense, motherhood acts as a catalyst for change, a change in how Cleófilas sees herself and the society in which she lives. Cleófilas has reached a fork in the road, and she must make a choice as to which path she should take: either she can go down the path of La Llorona, and endure pain and suffering, or she can follow the free-spirited Felice and experience the joy of liberation.

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Becoming a mother does in fact change the way that Cleófilas perceives her desperate situation, but not in the way readers may initially expect. Sandra Cisneros subverts readers’ expectations that Cleófilas will somehow be driven to escape her abusive husband to protect her child by having Cleófilas subtly acknowledge her child as an extra burden. Cleófilas does not define herself as a mother; indeed, it is society that defines her this way. When she considers going back to her father’s house to leave her abusive, uncouth husband, she mentally runs through the societal consequences that she would face:   

 “Sometimes she thinks of her father's house. But how could she go back there? What a disgrace. What would the neighbors say? Coming home like that with one baby on her hip and one in the oven. Where's your husband?” (50).

Cleófilas is unable to run from her dire situation because she has the added responsibility of being encumbered by a child. In one particularly dark scene, she contemplates the story of La Llorona, and relates to the grim tale:

“Is it La Llorona, the weeping woman? La Llorona, who drowned her own children.... La Llorona calling to her. She is sure of it. Cleófilas sets the baby's Donald Duck blanket on the grass. Listens. The day sky turning to night. The baby pulling up fistfuls of grass and laughing. La Llorona. Wonders if something as quiet as this drives a woman to the darkness under the trees” (51).

The subtext of this quote is that Cleófilas understands the plight of La Llorona, and can relate to the story. It is only when Cleófilas encounters the free-spirited Felice that she seems to be actively changed. Thus, it is not her status as a mother that influences Cleófilas to change and grow, but rather when she witnesses genuine feminine strength and independence. Only then does she decides to no longer play the role of a victim and grows beyond her restrictive societal script as a long-suffering mother.

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