Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

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How does Cisneros's background influence her style in "Woman Hollering Creek"?

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Although Sandra Cisneros was born in the United States, both her parents were from Mexico, and like the story’s main character, Cleofilas, Cisneros was the only daughter in a family of seven. Maintaining a solid grasp on her Mexican heritage, Cisneros spent most of her early career working in education, specifically in an alternative high school for Latino youth, then working in multiple colleges.

Fortunately, Cisneros did not lead the same life that her protagonist does, yet the life she depicts in the short story is not outside of the realm of possibility for many. It makes sense to see “Woman Hollering Creek” as a lesson Cisneros uses to teach. With a substantial amount of informal language and an episodic structure, Cisneros attempts to mitigate the gap between cultures and bring a sense of understanding to an audience who may not have a grasp on Hispanic culture.

Throughout the story, Cisneros inserts clarifying phrases when she mixes up the language and integrates some common Spanish and Spanish slang as well. Cisneros juxtaposes the creek, known to the locals as “Woman Hollering,” and her own folklore from Hispanic culture—that is, La Llorona, or the weeping woman. She uses this contrast to depict Cleofilas’s failed attempts at integrating herself into a new world:

How could Cleofilas explain to a woman like this why the name Woman Hollering fascinated her.

Using a short, episodic structure to tell her story gives Cisneros the ability to contain the story to such a limited point of view that the reader feels lost at times. As such, the reader must make attempts to understand the story around them—much like Cleofilas in her new world after marriage. This also mirrors the telenovelas that are referenced consistently throughout the story, so much so that it helps bridge the gap between cultures. Cleofilas’s life reads exactly like a melodrama, from a cheating and abusive husband to other dastardly characters who associate with Juan Pedro:

Cleofilas thought her life would have to be like that, like a telenovela, only now the episodes got sadder and sadder. And there were no commercials in between for comic relief. And no happy ending in sight.

Navigating through her story in a quick, nonlinear fashion allows Cisneros to show how quickly one’s idea of a perfect life can turn upside down.

Fortunately, Cisneros introduces Cleofilas’s savior: Feliz, a woman who is able to intermix Spanish and English, much like the narrator, and also bridge the gap between two cultures by giving meaning to the name of the creek:

When they drove across the arroyo, the driver opened her mouth and let out a yell as loud as any mariachi. ... Pues, look how cute. I scared you two, right? Sorry. Should’ve warned you. Every time I cross that bridge I do that. Because of the name, you know. Woman Hollering. Pues, I holler. She said this in a Spanish poked with English and laughed.

This final technique shows Cisneros coming full circle. She presents the reader with a nontraditional happy ending to the "telenovela": the sense of connection that Cleofilas had been longing for.

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