Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

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How does the La Llorona legend relate to "Woman Hollering Creek" and its title?

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The La Llorona legend relates to "Woman Hollering Creek" in several ways. Cleofilas resembles La Llorona in that both women are bound to a place that causes them pain, but while La Llorona expresses her sorrow loudly, Cleofilas is silenced by her abusive husband. La Llorona's cries are evoked by the sound and name of the river, Woman Hollering Creek, that Cleofilas lives near. In the end, Cleofilas discovers that "hollering" can be a sound of joy and escapes her marriage.

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The legend of La Llorona symbolizes the plight of the bound woman, a theme that is explored in “Woman Hollering Creek” through Cleofilas’s journey to freedom from the confines of an abusive relationship. Cleofilas is often silenced and belittled in her relationship. Her husband spends time away so that “he won’t be bothered by the baby’s howling or her suspicious questions.” His complaints are specifically directed at the noise of the house; plainly put, he resents Cleofilas for daring to be heard. To keep the peace, Cleofilas expresses herself less often. By the time she speaks to her husband about their baby’s appointment, she speaks in defensive fragments: “All right, she won’t. Please don’t anymore. Please don’t.”

In contrast, there is nothing silent about La Llorona. Legend says that La Llorona sits by the river in which she drowned her children and wails. Cleofilas resembles La Llorona in that she is also bound to a place she is unhappy in: she lives in an abusive household in a town she describes as a "town of dust, despair.” But whereas Cleofilas silences and diminishes her unhappiness to avoid invoking the anger of her husband, La Llorona’s grief and discontent is quite audible as she haunts the place where her children died. Perhaps this is why Cleofilas notes that she hears the ghost of the woman calling to her. After spending so much time being silenced, she is drawn to women who make noise freely: to La Llorona, who loudly voices her mourning, and eventually to Felice, who loudly voices her independence. La Llorona shows Cleofilas that women should not have to suffer in silence, which gives Cleofilas the strength to accept her doctor’s help. Felice, whose laugh resembles the waters of Woman Hollering Creek, shows Cleofilas that a woman’s voice needn’t be bound to suffering at all. This offers Cleofilas a different perspective on the sounds of Woman Hollering Creek, and on the sounds of womanhood, as she begins a new chapter of her life.

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There's an instant connection between La Llorona and "Woman Hollering Creek." Both involve sound—the creek named after a hollering woman and the popular ghost story of a woman crying for her children.

In the legend of La Llorona, a woman drowned her children and wanders at night crying for them. Her cries, moans, wails, hollers—however you want to describe her shouting—are a sign of pain and love.

In Sandra Cisneros's story, "Woman Hollering Creek," the sound of the river also represents the pain of love. Cleofilas identifies with the pain of the river, and in her own life she has plenty of reason to weep, as her husband is abusive.

However, "Woman Hollering Creek" ends on a hopeful note. La Llorona is stuck endlessly wandering, searching for the children she killed. There's no end in sight for her and no change. However, for Cleofilas the story does end in change.

With the help of Felice, she's able to cross the river and overcome the sounds of pain and suffering. Her holler changes from a cry of pain to the celebratory whoop that Felice calls out as they cross the river. There's redemption in Cleofilas' story and the chance for a second life.

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In the folklore of Mexico and other Latin American countries La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) is a legendary woman who has drowned her children in a creek and is then condemned to spend eternity looking for them. The sound of her crying is said to be a sign of bad luck for those who hear it.

In Sandra Cisneros's short-story the arroyo (creek) beside which Cleofilas and her husband live is somewhat similarly named Gritana, the screaming or hollering woman: hence, the story's title. Cisneros inverts the significance of the legend of la llorona into a positive symbol of freedom for Cleofilas when she is driven across the creek by a woman named Felice ("Happy") who drives a pickup truck and lets out a yell as they're crossing it, on the way to San Antonio, where Cleofilas will presumably get on a bus to return to her family in Mexico.

Cleofilas is a woman physically abused by her husband. Instead of the arroyo representing the victimization of a woman as in the llorona legend, this creek symbolizes an escape from victimization. The cry of sorrow of la llorona becomes a shout, perhaps of triumph, by Felice, which stuns Cleofilas: to her, it seems Felice is "yelling like crazy." Cleofilas wonders how she will relate this story of the "screaming" woman to her father and brothers, which seems a negation of the pain women have experienced through time, or a transformation of that pain into happiness as Cleofilas makes her escape from an abusive relationship.

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This is a story of relationships, and a woman finding her voice in the face of abuse. There is a connection to the idea that the culture respects women who suffer, not those who stand up for themselves. But Cisneros aims to challenge that in her writing. To present a picture of a powerful woman, she uses the well-known character of Mexican folklore: La Llorona, the Weeping Woman.  Most often she is described as a woman who drowned her children and who wanders forever in the night crying.

In this story, La Llorona is the model for the woman who suffers endlessly for love. Cleofilas, who has heard stories of La Llorona all her life, hears the voice calling her as she sits by the bank of the creek La Gritona with her baby. "La Grtiona" means, in fact, "woman hollering". This causes Cleofilas to wonder why the woman is hollering—is it from anger or pain?As she wonders, she begins to hear the holler as a cry of pain with which she identifies very strongly. So one might argue that she has become the traditional scary story, a ghost with which to threaten children. However, the cry of La Gritona/La Llorona is transformed in the throat of Felice, who always laughs and yells "like Tarzan," symbol of great physical power, as she drives her pickup truck over the creek. Thus she brings notions of self-confidence and independence to Cleofilas' life, through the traditional scream.

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