Woman Hollering Creek

by Sandra Cisneros

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Woman Hollering Creek Themes

The three main themes in “Woman Hollering Creek” are love and passion, gender roles, and victimization.

  • Love and passion: Cleófilas longs for a passionate love but instead finds herself trapped in an abusive marriage. Her father’s love for her, however, endures.
  • Gender roles: Constrained as she is by the narrow role assigned to her as a woman, Cleófilas is shocked to meet Felice, who does not conform to traditional gender roles.
  • Victimization: Cleófilas suffers abuse at the hands of her husband but is ultimately able to escape her victimization and return to Mexico.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

As its title suggests, “Woman Hollering Creek” explores the emotions contained within one abused woman, Cleófilas, who ultimately becomes a symbol of the many women whose domestic rage simmers quietly before exploding. After moving to Seguin, Cleófilas asks her neighbors about the creek, the woman who hollered. Had she yelled from anger or pain? They shrug. Preoccupied by their own problems with men who have left them, they have little time or energy to consider the creek’s name. As Cleófilas’s problems intensify and as the beatings become more frequent and severe, she does not fight back or break into tears. Instead she goes to the creek. Although once it had seemed so pretty and full of promise, she now sees it as the darkness under the trees, a destructive force. Eventually, however, after escaping from her oppressive marriage, her own hollering on crossing the creek takes the form of laughter, a light and liberating expression of relief and hope.

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To Juan Pedro, his wife’s emotional state is of absolutely no concern. Her exhausting efforts to make their house a home by making curtains for the doorways, bleaching the linens, and mopping the floors goes unnoticed. He tires of her suspicious questions, refuses to let her enjoy music or television, and flings one of her romance books in her face from across the room. He even brings another woman into their home while she is in the hospital having Juan Pedrito. When Cleófilas sees the woman’s crushed cigarette in a glass, her dreams seem to be equally destroyed.

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Although neither her neighbors nor her husband find it in their hearts to help her out of this desperate and depressed state, the kindness of two strangers suggests that a better life for her and her son is indeed possible. When she accepts a ride from Felice, she marvels at the fact that the woman drives a pickup, her very own truck. She is paying for it herself and living on her own. It is as if Cleófilas has seen a new way of being, not the highly romanticized lifestyle she has learned from the Mexican soap operas but one that is grounded in reality and very attainable in her new single condition.

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Latest answer posted March 26, 2022, 10:56 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Repeated references to Mexican soap operas occur throughout the story. Cleófilas has paid a heavy personal price for eagerly watching and emulating the characters in the soap operas, who obsess about finding their one great love. Freedom is possible only when she abandons the myth that to suffer for love is good. In the end, no longer a silent martyr, she bursts forth with a long beautiful ribbon of laughter.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 718

Cleofilas longs for "passion in its purest crystalline essence. The kind the books and songs and telenovelas describe when one finds, finally, the great love of one's life, and does whatever one can, must do, at whatever cost," because, she believes, "to suffer for love is good. The pain all sweet somehow." Unhappily, the passive acceptance of suffering for love that Cleofilas learns as she grows up makes her especially vulnerable to her abusive husband. She had always believed that "she would strike back if a man, any man, were to strike her." Instead, when Juan Pedro first hits her, "she had been so stunned, it left her speechless, motionless, numb." Unbelieving and forgiving when the abuse begins, Cleofilas wonders why her pain goes beyond the sweet pain of her soap opera heroines. Where is the love that is supposed to go along with the pain?

Cleofilas learns that the only love that endures in her life is the love of a parent for a child. When she leaves her father's house in Mexico, he tells her, "I am your father, I will never abandon you." Although he gives her in marriage to a man whose violence is unknown to them, he welcomes her home after she escapes her life of domestic abuse.

Women in Cleofilas's culture are assigned to carefully circumscribed roles, as they are in most cultures. For example, she is given to Juan Pedro by her father, moves from her father's house into her husband's house, does not drive or have access to a car, and is isolated with her child to the small house where she must cook, clean, and care for her family without even the companionship of a television. She is shocked to meet Felice, a woman who drives a pickup truck that is her own, not her husband's, since she does not even have a husband. It is a truck she chose and that she pays for herself. Felice's life is full of freedom that Cleofilas never even imagines. When Felice lets out a loud yell as they cross Woman Hollering Creek, Cleofilas and her baby are both startled by the outburst. Felice explains that the only woman who is revered, or for whom any place is named around their town, is the Virgin, and in fact "you're only famous if you are a virgin."

Men, too, are constrained by the sex roles assigned to them by culture. Nothing in Juan Pedro's world encourages him to be other than he is. His ice-house friends condone violence against women, and even the women near his home who must know his violent ways, do nothing to correct him. His wife forgives him and promises to remain silent about his beatings and even to lie outright if asked about her many bruises by her doctor. She will say "she fell down the front steps or slipped when she was out in the backyard, slipped out back, she could tell him that."

Cleofilas is a classic victim of domestic abuse. After being battered by her husband, Cleofilas "could think of nothing to say, said nothing. Just stroked the dark curls of the man who wept and would weep like a child, his tears of repentance and shame, this time and each." The cycle of abuse followed by guilt and remorse continues. Like other victims of violence at the hands of men, Cleofilas is isolated, poor, has one child and is pregnant with another, and lives in a climate where violence against women is ignored—even condoned. Her husband and his friends at the ice house joke about Maximiliano "who is said to have killed his wife in an ice house brawl when she came at him with a mop. I had to shoot, he had said—she was armed." Like many women, Cleofilas believes that she must remain with her husband; the telenovelas have taught her that "to suffer for love is good. The pain is all sweet somehow." In calmer moments, the drama of passion continues to flair within her: "this man, this father, this rival, this keeper, this lord, this master," she tells herself, "this husband till kingdom come." Cleofilas is finally able to "slip out back," with help from the women of the clinic, and to escape being victimized by her husband.

Themes

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Last Updated on August 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806

Love and Passion

Cleofilas longs for "passion in its purest crystalline essence. The kind the books and songs and telenovelas describe when one finds, finally, the great love of one's life, and does whatever one can, must do, at whatever cost." Because, she believes, "to suffer for love is good. The pain all sweet somehow." Unhappily, the passive acceptance of suffering for love that Cleofilas learns as she grows up makes her especially vulnerable to her abusive husband. She had always believed that "she would strike back if a man, any man, were to strike her." Instead, when Juan Pedro first hits her, "she had been so stunned, it left her speechless, motionless, numb." Unbelieving and forgiving when the abuse begins, Cleofilas wonders why her pain goes beyond the sweet pain of her soap opera heroines. Where is the love that is supposed to go along with the pain?

Cleofilas learns that the only love that endures in her life is the love of a parent for a child. When she leaves her father's house in Mexico, he tells her, "I am your father, I will never abandon you." Although he gives her in marriage to a man whose violence is unknown to them, he welcomes her home after she escapes her life of domestic abuse.

Gender Roles

Women, in Cleofilas' culture, are assigned to carefully circumscribed roles, as they are in most cultures. For example, she is given to Juan Pedro by her father, moves from her father's house into her husband's house, does not drive or have access to a car, and is isolated with her child to the small house where she must cook, clean, and care for her family without even the companionship of a television. She is shocked to meet Felice, a woman who drives a pickup truck that is her own, not her husband's, since she does not even have a husband. It is a truck she chose and that she pays for herself. Felice's life is full of freedom that Cleofilas never even imagines. When Felice lets out a loud yell as they cross Woman Hollering Creek, Cleofilas and her baby are both startled by the outburst. Felice explains that the only woman who is revered, or for whom any place is named around their town, is the Virgin, and in fact "you're only famous if you are a virgin."

Men, too, are constrained by the sex roles assigned to them by culture. Nothing in Juan Pedro's world encourages him to be other than he is. His ice house friends condone violence against women, and even the women near his home who must know his violent ways, do nothing to correct him. His wife forgives him and promises to remain silent about his beatings and even to lie outright if asked about her many bruises by her doctor. She will say "she fell down the front steps or slipped when she was out in the backyard, slipped out back, she could tell him that."

Victimization

Cleofilas is a classic victim of domestic abuse, according to Jean Wyatt in her essay "On Not Being La Malinche: Border Negotiations of Gender in Sandra Cisneros's 'Never Marry and Mexican' and 'Woman Hollering Creek'" (Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 14, Fall, 1995). After being battered by her husband, Cleofilas "could think of nothing to say, said nothing. Just stroked the dark curls of the man who wept and would weep like a child, his tears of repentance and shame, this time and each." The cycle of abuse followed by guilt and remorse continues. Like other victims of violence at the hands of men, Cleofilas is isolated, poor, has one child and is pregnant with another, and lives in a climate where violence against women is ignored—even condoned. Her husband and his friends at the ice house joke about Maximiliano "who is said to have killed his wife in an ice house brawl when she came at him with a mop. I had to shoot, he had said—she was armed." Like many women, Cleofilas believes that she must remain with her husband; the telenovelas have taught her that "to suffer for love is good. The pain is all sweet somehow." In calmer moments, the drama of passion continues to flair within her: "this man, this father, this rival, this keeper, this lord, this master," she tells herself, "this husband till kingdom come."

Cleofilas is finally able to "slip outback," with help from the women of the clinic, and to escape being victimized by her husband. As Cisneros tells Reed Dasenbrock and Feroza Jussawalla in Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, "There's a lot of victimization but we [Mexican women] are also fierce. Our mothers had been fierce. Our women may be victimized but they are still very, very fierce and very strong."

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