book critique

The Years with Carlos Fuentes: Feminist Reading and Critique of Carlos Fuentes’ “The Years with Laura Diaz"

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The common or notional defense is that, women are continuously oppressed throughout the years by many institutions, which are mostly patriarchal, and of course, the subjugation of the female body to the male body coerces an oppressive remark towards the female persona. Quoting Marilyn French in her novel, The Women’s Room, “Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relationships with men, in their relationships with women, all men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.” The mentioned quotation is powerful yet liberating in the sense that it transpires the female liberation from the restrictive hegemony of patriarchal writing and showcases the ability of women to use the medium of literature as a worthy avenue of exemplifying the thoughts silenced by men through the vocal medium. What is intrinsic to the female liberation is of course her power not to be equal with men but her ability to be seen by both the male and female as not a “second sex” as articulated by De Beauvoir in which she emphasizes the role of the genitals as never an implication of one’s superiority over the other, but to be seen as a distinct sex from the male which she is not compared in a biased manner.

Esquivel’s Malinche showcases Malinalli, the great puta as she is coined by the Mexican history, as well as a traitor is continuously misunderstood by the Mexicans. Historically, she is seen as the translator of Hernan Cortes, as well as Cortes’ woman as they have also indulged in sex and was able to have a child. Esquivel tried to rewrite history not altering facts but still using the history as a backbone of the novel but rewrites the heroism of Malinalli. The novel is not an epic or a sage but it was able to not defend the guilt of Malinalli because she also had her own faults but the novel tried to rewrite how Malinalli is to be viewed: a woman capable of faults and wrong decisions. She should not be viewed as a weak woman who tried to denigrate the Aztec down to the particles of an ash.

In connection to this, though fictional in its very core, Carlos Fuentes uses his telescope to see the recorded history and uses it as a support to write his novel, The Years with Laura Diaz. He contextualizes the novel, or the epic or saga as referred by other people, to the history of Mexico by situating a woman who faces many experiences—love, revolution, family. The novel is quite lengthy, spanning over a hundred years and in its physical manifestation, over five hundred pages. Fuentes used the life of Laura Diaz over these years to portray history, which is one of the most important features of the politics of Latin-American writers throughout their works.

Feminism as a Framework

Magic realism as a literary trend has grown over the years and it has also manifested its own tenet as being able to be used as a literary theory in explicating texts. However, this paper would like to read Fuentes’ novel in a female perspective through a feminist reading. By means of a feminist reading, the critic wishes to gather different thoughts conceived by feminism in order to properly critique the novel not only through a formalistic (or new critical) method but also a text belonging to the feminine aspect.

Feminism in itself is a school of theory that “looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and …this critique strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women” (Brizee and Tompkins 2010). Tyson, in his book about theory, exemplifies the approaches to feminist criticism which is summarized in terms of: (1) oppression of women through the patriarchal ideology; (2) the othering of the woman; (3) the cultural determination of gender; (4) equalizing men and women; and (5) intersecting the issues of gender with literature.

The critic would not rely on the framework as a form of criticism but would also like to use the framework as a form of reading—a support in order to appropriate a richer use of feminist perspective in a text. However, the writer being a male can be a tad bit problematic, in which Fiona Tolan, in the book of Patricia Waugh, Literary Theory And Criticism: An Oxford Guide, articulated,

“The practice of approaching male authors through a feminist perspective became known as ‘phallocentric criticism’ because it sought to expose the masculine bias of a work…Millet demonstrated that a text could be something other than it was originally conceived to be. This led to the promotion of the role of the reader…From the moment phallocentric criticism was established, the text could no longer be assumed to be innocent of sexual politics (Waugh, 326-328, 2006).

In this manner, Tolan articulates that there is something different in reading a female authored text in a feminist perspective and a male authored text featuring a female hero[ine] in a female perspective. This would only lead in the exposition in the biases where the male author may write against the woman and only portray her as someone of the stereotypical notion.

Finally, the criticism would use several general questions rooted in the feminist theory to exemplify other parts of text aside from the major theories to be used. These questions will serve as a guide in unlocking the feminist themes of the work. Also, the questions will seek to understand the political standing of Laura Diaz as a woman.

Male Writer, Feminist Perspective

The foremost argument that may stem from many critics is how a male writer was able to present a woman considered as a heroic figure throughout the years of her life. She is basically grounded in a mural, but how was she able to hold such power and present it to the world? Carlos Fuentes as a male writer also hold his own masculine politics that would categorize Laura Diaz to be present of masculine politics as well. This was evident in the sex escapades of Laura Diaz. Seeking the colonial mind, colonizers often embark not only a world of exploration but also of sex. They either fell in love with the women of the land they are colonizing (such is the story of Malinalli and Hernan Cortes and the people of the Philippines with a rich Spanish descent) or of course, subjugate their bodies to the colonial power of rape. This is not to say, however, that Laura Diaz was able to present male power of rape or colonialism, but this is to say that Laura Diaz also had a rich sexual experience which should not be denoted as a representation of a Mexican woman through Fuentes’ eyes.

Laura Diaz primarily had many lovers, similar to a male who will most likely to have one. Fuentes might regarded Laura Diaz as a masculine figure and tried to subvert her femininity to a woman who will be ready to indulge love with other men. In a patriarchal culture, men who indulge in womanizing are not crucified like someone who has done a grave sin. Many husbands are philanderers and they indulge in love-making with different woman because they either: (1) need more experience in sex; or (2) they are not satisfied with the sex they get from their lover/s. If we see other cultures, there are even those practicing monogamy as permitted by religious or cultural laws but presents that one must be able to provide a living for the women and the children produced. On the other hand, when female “masculinize / menize”, they are treated like harlots or puta. Such is the lives of women in biblical times, or even in other cultures that when they commit adultery, they are stoned to death.

Next we can see the role of Laura Diaz in the revolution or rather, the abundance of the novel with politics. We can see the interest of the author to depict a lot of political information which is sometimes not needed much and enough background would be sufficient. Because of this issue, the presence of the interest of the male psyche in the political world becomes evident. The political abundance found in the novel somewhat deterred the life of Laura Diaz from what should be the focus. From the title, we can see that it is about this woman: the years that have gone by for almost a hundred years she was able to experience a lot of things. However, this seems not to be the case. Laura Diaz is basically a witness only of such events and this deters her from the usual course of a novel or what the novel must be: the life of Laura Diaz. The author seemed to delineated from the course and instead, rendered only Laura Diaz in a form of a spectacle: the ever-spectator who is only watching. Being a spectator is oppressive because it silences—you can only watch but you can never interfere. This is like watching a movie: you can only watch but you can never interfere with the decisions being made by the characters.

Going back to the political abundance of the novel, it is also oppressive in the sense that Laura Diaz’ important is neglected. Instead, the novel transforms itself like a discourse about the political status of Mexico and how it is an intrinsic aspect in the historical foundation of it. At first, these political explanations can serve as an important background. But as a reader witnesses more political explanations that seem to deter the reader from Laura Diaz’ life, the manifestation of patriarchy is visible both in the side of the author (who is a male) and of the novel (which is now becoming masculine instead of feminine). Truly, it is assumable that Fuentes did not intend the novel to be feminine or read through a feminist perspective. The novel itself might just be really a novel of patriarchal influences; that, the novel only uses Laura Diaz as an object—objectifying her through the oppressive and silencing lens.

In connection with oppression, it is also arguable as to why Laura Diaz’ life is so dominated by a patriarchal rule. Her life is very dramatic, emotional, and oppressive. The novel may try to repress the false notions of any negativity within the Mexican context however it does not fully try to repress the emotional life of Laura Diaz. First, she is neglected by her husband. They are married and also, they had children but their life is very dull. They do not inflict any spark of love between each other. In the end, it was Laura who left and if it will be coined in the modern context, it would appear Laura is the one who is the oppressive one because it is always men who leave, and now in the novel, we see Laura being the lover who left the supposedly ‘loved’ which is again a medium of a male lens that tries to picture Laura Diaz as a masculine figure. There are many more events in the life that would be too many to enumerate but with its abundance of bad luck in life, we can picture that Laura Diaz is oppressed in terms of her life experience. It’s too much of a bad picturing of a woman especially using the medium of literature because Laura Diaz can be rendered as a representation, and a bad representation at that. What constitutes the novel somehow feminine is the ability of Laura Diaz to withstand everything—but doesn’t it go down to a hypermasculine strength Laura Diaz manifests?

Approaching the Text in Feminist Criticism

As articulated before, there are some approaches to the texts that would be important in discerning how the feminist and anti-feminist aspect of the novel. Primarily, it is obvious that Laura Diaz is oppressed in the patriarchal ideology of the author. This novel is the first novel of Fuentes to make the hero a female (thus a heroine) of his novel. The problem with his writing rest on the engendering of the text which is very masculine while the heroine is a feminine. The patriarchal ideology lies in the many aspects of masculine interest: the ideology of politics. Politics in itself is patriarchal because only in the recent times we witness female icons in the political world. If we see the years the novel is divided, we can see the earliest time it is contextualized in the early 1900’s.

We can witness the “othering” of Laura Diaz when she is considered to be only a spectacle; a lens that is a witness only and who almost can’t do anything. Laura Diaz’ reduction to a spectator strips of her the ability to speak and of course, the ability to have a participative role in the novel. She is presented to be   an ‘other’ or a stranger who can only watch as things go by. And that presents that however biologically female she is, the ideology of patriarchal rule cannot equate the oppressed voices of the feminists because of the culture presented in the book is too masculine that emasculation of Laura Diaz also happens, though never awarding her any privileges that a male can manifest.

The portrayal of men and women relationship is also present in the novel. Laura Diaz, in her case, cannot communicate with men easily. Primarily, she wasn’t able to have great terms with her husband (though in the later part of the novel they reunited) and with also her sons. Also, her most valuable male companion will be her brother, who dies early, depressing her more. What’s really problematic in this aspect is that Laura Diaz seems to be stripped of having a good harmonic relation with men.

Work is of course, an important aspect in the female psyche because this is a showcase of their strength as well. The work of Laura Diaz, which becomes evident in the latter parts of the novel are very feminine or a job requiring artistic talents rather than a work requiring the strength of a man (carpentry and others). The job of being a secretary and photographer is able to resist patriarchy in terms that Laura Diaz does not reduce herself to a housewife grounded only in home. The ability to work and being free to work constitutes already a large part of Laura Diaz that her work is able to rewrite how the strength of the feminine is also available in Fuentes’ novel.

Concluding: Feminist or Masculine?

It is obvious that the text is a masculine one even it features a female heroine. As stated by the aforementioned thoughts, the text is embedded in a patriarchal ideology and embodies masculine perception of politics and also incorporates the politics of the writer being a male. Although the text is masculine, there are still tinges of feminine aspect that depicts Laura Diaz as a female representation though it is solely embedded in her idea of being locked into a spectator’s lens.

Works Cited

Brizee, Allen, and J. Case Tompkins. “Feminist Criticism (1960s-present).” Purdue OWL: Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism. Purdue Online Writing Lab, 21 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Feb 2013.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Years with Laura Diaz. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999. Print.

Tolan, Fiona. “Feminisms.” Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide. By Patricia Waugh. New York: Oxford UP, 2006. N. pag. Print.


A Feminist Reading of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s "Bring Me A Unicorn"

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Many women, throughout the history, are given a bad reputation as a human being such as possessing numerous weaknesses, triviality, and many more negative adjectives. However, it is true that men themselves govern the society and so, they impose the power upon the society. There are women who are attached to men, part of a great section of the society. For example will be, a simple woman marrying a lieutenant colonel with given nicknames, “Slim,” “Lucky Lindy,” and “The Lone Eagle.” Perhaps the first two nicknames can be associated with something adorable, the last title signifies a massive influence of power. If a great figure of American politics marrying a simple woman who loves literature and creative writing, what would be the result?

Bring Me A Unicorn, a collection of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries and letters from 1922 – 1928, showcases her life as a youth, a college student, and a future wife and mother, whose identity as an unknown woman is stripped away and replaced by a greater title: the wife of the lieutenant colonel. Through a feminist reading, this analysis will critique the book’s portrayal of power relations between men and women, as well give minor details about the coming of age of Anne Morrow Lindbergh through the many phases of her life.

The book begins with a set of introductions on her childhood age. Anne Morrow Lindbergh showcases a lot of blissful memories through her [still intact] letters sent to her relatives (most especially to her mother and grandmother) and friends, as well as the letter of those people to her. As Anne goes through the college life in Smith College, she pictures the landscape of her school: surroundings, environment, people, places, and books. She writes these as entries in her diary, depicting her appreciations, self-thoughts, comments, and ideas. She would not create any bias within her diary—whatever thought would come up to her, which is deemed truthful and necessary; she will inscribe it in her diary. Not only has she written her present thoughts for what she sees around, but also its “futuristic end.” Such as, what kind of people will be sitting in this very garden after ten years? Or, what would be the new book acquisitions of the library so readers can plant them on their minds? These questions would raise arguments on her ideas on how she depicts the present and the future through what is seen visibly in the eye.

As the book unfolds more information, Anne Morrow Lindbergh is depicted as someone who has a literary talent. She loves to read literary books and spend time writing poems dedicated to her family. She would spend time reading books that may instigate [unconscious] inspiration or most probably, happy thoughts. Anne Morrow Lindbergh now can be described as someone who loves to read and write at the same time. She can be depicted as a “literary figure” with a sense of poetry writing and literary books reading. In her diaries, she preferred to read poetries by female poets such as Sara Teasdale and as well retrieve an influence of femininity from Teasdale’s poems.

A sense of adventure cannot be disregarded when talking about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne loved to travel to many places, whatever thematic image it portrays. A restaurant would be one travelling place Anne would love. A place with paintings; a place with tons of artistic images; a place imbued with historical figures; a place with a whimsical architecture—all of which fascinates the artistic mind and curious eyes of Anne. Not only she is amazed by the general structure of her adventure places, but as well, she expresses even little details and articulates them within her diaries and letters with creative imagination by playing with words that would seem lovely both to the eyes and ears of her reader(s). Her depiction of unflawed intent to record even the little details creates parallelism of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles. It is evident in the play that women are disregarded for their concentration to the little details and their sporadic desire to observe and keep-an-eye to men-proclaimed trivial things around. However, these “trivial things” became the key to the better understanding of the real case on the story. And such, these trivially small things penetrated the keyhole in solving the mystery behind the play’s character, “Minnie Foster.” Perhaps, it would be the same with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s desire to detail everything—for it may unfold many unknown keys that would fit into mysterious unknown keyholes.

By the depiction of information about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, it is imperative for the readers to think that Anne is a wonder—an intellectual, literary figure who enforces her feminine powers through her philosophical ideas, critical thoughts, and literary mind. Her power is much more concentrated in the world of arts and her power to move the society is perhaps, impossible due to the weakening power relations between men and women. Men outnumber women in the public roles in politics and governance. Women are much more concentrated in the field of academe, or just plainly being a housewife grounded in the home to serve its family.

The father of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, being a politician, has a great political influence in the America. And having a political influence, entitles you a base of power in the society. It is obvious that men are always being topped as great figures, great instigators of greatness throughout the history. Men have always presented various codes and laws originating from Hammurabi’s Code, and the other historical kings of the Mesopotamia, all of which are men. Even in the modern context of the Chinese, having a son is much more considered a blessing than having a daughter. Concubinage is rampant in the Chinese society and gives low regards for women; as well as the desire of men to marry women to obtain a son, who will serve as a might successor for their businesses. The depiction of the power of men is continuously severing the idea of feminine power and rule over the society. If women would be depicted as courageous leaders, enough to formulate codes and laws to promote the idea of feminine power, it would create a greater mark on the contemporary society. And to say, that many women in the contemporary period are rising to power and rule, as well as being great parts of businesses and organizations.

Implying the power between the men and women, it may be evident that many female oppression throughout the world is already disengaged by the society, it would still be a proper base for the historical or classical times. In the time of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, there are still female oppression (however, not that rampant and not that violent) in such a way, their feminine value is lowered.

Criticizing first the many women and children of Charles Lindbergh, it would be already evident that this man regarded the value of Anne Morrow to a lower state. A man wouldn’t cheat on his wife (if he values and treasures her dearly) and as well would not engage on adultery. Many would say that it would be alright for men to engage on different women because such is the political and military role of Charles Lindbergh, he would be away from Anne. However, this only presents his image of women as a “sex figure” or an “entertainment pastime.”

It would be true that Anne Morrow Lindbergh succumbed to the many evil consequences that would be imposed to her as she marries the lieutenant colonel. It is already imperative on her side to follow all the rules that would be imposed by Charles Lindbergh, with a family background of having a role in the World War I. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, as a woman with great intellectual sense, already knew the consequences awaiting after she marries. She might have already predicted what would happen in the future. Some consequences that Anne Morrow Lindbergh was able to endure would be her shortened time to devote her single life to her youth. Anne married at a young age and she can still do many things that single women do (such as enjoying social gatherings without the thought of married life and meeting much more men to choose who will be the rightful one). This was unpainted from the colors of Anne’s life. She could have chosen a better man that would respect her womanly image and revere her with great respect, with great admiration, and with great profound importance. Another consequence would be the feeling of being weak because of the political involvement of her husband. In the book, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” the Schutzstaffel officer Ralf holds a high position in the political and military situation of Germany. Having two children and a wife, he is deeply involved in politics and his time for family and recreation is already out of the context in his married life. The wife accepted everything happening from the start, because it was told by Ralf everything would be better, and everything would be for the best. Deluded by the lies of Ralf, the wife continued to believe everything. Until she witnessed the true world of cruelty happening, she loses her stand on how the world runs because of her husband. In the end, she wanted a separation from her husband, including the two children because the things happening around is not suitable already for the children and for the wife as a woman with dignity. This scenario, of course, is not impossible to happen in the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. However, she trusted herself more that she will be able to surpass the impassable and the impossible.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s desire was always to be a writer. She did not want a position in the political arena, a position where she can impose her codes and laws to the society. Simple as it goes, she wanted to be writer (in which she accomplished it, along with her images as a memoirist and a diary-keeper. She have always stayed in the corner, recording all possible details on her life—including her pre-marriage and post-marriage life. Her pre-marriage life was livelier and more imbued with fun-filled adventures throughout the places. Her father, being ambassador to Mexico, enabled her to travel to places and records many memories she can jot down in her diary. This Mexico trip became the catalyst for the meeting of Anne and Charles because of the diplomatic power and relations of Anne’s father to many of the political icons of the America. The influence of Anne’s father also instigated the marriage between Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh. This again depicted the inequality of men and women. Anne Morrow Lindbergh may or may not have a desire to marry Charles Lindbergh. However, because of the fatherly and masculine power being imposed indirectly to Anne, marriage is just a one step away. It would be mustered in the mind of Anne that her father chose such a great political figure, Charles Lindbergh, to swear love and living together in front of the altar with Anne. Thus, this empowers the idea of influences—the greater the position, the greater the influence. Men of great figures, of great honors, and great titles have more influence than those without. Imagine, two people: one is very intelligent and artistic, however not affluent and no remarkable title that would show prowess of power; and another one is perhaps, not too intelligent and artistic but holds a great rank in the society, who would have a better influence for you? Who would you follow? Of course, the latter, because you will have a notion that this man is experienced and well-versed in the language of the society. That man would be more promising and more suited to deliver great messages and talks.

As a result, it would be evident that even in the ninety’s, men possess greater power and influence than women. The power relations between the two are severed by the ideas of influence, social status, affluence, and power, and so negate the idea of women being able to do things as well without the pre-requisite of having a strong-look as a primary image. The mustering idea of the book entails that women are always depicted as writers, poets, painters (perhaps), housewives and other more that only requires intellectual skills and mastered artistry. Women do not deserve to fit in the role of becoming great political figures, or great influences in the society. The book, in the form of recollected memoirs, diaries and letters, evidently projects how women are acting and how men are different. Being the years of the World War I and the World War II, an approach to what is power is the ability to participate both in political and military matters of the American state. And such, women’s power relation with men are already dropped at the lowest level—the level of just becoming trivial images of the society, scattered to serve men.

1. This is a paper submitted for my Creative Nonfiction class at my undergraduate. I lost the source part and I apologize for this matter.