Qu. 2. To what extent does Mastretta’s novel Arráncame la vida reconfigure conventional gender paradigms?
Word Count : 2908
To what extent does Mastretta’s novel Arráncame la vida reconfigure conventional gender paradigms?
In order to be able to analyse the extent to which Arráncame la vida deconstructs gender stereotypes, it is necessary to define what traditional notions of gender were in Mexican society at the time. Monsiváis notes that ‘women mean very little in political and social terms and practically nothing when set before the deity of those times’, and fixed divisions of gender are apparent within the novel itself, ‘preferiría oír la plática de los hombres, pero no era correcto. Siempre las cenas se dividían así’. This would suggest that women were seen as generally inferior to and weaker than men, and that there was a great divergence in the expected standards of behaviour between the sexes. I would agree with the numerous critics who see the novel as a feminisation of the Mexican Revolution, and would add to this by saying that Mastretta subverts the idea of history as written by males by contributing as a female author as well as by offering a first person feminine perspective of the events of the time. It is arguably not just the notion of history that Mastretta is challenging, but also the paradigms on which the patriarchal binarism of the period was founded. In this essay I will discuss the ways in which the author reconfigures traditional gender codes, and then analyse how the novel may not contest conventional masculine orthodoxy as much as it may first appear to.
An important way in which Arráncame... reconfigures gender paradigms is in Mastretta’s portrayal of the women characters in the novel. Contrary to traditional views in the Mexico of the 1940s, the women of Puebla are often seen as more powerful than their husbands, ‘‘-…no crees, Julián? – Claro que lo cree, dijo Marilú como despedida’. In this case, the wife is answering for her husband, which completely subverts social norms of the time, as by doing this, Mastretta gives the woman’s voice more importance and emasculates the character of Julián. The involvement of women in the Revolution is also seemingly more masculine, ‘‘Mientras su mujer gritaba con los demás, Andrés mentaba madres’, as Eulalia and others are the ones taking a stand and being thrust into a violent situation, whilst the men remain in the background. In her portrayal of the women as a group, the author also makes it clear that they are capable of accomplishments outside of the traditional female roles of wife and mother. For me, Cati’s sister Bárbara exemplifies this, ‘nada más porque Bárbara cumplía con su papel de secretaria fuimos a entregarles las camisetas a los niños’ , as she is employed by Cati and Andrés which goes against the paradigm of women’s responsibilities being primarily and exclusively in the domestic environment.
Many critics including Gauss agree that Mexican nationalism defines women’s interests as based around their responsibilities as wives and mothers. Arráncame... clearly contests this concept as Cati resists and rejects motherhood, ‘‘lo había cargado nueve meses como una pesadilla’, eventually choosing to abdicate herself from any motherly duties when she shuts the door on her children, leaving this role to the maid, Lucina. I would take this further than those who suggest that Cati’s contempt for motherhood is simply down to her feeling unattractive when pregnant, as her lack of motherly instinct continues even as her children grow up. What is poignant for me is that at the end of the novel, in a complete reversal from the beginning when Andrés refers to the children as Catalina’s, she refers to them as solely his ‘sus hijos se los rieron todos’. In detatching the character from the children she bore, Mastretta completely rejects traditional views of women and in associating them as a product of their father rather than as shared between both parents, she challenges gender paradigms of the time which dictated that children were exclusively the responsibility of the woman.