Diary Of A Survivor: Literary Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Title: Diary of A Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women?s Prison
Authors: Ana Rodriguez and Glenn Garvin
Published: St. Martin?s Press
Type of Book: Assisted auto-biography
Plot SummaryDiary of a Survivor follows nineteen years of Ana Rodriguez?s life, a Cuban woman arrested by Cuba?s ?State Security? in her late teens.
As a teenager she had been an activist against the Batista dictatorship which governed Cuba, and at first welcomed Fidel Castro?s take-over of power. Gradually, however, she realises that Castro has no intention of leading Cuba democratically and joins the fight against him. She is betrayed to the authorities by an informant, is arrested, tried and convicted, and is sentenced to thirty years in prison.
Diary of a Survivor tells of Ana Rodriguez?s continuous resistance against political intimidation that eventually ?breaks? her captors rather than them ?breaking? her. This strong will and courage earns her legendary among fellow political prisoners and civilians as a ?plantada?; one who cannot be broken.
Themes/ Thematic StatementsThe ill-effects of communism/ dictatorships on a society is explored through the entire book as it was a constant part of Ana?s life, in fact it is what caused her imprisonment.
Human rights abuses in Cuba and in communist countries in general Cuba?s corrupt government hierarchy and legal system also feature throughout the books, like the continual rapes and beatings the prisoners face.
People who betray one group of people will end up betraying anyone they come into contact with. This is shown in Isis Nimo, the spy who initially gets Ana sent to prison but eventually gets fired from all her government jobs because of her untrustworthiness.
Racism can work in reverse but still produce adverse effects. There are two mentions of black political prisoners (most are white). They are considered unusual because Fidel Castro?s regime was meant to favourable to black people in general.
Even people who are said to have firmly set ideas can have doubts, like the ?hard-line communist soldiers? who do not join in when the women are being attacked and the guards that in one particular incident slip the starved prisoners food.
The pros and cons of the chivalrous Cuban idea that women are considered good and passive, and therefore only the most offensive women criminals are jailed in Cuba, and the disregard of it by some officials. This is touched on whenever there is contact with the common prisoners, and in an especially disturbing scene where a group of female common prisoners are let into a cell where a young girl is held as a ?traitor? to the Fidel Castro regime. She is subsequently raped, and the prison officials ignore her screams for help.
Hunger strikes are an effective form of protest. This idea is portrayed throughout the book, some lasting more than seven weeks. Almost all of the hunger strikes end in a victory for the prisoners however.
SettingMost of the book is set in the various Cuban prisons that Ana spent nineteen years of her life in. The story also tells of several escapes in which the settings ranging from the streets of Cuba?s capital Havana to the biggest Cathedral on the island to the somewhat surreal night-time countryside.
All of the prisons written about are terrible institutions, some cells without water and toilets, cells made for six women housing thirty.
The ?Tapiadas? are a form of punishment which most prisons included. ?Tapiada? literally means enclosed space, and that is exactly what these suffocating black cells are. The claustrophobia experienced by the prisoners is frightening to read about, let alone endure.
There is a definite class-system within the prison although there are shady areas. There are some political prisoners (mostly peasants) who still support Batista?s regime. They are against Fidel Castro, but their support of the previous dictator makes them outsiders to the general population of political prisoners who despise all communist regimes. The group of political prisoners are surprised to find solidarity among the civilians of a town far away from the country?s main centre because they assume that most of the peasants and those living in the country are ignorant of the horrors of Castro?s regime.
Ana?s group also hate to be thought of as anything to do with the country?s female common criminals. This is because her group are imprisoned on principle, whereas only the most notoriously violent or offensive females are jailed for crimes in Cuba, and the political prisoners consider being grouped as ?the same? as the dangerous women criminals degrading. As mentioned in the list of thematic areas, there is a historical idea that most women are good and passive, therefore ensuring that only the most offensive women criminals are jailed in Cuba. This idea divides some of the countries most high-ranking officials because of the way the women political prisoners are treated.
Although the political prisoners are fiercely opposed to communism, when foreigners, for example Russian politicians, attack Cuba they support their Cuban jailers over the foreigners.
SymbolismThe items that Ana has in her possession symbolise how hard life is for her at a particular time. For example, when she is first sent to the tapiadas, she is strip searched and left without her contact lenses, only possessing the clothes she is wearing. When times are slightly easier, she is smuggled in books and changes of clothes etc.
The readiness of water symbolises hope. This is of course because water is one absolute necessity, and when it is cut off, there is no hope of life. When Ana is a prisoner at Baracoa, the rural town with an especially poor quality prison, the women plan a protest because there is an auxiliary tank which they can use for water when their supply is cut off. They have hope that their protest will bring them better conditions or a transfer to another prison. However, when the guards discover their methods of survival, they taint the water with detergent. The water is still readily available though; there is still hope, and the soapy water is used to wash bodies and clothes. The water is then tainted with oil, but this proves to be a successful cleansing agent also. However, when the water supply almost runs out, the women almost give up hope. In a last effort they pray for a rainstorm in the middle of the dry season while a guard hurls abuse at the women. Out of no where a huge rain cloud appears and the tank and buckets are filled with fresh clean water. After this the women get what they were hoping for, a prison transfer.
Ironically, Ana and some associates use fire to destroy the prison they are leaving behind.
LanguageThe language is Spanish-peppered English. It is not overly romanticised but is always expressive and descriptive, as shown in the extract below. I found that the simple style of the language used sometimes produced the most touching and memorable thoughts, for example the closing passage where Ana writes, ??I could never forget the years I spent in prison, nor forgive them; wounds heal, but scars remain. In all the years I was locked up, they never made me shed a tear, not once. But now, sometimes, I cry.?
This book is very readable. The flowing style of the book and the different exciting events continuous throughout Diary of a Survivor presents this auto-biography almost as a novel, and sometimes it is easy to forget that these were real lives. In one particular prison, Ana herself even describes the atmosphere as surreal, as though watching a movie. The reader does feel as though they are watching a movie when reading this book because the language is used clearly enough to remake the excitement of the events as they unfold, again shown in the extract below.
Although some of the location changes at the start of chapters are not clear at first, like at the beginning of chapter fourteen where Ana is in an ambulance hurrying away from a different prison than where she is at the end of chapter thirteen. These scene changes are made clear after a dew pages however, and provide a refreshing change for the reader.
The dialogue is completely believable, for one reason because the people actually spoke like this. After nineteen years in prison however one does not expect such vivid memories of the smallest events and the actual words people used. It is obvious Ana does however, as one can find in the extract below.
Surprisingly, the plot and language never becomes dull or repetitive when so many of the days Ana spent in jail were just that. Also, some of the ideas presented in the book, especially some revolving around politics are quite complex, but these are explained in easily understood language, sometimes with the aid of footnotes.
For example, ?Re-educated prisoners had to write a political autobiography (Cuentame tu vida, it was called, tell me your life) confessing the error of their ways, cataloguing their counterrevolutionary acts, and making a list of all their accomplices ? which had to include some out on the street. * ?
And then in a footnote, ?* Some prisoners were given lists of people they didn?t know and ordered them to implicate them. The resulting ?confessions? were used to extort the people on the list to become State Security informers.?
Footnotes are also used to explain some of the more obscure events in Cuba?s history and therefore all the ideas and concepts are easy to understand.
ExtractIt was noon, the sun directly overhead. Its rays bounced off the white-washed walls, catching us in a merciless crossfire. Sitting against the wall my face in my hands, I fancied I could hear my own eyeballs sizzling. The blue uniforms felt like hot coals heaped around us.
An hour passed, then another. Dizzying hallucinatory images raced through my brain, breaking up before I could comprehend them. Thunder sounded inside my head. Remembering there was an industrial sink in the patio for our laundry, I staggered over to it and thrust my head under the faucet. Even the water seemed aflame. I had to beat back the urge to run to the gate and beg them to come and get the beating over with.
Time ceased to exist. The heat was crushing us. I could no longer open my eyes for even a split second; everything shimmered in meaningless waves of light. The bell in the main dining room sounded for dinner. Could five and a half hours really have passed? Then there were other sounds, the indistinct babble of prisoners walking back t their cells. Six hours. The heat seared my longs.
The grating sound of a key turning in a lock brought the three of us to our feet ? too fast. I wanted to vomit. Bursts of hard white light went off someplace inside my head, drowning everything else out for a minute. Then I recovered to hear Ileana?s voice.
?Hand me over those uniforms:? She snapped. I opened my eyes a slit. She was inside the patio, with about thirty guards and llaveras clustered behind her. She looked furious, and no wonder: Her first big assignment and she had blown it. Miriam, Esther and I instinctively took several steps back.
?Ileana, it doesn?t look to me like you plan to employ strictly psychological techniques here,? I said.
?Attack!? She screamed. A cloudburst of coloured uniformed bodies were on top of us instantly. I tightly covered the buttons of my blouse with my arms assuming they would attempt to tear it off, but they didn?t even try at first. Instead, an llavera dragged her thick, jagged fingernails down my cheek and neck. I screamed and ducked as the flesh tore away beneath them.