The Portrayal Of Women In The Novels

‘One Hundred Years Of So Essay, Research Paper

The portrayal of women in the novels “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Marquez and “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.

The portrayal of women in the novels One Hundred years of Solitude and The House of the Spirits differs greatly. In One Hundred Years of Solitude empowerment comes only through age, for instance Ursula Iguaran, the matriarch of the Buendia family and to some extent Macondo, or through strength of sexuality, for instance Pilara Tenera the ?sexual matriarch? of Macondo. This is in contrast with The House of the Spirits where empowerment comes also through force of conviction, as seen with Nivea, and also through commercial enterprise as seen with Transito Soto. These women represent Allende?s own brand of feminism Furthermore those women who except a traditional role of subservience and remain staunch in their conservatism are shown to finish their days alone and mostly forgotten as is seen with Ferula and Nana. As the novels were set in first half of the twentieth century in Latin America, the role of women in the social hierarchy of this backdrop is worthy of consideration. This was a patriarchal society where men of whatever age were always superior in standing to women. As a woman aged, her position in the social hierarchy would increase. Furthermore women had few career choices; all were linked to some form of domestic service whether solely as a wife and mother or as a nanny or a combination. Religion played a very important role in this predominantly catholic area. The role of women as portrayed by the church was somewhat of a paradox, simultaneously acknowledging and praising women for the gift of child bearing and yet depicting them as the root of all sin, as the temptress inducing thoughts of fornication as well as causing the original sin, that being Adam eating the fruit in the ?Garden of Eden?.

Despite Marquez?s well documented anticlericalism this idea in church ideology of the temptress is paralleled in One Hundred Years of Solitude albeit the figure of Eve in her roles is split between the matriarchs of Macondo namely Pilar Tenera and Ursula Iguaran. In the beginning of One hundred years of solitude: “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” And in this fledgling world Jose Arcadio Buendia is Adam and Ursula Iguaran is Eve, both of whom are”?joined by a bond that was more solid than love: a common prick of conscience. They were cousins.” Incest is the ?original sin? of Macondo it caused the foundation of Macondo as seen with Ursula Iguaran and Jose Arcadio Buendia and in a way Macondo?s destruction with Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano. Macondo?s foundation came about as a result of Ursula?s decision, following her mother?s advice,”?to refuse to consummate the marriage” leaving Jose Arcadio Buendia only “?anguished violence that seemed to be a substitute for the act of love?” Ursula?s role here as that of the temptress denying Jose Arcadio Buendia his conjugal rights, it is as a result of this that Prudencio Aguilar is killed and Macondo is formed so as to escape his ghost. While Ursula is the mother who births the Buendia men as children it is Pilar Tenera who births them into adulthood, playing mother by proxy to the Buendia men allowing them to fulfil their oedipal complexes and the cycle of incest in their families: “?he wanted her to be his mother?” Pilar Tenera is portrayed as the temptress. She fills Jose Arcadio?s bones with: “?foam, a languid fear, and a terrible desire to weep.” Where Ursula is portrayed as the matriarch of the town Pilar is the sexual matriarch of the town. She bears two children from Aureliano Buendia and Jose Arcadio . She also has sexual relationships with Aureliano and Arcadio. This shows her power in the novel manifests sexually, it seems that the attraction to her is passed on through the generations , and even after marriage they always seem to return to her . She was the first lover of many of the Buendia men and her presence is felt throughout the whole novel , this is parallel to another character who witnesses the 100 yrs of solitude , this is Ursula .These two women have the most influence on the men and familial life in general . After all when Arcadio becomes too despotic it is Ursula who “?restabilised Sunday mass, suspended the use of red arm bands, and abrogated the hair brain decrees.” Ursula?s power manifests it self in the archetypal role for women of the time. She bears three children for Jose Arcadio Buendia ( Colonel Aureliano, Jose Arcadio and Amaranta), all of whom she rears almost single handedly. She is the typical matriarch seeking to ensure the continuation of the family line to the extent where she fights “?against the laws of creation to maintain the line” Ursula fulfils her role as housewife, providing food and shelter:

” Ursula?s capacity for work was the same as that of her husband? Thanks to her the floors of tamped earth, the unwhitewashed mud walls, the rustic, wooden furniture they built themselves were always clean, and the old chests where they kept their clothes exhaled the warm smell of basil.”

The portrayal of Pilar and Ursula is contrasted with Nivea in The House Of The Spirits who is portrayed as being “?capable of walking through the heart of the city in the plain light of day with a broom in her hand and a tricornered hat on her head, calling for women to have equal rights with men, to be allowed to vote and attend university, and for all children, even bastards, to be granted the full protection of the law.” And being able to”?chain herself with other ladies to the gates of the supreme court?” Nivea seeks equality through active assertion and thus fittingly is remembered as “?the first feminist in the country.” , and her funeral is attended by an “?incredible number?” of people.

The portrayal of Nivea and her funeral is in direct contrast with that of Nana and Ferula. Nana is said to have: “?been born to cradle other people?s children, wear their hand-me-down clothing, eat their left overs, live on borrowed happiness and grief, grow old beneath other people?s roofs die one day in her miserable little room in the far courtyard in a bed that did not belong to her, and be buried in a common grave in a public cemetery.” The fact that: “None of the many children she had raised with so much love attended her funeral.” Allende reflects sadly on the women who meekly accept their defined role in society of the time. Ferula is portrayed similarly. Ferula: “?had sacrificed her life to care for the mother, and that she had become a spinster for that reason. Ferula had turned down two suitors on the pretext of her mothers illness” When Esteban forces her to leave she is not seen in person until her death when she is found: “Festooned like an Austrian queen?” “She was magnificent in her queenly desolation, and on her face was an expression of sweetness and serenity she never had in her grievous life.”

Women can also seek empowerment in The House of The Spirits through business as seen with Transito Soto. At the start of the novel Esteban lends her “50 pesos” allowing her to seek out a career, but by the end of the novel the tide turns and the arrogant sexist Esteban comes to her to beg a favour. Who makes a telling statement about the role of women in her monologue to Esteban before she owns the Christopher Columbus: “Nobody respects you. But why give a man something it?s so hard to earn? In that respect women are really thick. They are the daughters of rigidity. They need a man to feel secure but they don?t realise the one thing they should be afraid of is men. They don?t know how to run their lives. They have to sacrifice themselves for the sake of someone else”

Thus, it can be seen that Allende and Marquez express differently the role of women in their novels. Through close analysis of the female characters in The House of the Spirits and One hundred years of solitude one can see Marquez seemingly seeks merely to reflect the reality of the role of women in South America, whereas Allende preaches her own brand of feminism whereby: “?feminism should mean that you do everything that men do, but without sacrificing everything that makes it so wonderful to be a woman.”


















Rogier Van Bakel, Diarist of the Americas, ITA July 1993, p39


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