Basarally 1 Name: Hassan Basarally I.D.

: 806007430 University: University of the West Indies, St Augustine Faculty: Humanities and Education Department: Liberal Arts Academic Year: 2007/2008 Semester: Summer 2008 Course Code: LITS 2510 Course Name: West Indian Prose Fiction- The Short Story Assignment: A critical analysis of “When Women Love Men” Lecturer: Dr. G. Skeete Tutor: Ms. Rose-Ann Walker Tutorial Time: Wednesday and Thursday 5-6 p.m. Due Date: 30th June 2008

Basarally 2 “Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres” or “When Women Love Men” is a short story by Rosario Ferré that is translated from Spanish into English. It is part of a wider collection called Papeles de Pandora, which has several concerns about Puerto Rican society dissecting through the different stories in the anthology. The story is about two women, Isabel Luberza and Isabel la Negra. One is the wife of Ambrosio and the other a mistress who each inherit half of his estate. Through the language of dissent, removal of the distinction between the sacred and ordinary and shifting narrators, Ferré shows the fragility of upper class women, class and ethnic stratification and women’s exploitation and their response to it. Ferré uses the language of dissent and resistance to destroy societal and linguistic censorship. The language used by the two women reflects respective realisations of the expectations of a woman. The vulgarity is a means of dissent. Sexually explicit language is used extensively in “When Women Love Men”. Isabel la Negra describes herself as “the Cunt of Chichamba, the sharpest-shooting whore in Barrio de la Cantera, the harlot of Cuatro Calles, the fuck of Singapur” 1 (Ferré, 259). Ferré’s purpose is not mere vulgarity to entice readership, it serves the purpose of using chauvinistic stereotypes and insults against the men that employ them. When those intended to be offended use the insult to refer to themselves, the insult is no longer effective. There is a complete inversion with Isabel la Negra. She says “here no one will know, here no one will care if you’re another whimp, shit scared with fear in my arms” (Ferré, 264). She achieves a sense of power through the use of profanity as it can no longer be hurled at her. The words used to belittle her is undergoes a semantic shift. This is when speakers “may

Brown, Stewart and John Wickham, eds. The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. All quotations and page references will be taken from this anthology.

Basarally 3 begin to use a words in slightly different ways, and as these minor changes accumulates a word can end up meaning something very different from what it started out meaning” (Meyerhoff, 55). She reverses semantic derogation which is when “a word’s meaning shifts and acquires more negative connotations” (Meyerhoff, 57). Therefore, she is a whore, but now a whore is a woman who has refused to be sexually exploited by “the kings that come and go leaving us behind, always poor” (Ferré, 265) and uses her sexuality to become independent. Sexuality is used as a weapon. “I could hire a couple of young chicks and charge fifty bucks a fuck or nothing” (Ferré, 265). Since profanity is widespread in the story, the question is whether it was intentional or created an unintended effect. The answer lies in an article called “The Writer’s Kitchen”. “If profanity had traditionally been used to degrade and humiliate women, I said to myself, it should be doubly effective in redeeming them” (Ferré and Velez, 236). Redemption is what Isabel la Negra achieves through sexuality. She is sexually exploited by men, however, she converts the exploitation to independence be exploiting men’s carnal weakness. It is fear of loosing her that Ambrosio leaves her half his estate. With the estate she ascends in the social ladder and owns a brothel, thereby exploiting men’s desires for the maintenance of her independence. Despite the stigma associated with a prostitute, Isabel la Negra is transformed into a powerful woman who is assertive, in addition, an aspect of selfless goodness is attributed to her. “Isabel la Negra, Brincaicógelo Maruca’s only girlfriend, the only one who ever kissed his deformed feet and washed them with her tears, the only one who danced with the children to the rhythm of his cry Hersheybarkissesmilkyways” (Ferré, 259). The prostitute is associated with a figure in Puerto Rican mythology that brings

Basarally 4 candy to the children.2 She is also considerate of Isabel Luberza’s pride and claims her half of the house later so as to allow the initial scandal to cool, “out of consideration for her namesake, had not decided till then to claim her part of the house” (Ferré, 262). Both women experience a complete confusion on how to respond to each other. Knowledge of the other was constantly present, however with the death of Ambrosio and the inheritance left to each it became necessary to face each other. Isabel la Negra describes “this confusion between her and her, or between her and me, or between me and me, because as time passed, from loving her so much, it became more difficult for me to tell this story, it became harder to differentiate between the two” (Ferré, 260). It seems that Ferré gifts Isabel la Negra with the initial realisation of the necessity of female solidarity. This is due to the character being initially the stronger woman. The prostitute uses her sexuality as a means of attaining financial independence and respectability. La Negra’s strength seems to be sapped when she meets Isabel Luberza. “Above all, I needed to convince her that I sought her friendship and her trust” (Ferré, 263). Isabel la Negra, however, commits herself to the changing of men through her profession. Through her sexual encounters with them she seeks to show them the necessity of loving a woman not due solely to sex, and ornamental value but to love them as persons. She seeks to teach men “that the most macho man is not the one that allures the woman but who has the courage to let himself be allured” (Ferré, 264). Ferré here addresses the practice of the upper class men of having submissive wives and mistresses whose only purpose is carnal satisfaction.


Ventura, Cynthia, Translator’s note.

Basarally 5 Respectability is to such a large extent associated with tangible facts such as wealth and colour, that Isabel la Negra “was convinced that it would be convenient to take it out of the slum because in the slum it lost prestige and even gave the impression of being an insalubrious business” (Ferré, 262). She refers to her brothel which is her means of independence being improved trough a change to more wealthy surroundings. Even a woman like her who is more in tune with society’s realities falls into the trap of defining prestige. In contrast there is Isabel Luberza who initially never uses profanity. Instead she relies on religious text to defend herself from the socially embarrassing position that she has been flung into. “Because it was clearly said by Saint Paul, Ambrosio, adultery is one thing when it is carried out with modesty and moderation, and another when it is public pandering, a rape of coin machines and neon lights” (Ferré, 263). Isabel Luberza due to social standing never speaks in a manner that would be termed in appropriate for a woman. She believes that despite all her suffering salvation would be achieved through self mortification instead of breaking the rules that constrain her. “In this way we had reached, Ambrosio, without your knowing it, an almost perfect harmony among the three. I loving her more and more began mortifying flesh, at first with small insignificant actions, to make her return to the good path” (Ferré, 267). With the two women, Isabel la Negra fights her exploitation, both sexual and social, wielding her sexuality and language as a weapon. Isabel Luberza forgoes sexuality, expression and any other means of defence for the sake of respectability. Her language represents the effects of the male hierarchy. She even uses naturalization in the statement “a prostitute hides beneath the skin of every lady” (Ferré, 258). Naturalization is the process in which, “people are often

Basarally 6 no longer aware of the hierarchies and systems that shape their social interaction” (Simpson, 8). The result is that Isabel Luberza prolongs the myth that ironically she fulfils. In “When Women Love Men”, the sacred and ordinary are rigidly separated by society to differentiate between the classes. Ferré elevates the ordinary aspects of the lives of the characters to the level of the divine. This removes the barriers that separate the worlds of Isabel la Negra and Isabel Luberza. In the face of an adulterous husband Isabel Luberza invokes the words of Saint Paul. Isabel La Negra explains her sexual experiences as a means of attaining god-like ecstasy. She uses the similitude “because we know pleasure and pleasure makes us into gods, sonny, and although we may be mortals, we have bodies of gods, because for a few moments we have robbed them of their immortality” (Ferré, 264). Through the juxtaposition of texts in the epigraph, the plena which is a local musical form3, is elevated to the level of the Epistle as a source to understand the complexities of life, in particular love. In this musical form, its own origin is explained in the line which means “The whore that I know is not from China or Japan because the whore comes from Ponce, she comes from the neighbourhood of San Anton4”. The importance of this lies in Ferre’s focus in her literature. The poor and socially excluded are prominent; hence a prostitute from a slum is the focus of Ferré. The plena speaks about the carnal love which Isabel la Negra seeks to educate men about. This is opposed to divine love in marriage which Isabel Luberza has placed all her faith in. The Epistle encourages coming face to face with the other. Hence, Ferré


Translator’s note. Translation from: Puelo, Augustus. “The Intersection of Race, Sex, Gender and Class in a Short Story of Rosario Ferré.” Studies in Short Fiction. (1995). BNET. 20 Jun. 2008 <>.

Basarally 7 shows that true love is only attained through a compilation of both. Both types of love must be melted together. Hence, both women who represent the two types of love must assimilate into one and discard the limited reality mentioned in the epistle. Ambrosio’s actions were not intended to “push them both downhill at the same time” (Ferré, 257). Alone the women will not prosper, one has the stigma of a prostitute and the other, that of a disgraced widow. According to Fishburn, there is “the dislocation existing between women’s outward accepted preoccupations and their hidden inner selves which find no place in the social world in which they exist” (84). By elevating their actions and responses to a spiritual level, Ferré takes the women out of the stifling social situation. In addition to the sacred and real being juxtaposed in the epigraphs, there is also Isabel la Negra’s view of sexual intercourse. This is a further juxtaposition, although an ironic one. The Christian belief that humans were created in God’s image is placed with the belief that sex or the orgasm elevates one to a divine level. Isabel Luberza also utilises religion when she quotes Saint Paul, “if a woman’s husband is unfaithful to her for another woman, let him beware of committing an even greater sin by remaining with the prostitute rather than with an ordinary woman” (Ferré, 265). This seems to be mild on the adulterous husband but Isabel Luberza neglects the part of the Epistle in the epigraph. It tells of the imperfection of human perception but “for now we see in a mirror dimly, / but then face to face.” (Ferré, 257). She needs to face that the cause of her pain is not the prostitute but masculine sexism and chauvinism. Within the sacred is also the juxtaposition of Christianity and indigenous belief which is common in the Spanish Americas. This is illustrated by Isabel Luberza’s reliance on “ancient wisdom” to keep her husband faithful (Ferré, 266). It also shows the precarious and insecure position of the

Basarally 8 upper class woman who is in constant fear of losing her husband who by nature strays from their bed. Ferré’s characters presents the problems of women; wealth and outward appearances equate status and the expectation of women to be passive, in addition to the solution which is the fusion of the different faces of women into a cohesive whole. Isabel la Negra is initially at the bottom of society “like the mud at the bottom of the gutter” (Ferré, 264). However it is through Ambrosio’s money that she rises, “despite the satisfaction of knowing that her social endeavours were recognised, her fundamental importance in the economic development of the town as the recipient of numerous prestigious appointments” (Ferré, 262). Ferré shows that it is not the only form of nobility that she possesses, she has virtues that no others have. By initiating the white sons of Ambrosio’s friends, Isabel la Negra protects the virginity and by extension status of the white women. This shows that the status coveted and afforded to the likes of Isabel Luberza is due only to societal myths. The society of Isabel Luberza can only be maintained by the oppression of another group. Isabel Luberza conforms to the doll image that is expected by the men in Ferré’s story. “When Women Love Men” comes from a collection that when translated into English is The Youngest Doll. By portraying Isabel Luberza as a doll, Ferré attacks the male dominated society’s expectation that a woman must be decorative, passive, powerless and without voice or will. The greatest evidence for this is when she reveals that she had knowledge of Ambrosio’s affair long before his death. “The first year of our marriage, when I realized the relationship that existed between you two, I felt like the unhappiest woman on earth” (Ferré, 265). The difference between the private and public

Basarally 9 lives of women are dealt with here. A woman is expected to have a consistent outward appearance while suppressing her internal feelings. She accepts the affair “since the ideal woman of her class is the wife who suffers in silence and passivity” (Puelo). Isabel Luberza simply relegates the betrayal to “an evil necessity” (Ferré, 266). The doll image is articulated by Isabel Luberza who lists her virtuous talents in dismay that her respectability has been shattered by Ambrosio leaving half his estate to his mistress. She says, “to that body which nobody has ever seen exposed to this day in the smallest sliver of her white buttocks, in the most tenuous shavings of her white breasts, her chaste skin that had protected her flesh, now snatched away from her, renounced at last that virginity of a respectable mother, of a respectable wife that had never before stepped into a brothel, that had never before been slandered in public as I have been so many times” (Ferré, 261). Out of the two different women embodied in the two Isabels, Ferré seeks to create a new character through the fusion of race and class. Isabel la Negra is a puta (whore) of African origin and Isabel Luberza a European dama (lady). This fusion is termed Mestizaje which is the “racial and cultural mixture that was produced by the conquest of the so called “New World”” (Bost, 187). The reality of Puerto Rico is the creolisatoion that occurred in the Anglophone Caribbean. This explains the need for the African prostitute in the story. Traditionally this group has been oppressed in society, in particular the women. Ferré has a woman who is breaking the holds placed on her race and gender by a patriarchal European descended elite. A marginalised woman like Isabel la Negra would be best suited to demonstrate the “confluence between two opposing identities: the upper-class light skinned woman and the mulatto prostitute” (Bost, 196). The

Basarally 10 demarcations of class and ethnicity are viewed by Ferré as a barrier for empowerment, in particular women’s empowerment. At first the women in the story acknowledge each others presence and the inevitability of their meeting. Then they fuse together through taste in perfume and powder. Isabel Luberza describes Isabel la Negra as “her perfume Fleur de Rocaille, with which I anointed my body, her powder, Chant D’Aromes, with which I whitened my breasts” (Ferré, 261). Their relationship evolves as each tries to understand the other before the eventual physical meeting. This is seen through the shifting narrations and when they narrate for each other. When the actual meeting takes place there is a reversal of characters. Isabel Luberza begins to employ characteristics of Isabel la Negra, beginning the process of assimilation with the other. There is the use of the language of dissent for the first time when she remembers her feelings about Ambrosio’s affair. “I imagined her in the cot with you adopting the most vile positions, letting herself be fucked in front and from behind” (Ferré, 268). Also, the presence of Isabel la Negra had a previously unsettling effect on Isabel Luberza. Her presence was foreboding and represented the destruction of the marriage, “I would always keep my eyes wide open and look over your shoulders as they bent down over and over again, so as not to loose sight of her” (Ferré, 266). Isabel la Negra feels the power through self awareness that has been attained and is assimilated. “When Isabel Luberza opened the door, Isabel la Negra felt her knees weaken” (Ferré, 263). Isabel Luberza grasped the necessity to leave the impotent attempt of conforming to society. Her transformation is through a process of negation and affirmation. Negation and rejection of the previously held societal myths that she conformed to and tried to maintain and affirmation and acceptance of the new character

Basarally 11 of women comprising every aspect of womanhood. She “escapes her illness, decay, confinement, anonymity and physical powerlessness by fusing with the other” (Puelo). She no longer hates the prostitute but embraces her fulfilling the statement that every lady is a prostitute. “Because until now on her account, I haven’t yet understood all this suffering, all the things that have tormented me, but obscurely, as though seen through a darkened mirror, but now I will see clearly for the first time, now I will confront at last that face of perfect beauty with the face of my sorrow to understand” (Ferré, 268). The symbol of the Cherries Jubilee nail polish occurs throughout the short fiction. It is thought by Isabel Luberza to be the colour of the ‘negroes’. Eventually she dons the nail polish, placing herself with the general women of the society. The colour itself is symbolic as the intense brightness represents passion that Isabel la Negra embodies. By embracing la Negra and the ideals she represents Isabel Luberza finally becomes the woman that Ferré needs in the world. Ferré employs irony that involves the writer splitting into different, opposite selves. This is realised in the constantly shifting narrations of the opposite Isabels. The narrations conform to Fowler’s Internal Type A narrative. This is a first person narration that included modality or the grammar of explicit comment and verba sentiendi or words that denote thoughts feelings and perceptions. The narration “is located entirely within the participating character’s consciousness, manifesting their judgements on other characters, and their opinions on both realised and unrealised events in the story” (Simpson, 39). According to Ferré, “there is a third type of irony, which consist mainly in the art of dissembling anger, of refining the foil of the tongue to the point that it can more accurately pierce the reader’s heart” (147). Anger refers to the response made by female

Basarally 12 Spanish American writers in response to the initially patriarchal canon. Therefore, there is a historic and literary first person narrator. Each woman represents a feature of womanhood; the historic exploitation sexual exploitation of the African woman and the oppressive, rigid world that stifles the European woman. Hence, the irony lies in juxtaposing opposing characters that reach a symbiosis at the end. This “historical empiric self, as well as … linguistic self” (Ferré and Paravisini-Gebert, 901), allows Ferré to deal with the effects of female subjugation in patriarchal society. The shifting narrators serve to create two opposing women, Isabel Luberza and Isabel la Negra who are extensions of different ideologies and worlds. Isabel Luberza restates the patriarchal belief that “a prostitute hides beneath the skin of every lady” (Ferre, 258). This statement by the character representing the social elite exposes the chauvinistic reality of the setting of the story. However, it shows how the two women are similar in the process of realization of independence and attainment of a degree of peace of mind. The charade of external possessions that equate to dignity and respectability of a lady such as Isabel Luberza is attacked and the material possessions are stripped away to expose the degraded image of the woman that Isabel Luberza represents. “Because we have always known that each prostitute is a potential lady drowned in the nostalgia of a white house like a dove that will never be held, of that house with a balcony of silver amphoras and plaster fruit garlands hanging over the doors, drowned in the nostalgia of the sound of china when invisible hands set the table” (Ferre, 258). When Isabel la Negra sees the dejected wife she feels pity. “God damn it, Ambrosio, you had to have a heart of stone to make her suffer the way you did” (Ferre, 265). The process of accommodation between the two women is a constant one throughout the narrative. Each eventually

Basarally 13 realizes that their future lies only through discovery of the suppressed femininity in them and reliance on each other. Ironically the two are linked by the same man, Ambrosio who is a respective husband and lover. The shifting narrative serves to highlight the separate lives that eventually arrive at a symbiosis at the end. The title “When Women Love Men” projects timelessness about the subject. It seems that women always love men and in turn will always suffer because of that love. It is because of the suffering from loving men that the women must learn to love each other. “So in the end, when one of us won over the other, it was our most sublime act of love” (Ferré, 258). The author creates an epic from an event rooted in reality. Isabel Luberza speaks about the house, half of which was inherited by the prostitute, as “this house that will now become part of the same legend, the legend of the prostitute and the lady” (Ferré, 260). The characters use sexually explicit language as a means of dissent. The insults hurled against women are inverted by them and used to defend themselves. The separation between the sacred and ordinary which was used to maintain class and colour distinction is removed. This creates a unity amongst the characters that joins the women of different backgrounds in the struggle against the male chauvinist society. With the shifting narrators the different lives of the women that represent opposite realities are explored. The similar forms of oppression in the separate lives are identified highlighting the common state of women. Through this, Ferré develops a new personality of woman, one not bound by class and race but a mixture of all women and their respective struggle against a society that needs but does not appreciate them.

Basarally 14 Works Cited Bost, Suzanne. “Transgressing Borders: Puerto Rican and Latina Mestizaje.” MELUS 25.2 (2000): 187-211. JSTOR. 12 Jun. 2008 <>. Brown, Stewart and John Wickham, eds. The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Ferré, Rosario. “How I Wrote ‘When Women Love Men’”. The Youngest Doll. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. 147-51. Ferré, Rosario and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert. “From Ire to Irony.” Callalo 17.3 (1994): 900-04. JSTOR. 12 Jun. 2008 <>. Ferré, Rosario and Diana L. Velez. “The Writers Kitchen.” Feminist Studies 12.2 (1986): 227-42. JSTOR. 12 Jun. 2008 <>. Fishburn, Evelyn, ed. Hispanic Texts: Short Fiction by Spanish –American Women. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. Puelo, Augustus. “The Intersection of Race, Sex, Gender and Class in a Short Story of Rosario Ferré.” Studies in Short Fiction. (1995). BNET. 20 Jun. 2008 <>. Meyerhoff, Miriam. Introducing Sociolinguistics. New York: Routledge, 2006 Simpson, Paul. Language Ideology and Point of View. New York: Routledge, 2000.