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Feminist Bildungsroman in Las cuitas de Carlota and Prohibido salir a la calle

Por Julie Lirot

Las cuitas de Carlota, Helena Araújo (2003), and Prohibido salir a la calle, Consuelo Triviño
(1998), have primary themes related to the development of female identity through a re-writing of the
traditional male bildungsroman. Both authors are Colombian women currently residing in Europe.
Consuelo Triviño lives in Madrid and forms part of the Instituto Cervantes, while Helena Araújo resides in
Switzerland and works as a professor at a Swiss University. The individual development of the female
protagonists in these novels can inform our readings of both Colombian and European literary traditions
and female bildungsroman. Through the female protagonists journeys in the “in-between” spaces (Bhabha
1) these authors attempt to define their fictional alter egos against dominant ideological frameworks and
institutional practices.
The bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, is the narration of the struggle between individuation
and socialization processes, in which the protagonist must come to terms with various cultural discourses.
While a traditional vision of history focuses on famous figures, great men, the traditional male
bildungsroman is a hybrid narrative of male socialization, travel and exploration, and philosophical
speculation. The feminist adaptation of this hybrid genre has proved a particularly apt vehicle for conveying
and examining women's multifaceted, conflicting and conflicted experience in patriarchal culture. The desire
for self-improvement, self-expression, the need to adapt to varying social circumstances in a world of
change, and the ever-present aspiration for economic advancement, all lead to increasingly complex
characterizations that can be subsumed under the notion of “development”. The bildungsroman also readily
accommodates social critique while exploring different concepts of identity.
In the 1950s and 1960s the conventional bildungsroman was resuscitated. This is often attributed to
feminist movements and leftist political agendas. The genre became increasingly popular with those
ideologies and theories that claimed subject status for hitherto invisible or marginalized groups, such as
women, the working-class, gay men and lesbians, and non-whites. In his landmark article, ‘The Death of the
Author,” Roland Barthes powerfully contends that the author can not claim the absolute authority over his
writing because writing in itself substitutes language for the author who had been regarded to be its owner in
humanist criticism. According to Barthes, “[w]riting is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our
subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing”
(1129) However, the assertion of the death of the writing subject and its consequent valorization of
anonymous writing is not unproblematic. As stated by Elixabeth Fox Genoveses “The death of the subject
and of the author may accurately reflect the perceived crisis of Western culture and the bottomless anxieties
of its most privileged subjects—the white male authors who presumed to define it. Those subjects and those
authors may, as it were, be dying. But it remains to be demonstrated that their deaths constitute the collective
or generic deaths of the subject and author. There remain plenty of subjects and authors who, never having
had much opportunity to write in their own names or the names of their kind, much less in name of the
culture as a whole, are eager to seize the abandoned podium. (67)
Critic Maria Helena Lima analyses the traditional male Bildungsroman, pointing out the political
implications of its conventions and assumptions. “Genres, however, like languages, function like prisms in a
mirror which impose their own shape on the reality they attempt to describe, the novel form itself may limit
the kinds of subjectivity that can be constituted within its generic boundaries” (433). If one understands the
formal characteristics of the traditional male genre of Bildungsroman as the institutionalized matrix of
showing individual self-development in a social context, the female Bildungsroman contests those
characteristics as it constructs female subjectivity. This subjectivity exists to facilitate their understanding of
themselves in a process both within and against the cultural realities of the society both surrounding them
and of which they are part, realties directly resultant of the oppressive patriarchal situation in which they are
forced to participate.
Both novels analyzed here are first person narratives written by an older woman reflecting on her
past experiences. In Las cuitas de Carlota, in a pseudo epistolary style, the protagonist writes letters to her
cousin, which are then to be re-written in the form of a book, while in Prohibido, there is no mention of the
intended reader. While Prohibido focuses on the childhood of a girl growing up in Bogotá in a family of
little means and a mother who struggles with a stereotypical dead-beat dad, Las cuitas begins with the upper
class protagonist’s marriage to another upper class business entrepreneur, her psychological difficulties
caused by her inability to accept her role as wife and mother in a patriarchal society which negates all
possibility for artistic and personal expression. The narrators in both novels present ironic and self-critical
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Zola's L'Œuvre (1886) and Mann's Doktor Faustus (1947) also belong here. especially her mother. The Bildungsroman has metamorphosized through its dynamic adaptation to changing ideologies. power over the past controls the mind of the present and the kind of future that the present can conceive" (292). and not the social reasons behind them. Discipline and Punish. ends her journey in a boarding school. developing from a didactic purpose of promoting patriarchal ideals to a vehicle for questioning those ideals. societal structures and limits to women’s individual freedom. with little or no warning. subversive bodily acts as the resistance to the inscription of historical forces. The considerable influence of psychoanalysis on literature and culture in the early twentieth century allows for the interpretation of development or Bildung. which are left to the interpretation of the reader. the one could be considered a continuation of the other. and competition with her mother for her father’s love and the usurpation of her role as caretaker of her younger siblings. there exists the possibility for self-fulfillment and reconciliation. Las cuitas de Carlota also falls into the category of the Künstlerroman (Encyclopaedia Britannica) – a subgenre.images of themselves and their development. This mindless adoration is a source of conflict between Clara and her mother and leads to her ultimate destitution from the home. the locus of a dissociated self while creating a façade of unity. medicine. a specific situation.com . due to the fact that Clara. “Era si de repente una de las dos sobrara en la casa” (231). the protagonist. In which case. too. New finds that "Power over speech controls the shape of the past. initiated by Mörike's Maler Nolten. commerce. These novels present a complex matrix of power relations that discursively and materially inscribe themselves on the body in an institutional regime. the underlying cause of which is her maturation.pdffactory. If one does not consider the difference in social classes of the protagonists. Her adoration of a problematic and often absent father figure does not allow her to understand her mother’s love hate relationship with him. because she is no longer welcome in her own home. Do to the point of view of innocence. (Foucault 38) Hybrido 53 PDF created with pdfFactory trial version www. The fact that these women are trapped in negative relationships in societies which limit them through politics. self-realization and the recognition that the problem is social rather than individual with plots that. Authors like Triviño and Araújo enable women to reclaim the power of language by foregrounding women's issues and experiences. They critique the recently established feminist bildungsroman conventions of spiritual and intellectual journeys. 1380). The novel details the artistic development of Carlota as a painter. Prohibido focuses on the daily routines of a young girl as she relates to her family. probably through the exercise of writing. Bodies become an inscribed surface of events as interpreted through language. must be disciplined and punished in order to produce the docile body necessary for acceptance into society (Foucault. as Foucault has observes. father. and a volume in perpetual re/disintegration. and a focus on the inscription of power upon the physical bodies of the protagonists. featuring an artist and his or her artistic and individual development. In Las cuitas. bringing financial instability and leaching away what little economic advances the mother may have been able to achieve. It is seen as socially acceptable that the father appears and disappears at his convenience. but rather a continuing questioning of the process and the limits of individuation in a patriarchal society. the plots remain open. the feminist versions of bildungsroman presented in these novels do not result in a balance between individuation and socialization and there is no presentation of a fully developed. She sees only her mother’s complaints. Instead of promoting an example of the model citizen. The end remains much more open in Prohibido. The reason for this separation is also due to the burgeoning sexual maturation of the protagonist. These novels chart the protagonist's actual or metaphorical journey from youth to maturity. thereby increasing the potential for rejection of patriarchal expectations. The stories told in these novels are important because they reflect on power. the protagonists of these novels attempt to move beyond sexually defined roles in order to discover true self-knowledge and achieve autonomy and independence. depart from the standard. vis à vis a psycho-sexual trajectory. grandmother and siblings. Nonetheless. she is able to provide a much deeper critique of the family and social dynamics than an older protagonist and does not provide any intellectual analysis of the processes that are affecting her directly. stable or coherent character. H. Initially the aim of this journey is reconciliation between the desire for individuation (self-fulfillment) and the demands of socialization (adaptation to a given social reality). religion. is a worthy literary subject which can inform our understanding of women’s experience within the patriarchy. familial relationships and virtually every aspect of society. Prohibido would be the recounting of the childhood experiences of the much older Carlota. Rather than terminating with either of the usual choices of the arrested or successful development of the protagonist. which. education. W. A complex set of interrelated issues such as writing and the continuous negotiation of post-colonial subjectivity. separated from her family. and a historical context.

are littered with allusions to the grand narratives of famous precursors while radically disputing the possibility of wholeness or coherent subjectivity at the same time. is the fact that women have been excluded from access to . these are relationships from which the protagonists cannot and do not wish to escape. con todos los derechos. made monstrous through descriptions of the various medical treatments she undergoes. The physical body of the protagonists is symbolic of the texts themselves. criticizing often the use of jargon. or does she? The open-endedness of the novel calls this premise into question. those which require that women marry and be subservient in all aspects to her husband. Liberal feminists seek equality. while concurrently depicting the plight of women in a society plagued by the debilitating forces of patriarchy and alternatives to that plight. which frees her. because these proponents. Although a positive point would be the novel’s emphasis on the inadequacy of the legal system which enabled Carlota’s husband. as is common among post-modern versions of the bildungsroman. such as Kristeva.75). even allowing physical abuse “…para denunciar violencias conyugales se necesitaban un diagnóstico médico y dos testigos mayors de edad con cédula de ciudadanía. rather than in terms of pure and utter individual achievement. which. Hybrido 54 PDF created with pdfFactory trial version www. Through the contemporary western bildungsroman genre. none of which lead to a sexual “freedom” with the exception of an episode during her recovery from a gunshot wound in a clinic in the Alps. not just in spite of.” (15-16) to disastrous affairs. both novels exemplify a variation of the bildungsroman in its contemporary feminist state and offer an alternative to conventional notions of social roles. Through its character representation and symbolism. she becomes pregnant. They testify that a woman can successfully or unsuccessfully claim the right to be a self-determining individual regardless of patriarchal constraints. Marianne Hirsch and Elizabeth Langland (1983) and Esther Kleinbord Labovitz (1986). Marxist feminists. The rebellion is against patriarchal authority and strictures. Esteban to maintain control of Carlota and of her children. episode which is undermined by the subsequent recounting of yet another rape by one of her terrorist comrades. Thus a few liberal feminists might argue that Carlota’s lack of effort to change institutions excludes her from their ranks. Some critics might interpret these novels from perspectives other than liberal feminist. each time that her husband returns from his many unfruitful business trips. "do not conceive one's body to be an essential part of oneself" (Jaggar 180). power" (Adamson 174 .” (113) Others might disagree with the emphasis placed on Carlota's need to control her own body. which finally liberates her. ¿Habrase visto? Como la rabieta de Esteban sucedió cuando estábamos solos. no tuve más remedio que aguantar el magulle de los golpes y quedarme quietica. These two novels focus on relationships of power in which they are subjugated.pdffactory. focusing "their efforts on winning rights and equal opportunity for women within the existing structures. revolutionary ideology. . The narrator of Cuitas. The Freudian theory of psychosexual development as repression and abuse continues to be deeply traumatic. . often refers to her inability to comprehend the reality surrounding her and those theorists. is individually focused: she moves toward and finally achieves self-realization through autonomy and independence. in the first novel. Even some liberal feminists might dispute components of my theoretical standpoint. for example. que estafa. words which cannot be understood but by a few select individuals (she refers as much to leftist. While the rape chronologically is anterior to the clinic. the recounting inverts and subverts the order of what could otherwise be considered possible liberation vis-à-vis the pursuit of sensual experience without love. . Following the theories developed by Elizabeth Abel.” (110). and wedding night rape “yo no quería pero Esteban sí y sí y sí. Interpretation is always at least in part subjective. as to literary. these novels portray the self-development of a female protagonist. but rather the figure of the matriarch that specifically upholds patriarchal standards as desirable.com . because of their legal separation “Acaso que había cambiado con la tal separación? Seguía siendo amo y señor. In the case of Carlota. while radical feminists might just as convincingly argue that it is her psychological (and oftentimes physical) separation from patriarchy. only to be abandoned shortly after. They offer a model of resistance to women's oppression. . Carlota's pilgrimage however. might convincingly argue that it is Carlota’s ultimate financial independence. which may not be directed towards separation and autonomy but may be conceived in terms of relationships. the relationship is with her children and cousin and in the case of Clara with her siblings and grandmother. [Their] primary concern . . and the second case. the rebellion against power relations. who attempt to interpret it. diablos. in which it is not just patriarchal society in general. ya era legal y era la norma y había que abrir las piernas y levantarme el camisón de nylon Made in USA (…) me ardía tanto que me sentía afiebrada y temblaba (…) ¿cuáles serían los placeres de la carne?. In Las cuitas Carlota´s mother experiences similar events. .) The protagonists’ attempts to interpret and manipulate their realities continuously focus on their relationships with the other characters in the novels. like their liberal forerunners. but rather. women's narratives of formation are defined as texts in which there is an alternative development of the self. . feminist and sexual liberation texts.Carlota is the obvious example of this phenomenon. going from sexual disaster in her marriage.

in the final analysis. Fox-Genovese.pdffactory. Bogota. “My Statue. “The Death of the Author.” Genre 26 (winter 1993): 431-59. then. Waxman. Genealogy. 2005. whether or not the protagonist themselves benefit from the exercise is. Kant and the empiricists: Understanding Understanding. these authors encourage their readers to redistribute the control of language. Ed. 2006. Obras Citadas Adamson. Prohibido salir a la calle. it is safe to say that those who control language can retard or advance the achievement of the equality sought by feminists. gender. their points of departure are their identities in process. Ed. By changing perceptions. The seemingly simple act of telling their stories is subversive. 1994. class and territorial nationality in its social contexts. Wayne. irrelevant. Consuelo. “Nietzche. Homi. Foucault. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1992. Maria Helena.com . By giving voice to the subaltern. My Self: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women.Nonetheless. 2003. Triviño. 1998. “Decolonizing Genre: Jamaica Kincaid and the Bildungsroman. Michel. Ministerio de la cultura / Planeta. Helena. New York: Pantheon Books. Barthes. Lima. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press: 1988. Lynda G. History. Thematic guide to popular nonfiction. Las cuitas de Carlota. Diego Congrains Hybrido 55 PDF created with pdfFactory trial version www. The Location of Culture.” Critical Theory Since Plato. Writers like Triviño and Araújo.” The Private Self: theory and practice of women's autobiographical writings. The female protagonists’ destination is never as important as their journeys. Immigrants’ path of hope. Bhabha. Araújo. New York: Oxford University Press. Shari Benstock. Hazard Adams.” The Foucault Reader. can influence female destiny through perception-changing literature to create what Frank Lentriccia calls a "collective will for change" (Waxman 320). Paul Rabinow. Barcelona: March Editor. an essential task if self-awareness rather than biology is to determine destiny. 1984. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Elizabeth. Roland. the on-going contestation of race. the patriarchy is subverted. Oxford. London & New York: Routledge. Ed.