Several of the stories in Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros revolve around the theme of feminism and religion and their ability to create inner conflict. A few of the characters experience this inner conflict as a direct result of the societal pressures put on them by whom they live with, themselves, and beliefs, whether they’re their own, or someone else’s. While the whole book itself is a testament to female oppression and the way society perpetuates the oppression itself, there are a select few of the short stories that really focus on it.
The rest only have undertones. In many of the stories, the oppression from the community around them causes inner conflict within the characters. The way Cisneros organizes the book exposes the ways in which as a Latina girl grows into a woman experiences oppression, from not only herself, but also her culture and society. In “My Tocaya”, the main character perpetuates the oppressive culture by judging the girl Patricia Benavidez. Patricia skipped a few grades and the community around her oversexualized her because of the clothes she was wearing.
She hated working for her father, and even if he was “mean”, the narrator and the community still looked down on her because she was rejecting the cultural norm. The narrator even makes excuses for the “mean” dad by putting down Patricia for how she dresses, shaming the girl for expressing herself (36). The church’s “primary function” is to repress the young girl’s sexuality in the way that they shame the girls and keeping the youth separated, because they worry about their “emerging sexuality” (Groover).
It is especially shown when “Trish” disappears and the only way she gets attention and praise from her community is when it is believed that something bad has happened to her. She is believed dead. This exposes the underlying oppression of these women, whether they know it or not, “being a victim is one of the few ways for a woman to get any attention. ” (Thomson). Despite the fact Trish ran away for three days and is believed to be dead, the narrator glosses over the fact that another girl’s body was found, and continues to shame Trish, saying, “She couldn’t even die right” (40).
The way Cisneros presents it in the narrator’s dialogue makes the reader gloss over it at first too, until the reader is reminded by the narrator that another girls face is in the papers, showing “the stories of girls and women found naked in ditches are all too familiar” (Thomson). Patricia running away from her father’s business “challenges” the exploitation of her father and establishes a “momentary definition for herself” (Lewis). She is rejecting the patriarchal home that she lives in, until a few kids find a girl’s body in a ditch and her father claims it as hers.
This ends her temporary statement because he is claiming her even while she has gone, showing her that her rejection was all for naught. The struggle Patricia faced was from the community in which she lived. Although she faced the pressure from the community, she refused to go along with their ideals and wore what she wanted, “rhinestone earrings and glitter high heels” (36). The mindset of the community is shown through the description of Patricia, that nobody thought she was right, that “nobody – not God or correctional institutions – could mend” her.
Patricia rejects the community and her father’s power by running away, getting her fifteen minutes of fame. In the end. Patricia ends up returning three days later, to the surprise of the community who in her absence treated her as if she was loved. She probably also faced a struggle within herself, that of which we can’t exactly tell because the point of view was from an observer, but it takes a certain bravery to reject the standards of the community she was raised in.
She juxtaposes the narrator, her tocaya, as the narrator conforms to the community, and by the way the narrator tells the story, she seems almost jealous that Patricia was able to outwardly reject society, instead of inwardly. The focus of the story “Woman Hollering Creek” revolves around a woman, Cleofilas, who marries a man she believes she loves. Rather, her father gave “permission” to Juan to marry Cleofilas and take her across the border (43). She moves to Seguin from Mexico, the opposite of what her mother did for her father.
They have a child and as the marriage progresses, Cleofilas begins to realize how oppressed she is. She does not feel comfortable around her husband’s friends, and her husband begins to abuse her and show signs that he is cheating on her. She faces a decision in which she could either stay, or go back to Mexico to her family and face her old community and most likely be shamed. With two other trapped woman on either side of her, Soledad and Dolores, Cleofilas finds that she too is trapped, “because the towns are built so you have to depend on husbands” (50).
Cleofilas, in the end, decides to do what is best for her child and run away back to Mexico. Graciela, the nurse who checks up on her and the baby, helps Cleofilas by calling her friend Felice. Graciela and Felice refuse to “perpetuate the tradition of silent submission to male power” by helping Cleofilas get across the border (Lewis). Cleofilas is taken aback by the “woman’s assertion of identity and power” and is shocked when Felice lets out a whoop as they pass over the creek, aptly named “Woman Hollering Creek” (Thomson).
Cleofilas “steps away from silence and toward sound” by laughing, breaking the silence of her submission (Thomson). In “Woman Hollering Creek”, Cleofilas’ inner struggle was with whether she should leave her husband or not, “how could she go back there? What a disgrace. What would the neighbors say” (50). This inner struggle lasted for most of the story and was very clear because it was from her point of view. Cleofilas did not want to experience the shame of going back to her old neighborhood and facing them, “coming home like that with a baby on her hip and one in the oven.
Where’s your husband? “, but also did not want her child to grow up around an abusive father (50). She finally made her decision with some help from two women, one of them being Graciela, the nurse she went to who gave her a checkup on her pregnancy. The more obvious struggle was her inner hatred for the patriarchy. Going to one of her husband’s coworker’s house was uncomfortable for her, as he would make crude jokes about her attitude saying, “what she needs is… and made a gesture as if to yank a woman’s buttocks to his groin” (51).
Said coworker was even rumored to have killed his wife when she attacked him with a mop. Although Cleofilas rejects the patriarchal home of her husband and that community, she still “returns to her father and her original bondage” (Lewis). In “Little Miracles, Kept Promises”, the “religious manifesta” of Woman Hollering Creek, Chayo faces the conflict of trying to find her way as a painter and having rejected the traditional construct of the Virgin, comes to accept her culture and the Virgin when she believes the Virgin sends her a sign that she still values her.
Chayo is one of the characters that at first rejects the culture she was born into. This whole story, told from Chayo’s point of view as a letter to the Virgin left at a shrine, centers on her struggle with her identity as Latina and a painter. She faces not only oppression because her family does not believe she should be a painter, “A painter! Tell her I got five rooms that need painting,” but also because she rejects her religion and culture and believes to be something that is another oppressor.
When Chayo thinks of the Virgin, she does not see a strong woman, she sees a weak woman, who stands by and lets other women be oppressed. She refuses to worship someone who is viewed as a “meek and passive mother” (Groover). Chayo expresses her grief at not being able to be accepted as a painter, and points out that if she was a man, or a father, she “could still be an artist, could love something instead of someone, and no one would call that selfish” (127). As the story goes on, she thinks herself to be pregnant.
When she finds out she is not pregnant, she believes it to be a sign from the Virgin that she cares about Chayo and accepts her for being a painter. In that sign, Chayo finally also accepts herself, having found a way to be herself and independent and also be religious and have faith. She realized that the pain that her mother and grandmother had to go through was not the Virgin’s fault, but of the patriarchy around her. The Virgin is the “power in my mother’s patience, strength in my grandmother’s endurance” (128).
After accepting the Virgin Chayo “wasn’t ashamed, then, to be my mother’s daughter, my grandmother’s granddaughter, and my ancestor’s child” (128). “Little Miracles, Kept Promises” shows the struggle between being yourself and staying connected with your culture. Chayo wants to be a painter even though her family gives her grief for it and does not believe in her, she still decides to do what she loves, instead of what everyone else wants her to do. Her inner struggle is with her religion and beliefs.
She does not think that being an independent woman she can believe in the Virgin, because she believes the Virgin was oppressed in many ways and represents that oppression, and even lets it happen. It is not until she accidentally almost gets pregnant that Chayo believes that the Virgin is watching over her and that she can be independent but also have faith. Chayo’s gift to the Virgin is her hair, that she has “never cut since the day I was born,” because it is the only thing she has with enough worth to give (125). With her newfound faith in the Virgin and her shorter hair Chayo’s head feels “as light as if I’d raised it from water” (125).
Chayo by the end of her letter reveals that she has rejected “the demand for female passivity” and has begun “embracing her Latina heritage” (Groover). In only one of these three stories, the main female character has overcome her struggle with herself and her religion. Cisneros uses the age progression of the book to show the differences between the actions of oppression to women. When they are young, they are helpless. There is nothing they can do, they may realize they are being oppressed, but other than running away into possibly even more dangerous situations, they cannot do anything.
Patricia was at such a young age, she had no choice but to go back to her abusive father. With Cleofilas, she decides to go back to her old family and face the shame of not staying with her husband and becoming a single mother. Although she was able to make that decision for herself, she is still retreating to her father’s household and rules. Chayo is the only one out of these three that have a successful conclusion. She is able to become one with herself, her career, and her culture, balancing all three and becoming happy.
In a way, this is Cisneros showing that even though your community from such a young age can oppress you, you can still find a way out and achieve the happiness and the life that you want for yourself. Women can be independent and have careers that do not conform to their societal norms while also celebrating their religion and faith. One of Cisnero’s points is that not only can your community oppress you, but also you can oppress yourself. With Chayo, she found a way out and finding that balance is one of the most important things she could have done.