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The conquest of Mexico begun in 1519 by the Spanish conquistadors is a pervasive subtext for Mexican culture. The invasion constituted a clash of cultures involving archetypal patterns that have formed a myth more consequential than the historical reality. The historical event has been described, interpreted, and converted into a symbolic construct that is reinterpreted by each successive generation. The conquest remains a reverberating presence in the Mexican and Latin American psyche, and the characters of the dramatic spectacle sustain both Mexican and world literature.
The participants themselves differed in their views of the circumstances, as a comparison of the existing documents reveals. Hernán Cortés, leader of the Spanish expedition that conquered the Aztec empire and brought the several Indian nations of Mexico under Spanish control, wrote ongoing reports to his king, Charles V, and his Cartas de relación (Letters) offers his point of view. His secretary and biographer, López de Gómara, also published a version of the conquest, which was considered sufficiently controversial that one of Cortés's foot soldiers, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, was motivated to "set the record straight." Accounts of indigenous reactions to the conflict can be found in the collection compiled by Miguel León Portilla, La visión de los vencidos, translated in 1962 as The Broken Spears. Moreover, key literary texts in subsequent historical periods have provided alternatives to the traditional telling of the conquest. Each narrator focuses on different elements of the event, reflecting the distinct historical and political needs of that period.
The opinions of all participating groups have been represented in the formation of the tradition, except for the voice of one major figure whose role is considered crucial and consequential but whose discourse does not appear in a first-hand account: La Malinche, the Indian woman who became the interpreter, guide, mistress, and confidante of Cortés during the time of the conquest. Although her voice may have been silenced, her presence and functions are documented in the chronicles. For that reason she may be considered the first woman of Mexican literature, just as she is considered the first mother of the Mexican nation and the Mexican Eve, symbol of national betrayal.
She is also known by different names, a characteristic she shares with another prominent historicoliterary woman, Queen Boadicea. La Malinche is called Malinal, Malintzin, Malinche, or Doña Marina. Malintzin is formed from her Nahuatl birth name, Malinal, and Marina was given to her at her Christian baptism; La Malinche is the syncretic, mestizo form by which I shall call her, employing the others according to their use in the literary texts. La Malinche has been transformed from a historical figure to a major Mexican and Latin American feminine archetype, a polysemous sign whose signifieds, for all their ambiguity, are generally negative. Like Don Quixote or Don Juan, La Malinche has become an international figure whose story has enriched the literature of other cultures and a variety of artistic forms.
Despite the many controversies concerning other participants in the conquest, no figure is as ambiguous and abstract as La Malinche. Disputes abound concerning the formation of her very name, her birthplace, her early life before her encounter with Cortés and recorded history. The events of her life after the military phase of the conquest are also shrouded in mystery, and the date and causes of her death remain unknown. Very few Mexicans before the modern period were willing to accept her as anything other than a prostitute or a traitor. I must agree with the Mexican psychologist Juana Armanda Alegría that "La Malinche was the only important woman during the conquest of Mexico, and in that role, she deserves to be reconsidered. History has not been just to Doña Marina."
The surviving image of La Malinche is a product of interpretations by both popular culture and the writers who have formulated the literary tradition in Mexico. Since the conquest, La Malinche has been the subject of biographical, fictional, pictorial, and symbolic interpretation, but this study is the first to delineate the transformation of the historical figure into a literary sign with multiple manifestations. It is also the first study to identify the formation of a Malinche paradigm, characterize its features, and show the changes that have occurred in the use of the sign through the impact of sociopolitical events on the literary expression.
The image we have of La Malinche has been produced largely through fiction and therefore can be studied as a literary construct. Based on the idea that literature is a social institution that has provided role models and set patterns of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the following chapters chronicle the presentation of La Malinche in Mexican literary texts: her historical significance, her evolving literary representations, and the changing interpretations of her role from the historians of the conquest to contemporary Mexican American/Chicana and Mexican women writers who consider La Malinche a symbol of the tensions, contradictions, and oppression inherent in their own sexual, racial, and ethnic identity. (Although I have just mentioned "Mexican American" and "Chicana" as apparently equivalent terms, their use may involve misconceptions and requires further explanation. Both may refer to the same individual, that is, one who lives in the United States but whose cultural roots are Mexican, yet the political and social implications differ depending on the context of use, the speaker, and the audience to whom the terms are addressed. In the 1970s, more conservative people considered themselves "Mexican Americans" and identified the term "Chicano" with politically radical attitudes or with social position rather than ethnic origin. Some writers still use the terms interchangeably, focusing on the common ethnic elements and overlooking the possibly different political perspectives. I use "Chicana" henceforth to refer to the women writers working in the United States whose cultural roots are Mexican in recognition of their acceptance of the term to describe themselves.
By implying that "Mexican American" and "Chicana" may refer to the same individual yet may refer to two different concepts, I am making explicit the arbitrary signifying processes inherent in sign systems. In the following chapters I shall follow the semiotic definition of the linguistic sign as an arbitrary combination of a signifier and a signified. As the science dedicated to the study of the production of meaning, semiotics recognizes that each element we call a word is a sign, composed of two aspects, the expression plane, or the signifier, and the content plane, or the signified.' Within this semiotic framework, the construction of meaning is seen as an active process rather than something intrinsic in the sign. The following chapters explore how literary texts configure the sign "La Malinche." I have evaluated the ways in which the signifier, "La Malinche," enters into mobile correlations with the content plane, or the signified. The same signifier has come to stand for varying signifieds that have changed to meet the ideological requirements of a given sociocultural moment. The signifying elements include the way in which La Malinche is presented to the reader, the name by which she is known, what characteristics of personality and motivating psychological factors are attributed to her, the activities assigned to her, and the reactions of other characters.
The concept of intertextuality—that texts are continually being incorporated into other texts—is another guiding principle in my reading of "La Malinche." Intertextuality suggests that a text is not a self-contained unit and obliges one to consider the special referentiality of literary works; it is thus an appropriate theoretical framework for analyzing a historical figure and a historical event that have entered the discursive space of a culture, where the texts of the past coexist within the present, while the present image becomes intelligible only in terms of prior discourse. Thus the sign "La Malinche" functions as a continually enlarging palimpsest of Mexican cultural identity whose layers of meaning have accrued through the years. With each generation the sign "La Malinche" has added diverse interpretations of her identity, role, and significance for individuals and for Mexico.
Intertextuality offers a way of reading that places a text or sign in a discursive space, relating it to other texts and to the codes that operate in that space.' This book attempts to describe the intertextual space of the Malinche figure and the other discourses that affect it, refer to it, build from it, and grow within it. As Jonathan Culler reminds us, intertextuality "involves many things: explicit conventions of a genre, specific presuppositions about what is already known and unknown, more general expectations and interpretations, and broad assumptions about the preoccupation and goals of a type of discourse." The importance of presupposition for literary analysis is that it modifies the way a text must be read by offering implicit references to prior discourse, to a tradition and conventions that the reader must decode. Following Edward Keenan, Culler defines the notion of presupposition and its importance to intertextuality: presuppositions, distinguished as either logical or pragmatic, "relate sentences of a text to another set of sentences which they presuppose." He uses as one example William Blake's poem "The Tyger," which begins with a series of questions: "What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" He comments that the poem identifies as implicit such sentences as "An immortal hand framed the fearful symmetry." These presuppositions of the sentences of the text are part of a discourse or mode of discourse already in place, "a text or set of attitudes prior to the poem itself." Similarly, for each reader "La Malinche" is a textual sign loaded with presuppositions that influence the reader's relationship with the sign and its text.
When La Malinche was transformed into a sign, she became part of her culture's myth system. From an anthropological perspective, the dramatic stories that become myths authorize the continuance of ancient institutions, customs, rites, and beliefs. Myths provide examples to be emulated, precedents to be repeated, and in light of that function their study enables us to decode a culture's attitudes toward its members. Because La Malinche, as an archetypal female figure in Latin America, plays such a vital role in Mexican and Latin American myths, it is imperative that the role she is traditionally assigned be evaluated and reevaluated. Such a study may contribute to cultural revisionism in Mexico, a society deeply involved in the process of change.
For too long, false myths have distorted the images of women; and especially in Mexico, the myth of La Malinche has been one of the most restrictive. It is not, however, the only myth to generate images of women. As Luis Leal points out, La Malinche constitutes one of the two major female archetypes in Mexico, along with the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Virgin of Guadalupe embodies the most virtuous feminine attributes: forgiveness, succor, piety, virginity, saintly submissiveness. La Malinche is the Mexican Eve, the tainted sex "who is selfish and rejecting, while Guadalupe is giving and nurturant.... A polarized perspective of women emerges whereby only La Malinche as supreme evil and La Virgen as supreme good are possible."
Rosario Castellanos adds the seventeenth-century nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, in "Once Again Sor Juana," her 1963 essay on the archetypes of Mexican culture: "There are three figures in Mexican history that embody the most extreme and diverse possibilities of femininity. Each one of them represents a symbol, exercises a vast and profound influence on very wide sectors of the nation, and arouses passionate reactions. These figures are the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche and Sor Juana." As a feminist, Castellanos sees the figure of Sor Juana as an enigma because of her dual configuration as genius and female. The lonely, oxymoronic stance of female genius, implied by the appellation "the Tenth Muse," as Sor Juana was called, has symbolized for Mexican culture not what women in their plurality were capable of achieving, but what only an idealized Woman, the rara avis, could attain. For Castellanos, the Virgin of Guadalupe and La Malinche are less ambiguous figures. She agrees that only positive elements are associated with the figure of the Virgin, an observation supported by specialized studies by literary critics, historians, and sociologists. Veneration of the Virgin transcends pure religiosity and has become equated with a sense of unselfish motherhood and positive national identity. La Malinche, at the opposite pole, embodies both negative national identity and sexuality in its most irrational form, a sexuality without regard to moral laws or cultural values.
Although Castellanos is more intent on focusing on the controversial views relating to Sor Juana, she tacitly acknowledges that La Malinche is fundamentally a polemical figure who influences contemporary behavior patterns: "Some call her a traitor, others consider her the foundress of our nationality, according to whatever perspectives they choose to judge her from." La Malinche comes to signify the traitor to national goals; the one who conforms to her paradigm is labeled malinchista, the individual who sells out to the foreigner, who devalues national identity in favor of imported benefits. Castellanos compares the power of La Malinche to that of the Greek mythological figure Antaeus, who was always revived when he came into contact with the earth. Similarly, La Malinche has not died but remains in contact with Mexico, and her power to influence behavior has not diminished with time.
In the same way that the lexical term malinchista was derived from her experiences, so have the figures of La Chingada and La Llorona become involved with her paradigm. La Malinche's sexual involvement with Cortés led to her designation as the first "chingada," a term charged with severe negative connotations for Mexicans, conjuring up personal violation and submission to rape, as will be discussed in chapter 5. The image of La Llorona, or weeping woman, at one point became conflated with the image of La Malinche because they share a sadness relating to lost children. In popular mythology La Malinche serves as a synecdoche for all Indian women who lament the fate of their progeny born to the Spanish conquistadors.
Textual analyses of the figure of La Malinche demonstrate how the cultural myth has evolved through time and how it continues to serve as a paradigm for female images in Mexico, for the ways men and women relate to each other. Paradigms serve as guidelines for ethical, esthetic, or conventional actions. I consider La Malinche to be a root paradigm in the way Victor Turner uses the term. According to Turner, a cultural root paradigm goes beyond the cognitive and the moral to the existential domain; in so doing, it becomes "clothed with allusiveness, implications, and metaphor." A root paradigm is a cultural model that is continually reinvested with vitality within the social drama. Turner defines social drama as a period in which conflicting groups and personages attempt to assert their own paradigms; he includes the Mexican Revolution of Independence in 1810 as an illustration of "a root paradigm at work in a series of social dramas." For Turner, the years between 1810 and 1821 comprise a complex and dramatic liminal period in which those being moved in accordance with a cultural script were liberated from normative demands. The period of transition from colonial rule to Mexican nationhood generated "new myths, symbols, paradigms, and political structures."
The time of the conquest, from 1521 to 1528, was similarly a complex and dramatic liminal period that generated new myths, symbols, paradigms, and social structures. This was the period during which the political and cultural consequences of European dominance in the Americas were set. The conquest was the crucial event in the formation of male-female relations. Succinctly described by Elu de Leñero, the traditional image influencing male-female relationships is derived from Cortés being served by La Malinche. In the way a Mexican man enjoys dominating a woman, wants service from her, and expects to impose his will and body on her and then dispose of her, he repeats the pattern Cortés established with La Malinche.
In the literary texts that employ the Malinche image, the popularly known characteristics of the paradigm have been added to the legendary character because of past literary interpretations rather than the actual deeds of the historic figure. Although folkloric narratives and popular poetry make use of the conquest theme and La Malinche, I have analyzed in this work only those elements of the popular expression that have been successfully incorporated into literary texts. Future studies will attempt to cover the many variations of the paradigm that are found in expressions of popular culture as well as in the texts of other cultures.
In following the development of the sign "La Malinche" from a diachronic perspective, the relevant presuppositions that have been deeply embedded within the palimpsest need to be uncovered. The palimpsest is an important archaeological image in Mexico and describes the way the Aztecs, Mayans, and other tribes built one pyramid atop another, or how the Catholic church constructed its religious sites on pre-Hispanic foundations. Chapter 2 presents the Aztec environment in which La Malinche was reared as Malinal and the attitudes toward women in that society as well as the sociopolitical alliances of the tribes in the region and the conventions at work that affected the behavior of the protagonists of the conquest. Contemporary mythologies, including the belief in the return of Quetzalcoatl, one of the important gods in the Amerindian pantheon, are additional factors considered in analyzing the cultural environment entered by the Spaniards.
As the Spanish texts of the conquest show, the Amerindian woman called Malinal was quickly transformed into a Hispanic lady and baptized with the name of Doña Marina. As Doña Marina, she was seen as a positive figure, and her actions and behavior were equated with those of chivalric heroes from the Spanish literary tradition and biblical figures such as Joseph in Genesis. The debt the Spaniards owed her for their victory over the Aztecs was clearly expressed by a number of chroniclers. Protector of the foreigner, she was also the Great Mother; the child she bore Cortés, Don Martin, was considered the first mestizo, origin of the Mexican nation, the union of the Amerindian and European.
During the colonial period, Doña Marina was largely ignored in the literary texts of the colony, including those by the major writer of the period, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. After the War of Independence, the identity of Doña Marina was subsequently transformed from its Spanish cultural form to a version circumscribed by the patriarchal culture developing in a newly independent Mexico. The Spanish conquistadors had read La Malinche as Doña Marina, an object of desire—of male dominance of the female, of desire for the land newly conquered. The Mexicans, in contrast, as a way of declaring their political independence, invented new interpretations for the signs of the colonizers; they required a construction of the signs that would serve as a signal of the new sociopolitical agenda.
To wrest control of the land from Spain meant dominating the images formed within a Spanish context. The new reading of the mother figure projected the resentment of the children for their progenitors and the system they had created. As the texts of newly independent Mexico show, many of the characteristics of Doña Marina considered positive by the Spaniards are reelaborated as negative elements. Disrobed of her accoutrements as the biblical heroine, Doña Marina is reincarnated as Desirable Whore/Terrible Mother, and the biblical image used to describe her at this stage is the serpent of Eden. This transformation signals a protest rejecting Spain and all associations with "la patria."
From the feminine version of the biblical Joseph, then, La Malinche becomes in the works of the postindependence period both the snake and the Mexican Eve, the traitor and temptress, the rationalization for the Amerindian failure to overcome the Europeans. From great lady to Terrible Mother, La Malinche serves the particular historical needs of a complex society in change. The transformation can be found in Jicoténcal (1826?), also known as Xicoténcatl, one of the first known novels to deal with the events of the conquest. Published anonymously in Philadelphia, it is one of the first texts to present a negative view of La Malinche, according to Luis Leal. Calling her Doña Marina, the unknown author paints a literary portrait of her as the evil temptress and betrayer of la patria. This text made an impact in Mexico. By 1870, the phrase "seller of her nation" had become integrally associated with Marina in the portrait developed by Eligio Ancona in Los mártires del Anáhuac (The martyrs of Anahuac).
Ireneo Paz, the grandfather of the well-known contemporary literary figure Octavio Paz, contributed a more tempered picture to the formation of the legend of La Malinche in his romantic novels Amor y suplicio (1873; Love and torment) and Doña Marina (1883). His work is representative of the postreform period of Mexican history, and his texts attribute to the literary Malinche and to other Amerindian women the characteristics associated with the historical Malinche: willingness to consort with the newcomers, betrayal of her people in favor of the Spaniards, rejection of Amerindian culture, and acceptance of the Catholic religion. Paz uses the Cortés-Malinche paradigm as the emblematic encounter between Europeans and Amerindians. By rewriting the military and political exploits of the conquest in terms of a sexual encounter, he follows the patriarchal view of women as objects of exchange; but instead of considering the woman an inferior social being, he romanticizes her as a noble being whose actions were dictated by destiny and the gods. He offers a positive interpretation of Mexican mestizaje, providing his readers with a positive conception of themselves and their history. He rewrites history in a way that fits the social and political ideologies of his time: a nationalism that strives to incorporate the Indian within the paradigm of Mexican identity.
From the time of Ireneo Paz to that of his grandson, Mexico underwent a major liminal experience: the Mexican Revolution. The literary explosion of works dealing with Mexican national themes concentrated on the revolution, while the Conquest of Mexico as a literary motif was slighted by most writers. Esthetic expressions of the theme of the conquest were created within the context of the indigenism of the great muralists of the twenties and thirties, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. In The Aztec Image in Western Thought Benjamin Keen describes the presentation of both Cortés and La Malinche in these murals.
The written text that synthesizes the most representative aspects of the modern attitude toward the Malinche legend is El laberinto de la soledad (1950; The Labyrinth of Solitude) by Octavio Paz. The section "Los hijos de la Malinche" defines La Malinche for the midtwentieth century. Paz shows La Malinche's relationships with the biblical Eve and with Mexican figures such as La Chingada and La Llorona. He sees La Malinche as representative of the "cruel incarnation of the feminine condition." For Paz, the Conquest of Mexico was a violation, and Doña Marina represents the violated mother, the passive figure in the event—La Chingada. This study emphasizes the intense negativity with which La Malinche is regarded and shows the polarized perspective with regard to women in Mexican society. The successful dissemination of Paz's portrayal in the modern period can be gauged by its use in popular books destined for foreign consumption, such as Irene Nicholson's The X in Mexico. Nicholson uses Paz's essay to substantiate her view that modern Mexicans consider themselves the sons of Malinche and, therefore, "they are traitors in their own minds."
Although Paz did not invent the negative role for La Malinche, the synthesis found in his essay serves as a norm for most of the texts written during this period. In the interest of being instructive rather than exhaustive, I have selected for analysis some representative texts that portray the traditional negative image of La Malinche in their presentation of female figures. While during the nineteenth century narrative form was popular for addressing the theme of the conquest and its role in the building of the Mexican nation, in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution the theme of the conquest was displayed on the Mexican stage; narrative was employed instead to record the experiences of the more recent bloody and violent conflict that was the Mexican Revolution. Corona de fuego (1960; Crown of fire) by Rodolfo Usigli and Cuauhtémoc (1962) by Salvador Novo provide examples of attempts to offer enthusiastic support of the Amerindian contribution to modern mestizo Mexico, to the detriment of the reputation of La Malinche.
La Malinche o La leña está verde (1958; Malinche or The firewood is green) by Celestino Gorostiza re-creates an image of La Malinche that is meant to be more positive and supportive of her role as First Mother. Nevertheless, Gorostiza betrays his heroine on the sacrificial stone of patriarchal patterns of behavior. Todos los gatos son pardos (1970; All cats are gray) by Carlos Fuentes also attempts a positive portrayal, or at least one that breaks the traditional configuration; yet this Marina, to0, is restricted by the paradigms of patriarchy. While Gorostiza was writing at a time in which positive Mexican nationalism was strong, Fuentes's play reads the events of the conquest within the context of the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. His recall of the contemporary political scene is similar to the double readings offered by the authors of Xicoténcatl and Los mártires del Anáhuac, who were writing during earlier complex and dramatic liminal periods. The deadly clash between the Mexican armed forces and university students on the same site that witnessed the conflict between Amerindians and Spaniards during the conquest leads Fuentes to conclude that the repetitive patterns in the social drama of Mexico remain intact. Although he calls his character Malintzin/ Marina/Malinche in an effort to reflect his all-inclusive agenda, the character fails in the attempt to organize a new social structure.
One positive response to the dramatic nature of interactions occurring during the liminal period of the Mexican social scene after the Tlatelolco Massacre is that the theater has become a site where cultural change is not simply reflected but also enacted. Theatrical representations not only make use of the iconic value of La Malinche as a sign but also change the signified elements. The project of creating new readings of Mexico's past indicates a rejection of the belief that the past is predictor of the future. This new perspective is reflected in the plays of Rosario Castellanos, Willebaldo López, and Sabina Berman. They accept the idea that the past is not a closed system but "a dialectical field of forces whose artifacts can be actively engaged through theory, interpretation, transformation, parody, subversion, whatever."
The traditional image of La Malinche continues to be transformed by writers who question past interpretations of the sign and judge them as no longer appropriate for today's perspective on female-male relations. Rosario Castellanos's poem "La Malinche" re/views the paradigm from a point in the history of the figure itself, initiating an approach developed by Chicana women. La Malinche is a part of the cultural heritage of today's Chicanas, who see the need to place her contributions to history within a sociopolitical context corrected for distortions. Many are feminist writers, whose representations of La Malinche have radically altered the configuration of the image. The revisionist works of these Chicana writers are significant because they react to the negative presentations of La Malinche as a direct defamation of themselves. Representative of this attitude is the comment of Adelaida Del Castillo: "Any denigrations made against her indirectly defame the character of the Mexicana/Chicana female. If there is shame for her, there is shame for us; we suffer the effects of these implications."" For many of the Chicanas, La Malinche stands at the base of la mexicanidad and el mestizaje—the origin of the mestizo nation. Her body becomes the locus of origin of the contemporary Chicana and her offspring are symbolic daughters and sons. The Mexicana/Chicana writers point out that the use of La Malinche as a scapegoat figure can be interpreted as an effort to sustain male power by treating women as sexual objects and inferior moral entities. Her participation in the conquest as an active and vital figure needs to be re/viewed as a way to reject the destructive implications of previous interpretations and to recover the positive attributes brought forth by feminist and nationalist perspectives.
Several writers who challenge the accepted conventions offer in their texts a different reading of the historical record. They begin with the old presuppositions but critique the traditional assumptions of the patriarchal culture. Two texts by Elena Garro, Los recuerdos del porvenir (Recollections of Things to Come) and "La culpa es de los tlaxcaltecas" (The Tlaxcalans are to blame), fit into this new agenda, as do two recent plays by Emilio Carballido: Ceremonia en el templo del tigre (1986; Ceremony in the Temple of the Tiger) and Tiempo de ladrones: La historia de Chucho el Roto (1983; Time for thieves, the history of Poor Chucho). Although these texts do not deal ostensibly with the conquest, the figure of Marina and the events of that historical period serve as a subtext, thereby inserting aspects of the paradigm into a consideration of male-female relations and into the theme of nationalism. These works that use the Malinche paradigm as a subtext prove the continuing impact of the image in Mexican culture and point to the need for a revision of the paradigm. The traditional image presented a script that determined male-female behavior patterns according to a patriarchal model. Yet the tightly bound image of a patriarchal Malinche that once crystallized the thoughts and emotions of a nation has been refashioned as an icon with new signification that reflects a new cultural agenda. Re/formations and re/visions of the meaning inherent in the sign of La Malinche signal the development of real structural changes in social relationships.