Solitude seeks fulfillment in my tears and awaits me in the depths of every mirror and closes the windows carefully so the sky will not come in. Images of literal and emotional solitude haunt the work of Rosario Castellanos, the visionary Mexican feminist, poet, novelist, and essayist. From a young age, the act of writing was her bulwark against the pain of loneliness. These words epitomize the prose style—vulnerable, revealing, self-searching—that for Castellanos was a conscious feminist act, a way of carving out a female space in public intellectual life. Among the literati of postwar Mexico, her unembarrassed confessionalism incurred derision. But rather than emulating the default male modes of writing, Castellanos critiqued them.
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Solitude seeks fulfillment in my tears and awaits me in the depths of every mirror and closes the windows carefully so the sky will not come in. Images of literal and emotional solitude haunt the work of Rosario Castellanos, the visionary Mexican feminist, poet, novelist, and essayist. From a young age, the act of writing was her bulwark against the pain of loneliness.
These words epitomize the prose style—vulnerable, revealing, self-searching—that for Castellanos was a conscious feminist act, a way of carving out a female space in public intellectual life. Among the literati of postwar Mexico, her unembarrassed confessionalism incurred derision.
But rather than emulating the default male modes of writing, Castellanos critiqued them. In her own fiction, she foregrounded the perspectives and experiences of Mexican women who, whether white or indigenous, were otherwise denied a voice. And she engaged with the ideas of women writers from other nations, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Gabriela Mistral, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf, whom she viewed as kindred spirits.
We have to invent ourselves. Born in Mexico City in , Castellanos spent her childhood in the southern state of Chiapas on the Guatemalan border, where her father owned coffee plantations. Materially, the family wanted for nothing and were waited on hand and foot by servants. But Castellanos and her younger brother, Benjamin, witnessed no displays of love or affection between their parents, whose only common interest seemed to be antagonizing each other. Her habit of crying quietly in the dark even led to suspicions that she was demonically possessed.
The child frequently dreamed that she had died and that her empty place was occupied by someone else, someone who really belonged there; that the gulp of air she had been stealing before now supplied strength to its rightful owner. Upon awakening, she would never altogether regain the certainty of being alive, nor did she want to. She slipped noiselessly through the corridors—avoiding mirrors—and hid in the far end of the back patio.
There she would stay until someone brusquely came to get her at mealtime. Amid the clash of Catholicism, secularism, and ancient magic and superstition, Castellanos suggests that no belief system or linguistic framework accommodates female realities.
Marcela, a Tzotzil girl raped by a white landowner, lacks the words to explain or even understand her fate. Something that could be said, that other people could hear and understand. Not madness, not vertigo. As a child, Castellanos was cared for by a Mayan woman, Rufina, in whose Tzotzil prayers and legends the future author discovered the joy of language.
As soon as I see her I … run towards her with open arms. But the Indian watches me quite impassively, making no welcoming sign. I slow up—slower and slower till I stop. I let my arms drop, altogether discouraged. Besides, all Indians look alike. As a child, Castellanos also had a paid playmate, a Mayan girl her own age.
Castellanos explains:. But nobody had taught me to respect any but my equals and especially my elders … The day it was revealed to me, in a flash, that this thing I was using was a person, I made an instantaneous decision: to ask the pardon of the person I had offended. And I made another vow for the rest of my life: never to take advantage of my position of privilege to humiliate another. It was thought to be an activity no rational person would choose.
Her mother, who was in her forties, had cancer, and her father suffered a heart attack. Castellanos was only twenty-two. Though her writing was melancholy, around this time, Castellanos slowly began to come out of her shell.
The experience of being a foreigner, Castellanos found, gave her a new sense of what it meant to be Mexican. Influenced by the writings of Simone Weil, who devoted her brief and ascetic life to helping the poor and subjugated, she went to work for the Instituto Nacional Indigenista, formed by the government to provide services and resources, including media in indigenous languages, to Native communities.
She also signed over her inherited land to the laborers who tilled it and translated the Mexican constitution into Tzotzil. After moving to Tel Aviv, she taught at the universities, learned to speak Hebrew, and continued publishing poetry and journalism. The tragic accident that loomed was prefigured, her friend and biographer Oscar Bonifaz suggests, by a recurring motif in her poetry.
In early August , alone in her embassy apartment, Castellanos stepped out of the bathroom and tried to switch on a lamp. It gave off a powerful electric surge. Discovered unconscious by a maid, Castellanos died in an ambulance before it reached the hospital. She was forty-nine. Castellanos received a Mexican state funeral, and commemorations were held across the world.
She left behind a prolific body of work, including many volumes of poetry, journalism, and short stories, much of which is untranslated. Nevertheless, her legacy is immeasurable. Her most important lesson, one universal and timeless, is that nothing is more revolutionary than the right words.
Álbum de familia
Castellanos, Rosario Overview. Publication Timeline. Most widely held works about Rosario Castellanos. Most widely held works by Rosario Castellanos. A 7-year-old girl watches as the old order -- where a few powerful land-owning families and their male heirs could dominate a region politically and even sexually -- breaks down. The book of lamentations by Rosario Castellanos Book editions published between and in 7 languages and held by 2, WorldCat member libraries worldwide Maya uprisings of and in Chiapas, Mexico, are transposed in time to the 's.