Monday, March 7, 2011
"Castillo presents women with a greater chance of patriarchal subversion in her short but powerful poem “Women Are Not Roses,” in which she deconstructs the language of metaphor surrounding women. She draws attention to the common comparisons made between women and particular elements of the natural world, only to quickly and forcefully negate them. In essence, her poem represents a sort of poststructural feminist consciousness in the way that it attempts to move beyond the established language associated with femininity. She bases her first two stanzas on a basic logical framework, initially stating in the first stanza that
Women have no
flows. (WANR 1-4)
Stylistically, Castillo’s use of enjambment, particularly the way she leaves the word “continual” hanging in space with no punctuation, creates a rhythmic word structure, a “flow” that mirrors the word choice of the lines themselves. Upon first reading, this initial stanza appears to fit snugly in the established tradition of associating women with the fecundity of nature. United by the reproductivity the two share, women and nature are “continual,” beautiful and blossoming. However, Castillo quickly severs ties between the two with her decisive second stanza. Stating that “[Al]though rivers flow/ women are not/ rivers” (4-6). She acknowledges the similarity in descriptive language that the two may share; yes, women succeed one another on the planet, they are born and die, come and go, and represent a presence that can be described as “continual flows” (3). However, this does not mean that they can be reduced to a simple comparison, repeatedly essentialized into something that they are not. Women are women. They “are not rivers” (5-6).
Castillo continues to combat particular words typically assigned to women in the third stanza. Not only are women not rivers, they can also not be reduced to “roses,” or “oceans,” or “stars” (8-10). Because, what is a rose, really, in relation to a woman? A rose is a cultivated flower, valued for its beautiful aesthetic, often a symbol of love with thorns that represent the backlash that this same love can result in. Through consistent comparisons to roses, women are dually reduced, simultaneously prized for their passive beauty and censured at any show of their “thorns.” These competing associations are implicit in metaphors that unite women and roses. Castillo insists that not only are roses, oceans, and stars insufficient in to represent women; they are unnecessary as well. Women need to be neither reduced nor conflated. Castillo offers women the option of self-creation and definition."
“Although an avowed advocate of Xicanisma, committed to voicing the struggles of the silenced Chicana woman, Ana Castillo moves into a more global brand of feminist discourse in her poem “Women Don’t Riot,” written in 1998. “Women Don’t Riot” begins as a sort of international survey of largely unquestioned female oppression, mentioning the women “in manquilas in Malaysia, Mexico, or Korea,” as well as those “in sweatshops in New York or El Paso” (1-2). The flow of the poem is marked by unmodulated free verse, ebbing and flowing at Castillo’s command, almost hypnotic when read by Castillo herself.”
“Castillo builds up the ending of “Women Don’t Riot,” gaining momentum with her phrasing and word choice in the final stanza only to quickly withdraw, leaving the reader stunned and somewhat disheartened. The conclusion of the poem begins as a response to the penultimate stanza’s suggestion of a stop to women’s “endless misery” (44). Because instead of joining together, women will (and do) quietly “[take] the offense,/ rejection, [and] bureaucratic dismissal” characteristic of the institutionalized oppression they face (48-50). More than societal “rejection” and “bureaucratic dismissal[s]” though, Castillo reminds her reader of the real, day-to-day, violence, the “shove[s]” and “blow[s] to the head” that women routinely sustain and “won’t even scream” about (51-53). This movement from passive to active forms of brutality taken out against women, creates the tensional build-up that marks the final stanza. Castillo moves quickly, literally paring down the length of lines as she transitions from bureaucratic oppression to physical violence. However, just as the action reaches climax, as the unnamed oppressor holds “a knife at her throat,” Castillo finally offers her reader a reason for women’s inability to defend themselves (52). They have been inculcated in an ideology that prizes passivity in women, taught for generations to “be brought down as if by surprise,” to quietly accept systematized assault (55). Interestingly, Castillo moves from first-person narration back into the third-person in her assertion that women won’t fight back, perhaps suggesting that she, alongside those aforementioned enlightened university women, will defend themselves when necessary. Castillo removes herself from the “she” of the penultimate line, the girl who will “die like an ant passing beneath a heel” (56). This metaphor, which compares the average battered woman to an ant, furthers Castillo’s concept of the nameless multitude of women represented by the abuses in the poem. Castillo finishes the stanza with the chilling, “Today it was her. Next time who” (57). This line, while obviously disconcerting in its sentiment, is made more so, however subtly, by Castillo’s choice of final punctuation. Her decision to place a period, rather than a question mark, at the end of what reads as an interrogative sentence, articulates Castillo’s view that violence towards women has become more than an impending threat; it has become absolute reality. She is not asking whether or not a woman will be violated; she is asserting that all women face consistent violation, but are unable to unite because violence and oppression have become the standard.”
Biography: Born on June 25, 1953, Chican@ poet, novelist, essayist, and short story writer, Ana Castillo, grew up in an inner-city Chicago barrio, a setting and an upbringing that often influences the content of her writing. In the Introduction to “My Father Was a Toltec,” Castillo explains her initial writing impulse as a sudden possession to “compose from a place so deep within it felt like the voice of an ancestor embedded in a recessive gene,” following the death of her paternal grandmother. Like Celaya in Caramelo, Castillo’s writing represents the voice of her ancestors, particularly her father’s mother. Castillo’s writing often focuses on women’s oppression, as well as various other forms of racism, sexism, and classism. Using her writing as a form of social protest, Castillo writes out against social injustices and speaks for those who do not have the chance to speak for themselves.
Education: MA- Latin and Caribbean Studies, University of Chicago
PhD- American Studies, University of Bremen
Awards: The American Book Award, Carl Sandburg Award, Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, National Endowment for the Arts