In “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros, a Mexican woman named Cleófilas enters a marriage with the abusive and unfaithful Juan Pedro, hoping to find what her life has always lacked: passion. Due to the sexist tendencies of her family and culture, she married Juan Pedro after her father basically signed his ownership of Cleófilas off to him. Once married, the newlyweds moved to Seguin, Texas by Woman Hollering Creek from Mexico for Juan’s job. Cleófilas’ emotional downfall is shown through the text. Cleófilas wondered why the creek was given its name, and believed the creek to be named after the myth of La llorona, or the weeping woman.
La llorona was told to have drowned her own children in a river as a form of revenge on her husband. The hollering was said to be of pain or grief. After years of domestic violence and her inability to be her own person, a pregnant Cleófilas demands she be taken to the hospital for the baby. She meets two wage-making women, Felice and Graciela, who help her get to San Antonio and cross the creek, while Felice hollers along the way. A newly empowered Cleófilas is assumed to be starting a new life without her husband.
In my own writing, I would really like to imitate the way that Sandra Cisneros is able to create such vividly described and complex characters, especially women that seem like real life people you could have met. Cleófilas is flawed and pained but loving, and that’s what makes her seem like a real woman and a great character. Dolores, whose name means sorrow, is a widowed neighbor of Cleófilas and a possible warning to Cleófilas about how she could end up, unable to do anything because of men.
It is notable that Cleófilas’s first child was a male, and named after his father, proving the power Juan Pedro had in their relationship. Cleófilas was imprisoned by this relationship until her next pregnancy, in which she would be having a girl, who would be named (hopefully) after Graciela or Felice, women who helped rescue her rather than a man who burdened her.
Cisneros takes a stance on gender roles similar to that of her novel The House on Mango Street. She emphasizes how men often subjugate women and treat them like they are somehow inferior.
Did you ever notice, Felice continued, how nothing around here is named after a woman? Really. Unless she’s the Virgin. I guess you’re only famous if you’re a virgin.
Having the story told in third person point of view, I grasped Cleófilas to be more selfless, which worked in favor of the character.
The setting of this story put Cleófilas in danger because her husband spent much of his time at the ice house, and had she waited or not been more careful, she could end up dead like Maximiliano’s wife. The American Southwest was a drastic change for Cleófilas. She was not even safe from her husband in the hospital.
- Do you think that Cleófilas would have had a better life had she stayed in Mexico? Why or why not?
- What was the theme of this story?
- Did Cleófilas ever really love her husband?