“Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros begins with the main character, Cleófilas, remembering her father’s words of support as she gets married, but just now recalls them, as she is in a new country and with a child of her own. In her town of Monclova, Coahuila, she often spent her time watching the latest telenovelas, as she had no mother, only six brothers and a father. She aspired her marriage with Juan Pedro would be filled with love and passion, just like on the endless episodes she watched. After the two got married, Cleófilas left her friends and family behind to move to Seguin, Texas, on the other side of the border. Behind her new house lies a creek, called “La Gritona,” which means Woman Hollering, yet no one knows why, and this fascinates her. As their life in a new country begins, Juan Pedro begins hitting Cleófilas, but as she wished to respond like the women on the telenovelas, she instead does nothing. He’s far from her ideal husband, yet she takes care of him and their children. At times, Cleófilas wishes to go back and escape the reality, but she’s afraid a town overcome with gossip will await. When she’s pregnant with their second child, she begs Juan Pedro to take her to the doctor; she promises she’ll cover up the bruises. When at the checkup, her doctor calls a friend when she notices that Cleófilas is a victim of abuse and is isolated from all her friends and family in Mexico. She asks her friend, Felice, to take her and her baby to a bus station in San Antonio to escape her husband and, eventually, return home. As a truck arrives to pick Cleófilas up, she is shocked to find that it’s Felice’s own truck, that she works and succeeds without a husband. At last, as they cross the creek, La Gritona, Cleófilas screams after Felice, with a sense of pride for having left and the freedom that awaits.
“Woman Hollering Creek” is a modern twist on a Mexican folktale, la Llorona. In this famous story, a woman named Maria who was left alone by her husband, drowns her children as a form of revenge to take away his prized possessions. After leaving her, he would often visit, but would never speak to her, only their children, causing her to fill with rage and resentment towards them, leading her towards their death. The fact that the creek behind Cleófilas’ house is named La Gritona, resembles the similarity between this story and the folktale. As included in “Woman Hollering Creek,” no one knows if the woman cried in anger or pain because, and as told, after the original La Llorona ended her children’s life, she realized what she had done and regretted it, so she then drowned herself and now is said to wander the river hollering for her children.
La Gritona. Such a funny name for such a lovely arroyo. But that’s what they called the creek that ran behind the house. Though no one could say whether the woman had hollered from anger or pain.
The aspect of using certain names to symbolize a part of the folktale is one of the techniques I tracked. When Cleófilas moves to the other side of the border, she becomes friends with her neighbors, Soledad and Dolores, mainly because of her restriction to leave the house. The names Sandra Cisneros chose for this story play a significant role in the identification of how Cleófilas feels and the representation of her new life. In Spanish, Soledad means solitude and Dolores means sorrow, which greatly represent her state as she adjusts to life without her family nearby and resemble much of how La Llorona felt when her husband left her. Also, since both of the neighbors have a history of family separation, they become characters with whom Cleófilas can easily identify.
Felice? It’s me, Graciela.
No, I can’t talk louder. I’m at work.
Look, I need kind of a favor. There’s a patient, a lady here who’s got a problem.
Furthermore, when Cleófilas finally persuades her husband, Juan Pedro, to take her to the doctor, she quickly notices the conditions Cleófilas is living under (even though Cleófilas promises to keep the bruises a secret), with the assumption that many women living there also immigrate and face similar marital situations. At the beginning of the phone call, we find out that the doctor is named Graciela, which means grace and is pretty much the only reason why Cleofilas was able to escape her cruel husband. The doctor is literally Cleofilas’ saving grace because she calls a friend to take her and her baby to a bus station, forcing her to leave her house and begin her path towards her normal life. Also, her friends name is Felice, which signifies the happiness that Cleófilas was able to begin feeling after crossing the creek, for the last time, with Felice. These two characters are the story’s path to resolution and because of their involvement, Cleófilas’ situation was peacefully resolved.
The town of gossips. The town of dust and despair. Which she has traded for this town of gossips. This town of dust, despair.
Although at times Cleófilas did think about running away, she was scared to await her hometown filled with gossip and despair, even though her father has his open arms out for her there, but not realizing that her new town was already filled with despair, that she was trapped with nowhere to go under her husband’s “rule.” The reason for which Cleófilas chose to leave everything behind, in the first place, was to live a better and happier life, but she was sadly surprised to find herself in an even worse situation: lonely and abused.
Another use of symbolism through the story is the use to the telenovelas as a representation of the life Cleófilas wished she had. Growing up, she never had a female role model which caused her to spend much of her time watching telenovelas and dreaming that, one day, her life would resemble the countless episodes she watched.
Cleófilas thought her life would have to be like that, like a telenovela, only now the episodes got sadder and sadder. And there were no commercials in between for comic relief. And no happy ending in sight.
Cleófilas saw the women on the telenovelas as her inspiration and when she married Juan Pedro, she thought life would present her with the ideals seen on TV, but slowly learned that acting is different from real life and her life would never be near close to that of a telenovela’s. She also used the telenovelas as an excuse to stay with her husband, with the “as seen on TV” hope that everything would resolve itself without her standing up. Lastly, Cleófilas’ name herself is a symbol of the many (Hispanic) women that also struggle with mental and physical abuse in a relationship. When the doctor describes her name to Felice, she even says it as if it was a normal part of life in this part of Texas and shows how Mexican culture often admires women who suffer, as Cleófilas admired the women on the telenovelas.
The second technique I tracked was the use of setting to help convey a message. Throughout the story, Cleófilas’ life just keeps on getting worse and worse and by using Seguin, Texas as the main setting, it helps us understand that it wasn’t easy for Cleófilas to walk out of her abusive relationship, as she was trapped in a new country, without attracting attention in her hometown, and her husband noticing. Because of this, the setting is extremely important in the story and is where it unfolds. I think what’s really sad is how common this is in our modern society: that women leave all they’ve ever known in search of a better future for themselves and their children, but end up in a worse situation and trapped because they can’t easily escape it. The creek is also an important setting because it acts as the road that Cleófilas never took since its origin is unknown, as is the path she could’ve taken and possibly had a better life. Another thing the use of a distant setting does is, it allows us to feel is sympathy for the tough turns Cleofilas’ life took and the desperate conditions she was in to escape it.
Seguin. She had liked the sound of it. Far away and lovely. Not like Monclova. Coahuila. Ugly. Seguin, Tejas.
She thought this when she sat with the baby out by the creek behind the house.
As in a lot of Sandra Cisneros’ stories, Hispanic women are dominated by men and the factor of displacement adds on to the difficulty of being a woman in society. For example, in The House on Mango Street, the main character, Esperanza, often says she doesn’t belong or fit in with where she lives and wishes she could just leave, as does Cleófilas in Seguin, Texas after the abuse begins. A major theme within the story is the issues that many Hispanic women raised in an older family encounter as they age. Cleófilas had to deal with the pain and suffering in a patriarchal and male dominated society throughout her journey and faces the reality that in most situations, there’s no way out, but to run away and leave everything behind, once again. This prejudice was common in most households in older times, when women were controlled by their husbands and only lived to “serve” them. By Cleófilas choosing to leave Juan Pedro, she’s breaking a stereotypical rule and standing up for herself. At the end of the story, when Cleófilas learns that Felice works, has her own truck and does it all without a husband, she’s fascinated with the idea of starting a life alone in which she can be successful.
Personally, what I think one can take from this story and use in their own writing is the use of imitating an old tale, using a bigger picture, but adding their own twist to minimize it. One of my favorite things about this story is that, even though this story is based off the “la Llorona” folktale, Sandra Cisneros converted the sad tale into an uplifting and inspiring story about the strength women have and their capabilities, even in a male-dominated society. I think the biggest difference between both stories is that as La Llorona spends her days hollering in pain, Cleófilas screams in happiness and pure joy that she’s now free as she crosses the creek, La Gritona. Another thing that could be taken from the story is the use of another language to add emphasis and strengthen the conflict (plot). From now on, I’d like to choose character names more carefully, so each represents something important to the story’s plot, instead of what I usually do, just choosing a name I like or comes to mind.
- What do you think would’ve occurred if the doctor hadn’t discovered the bruises on Cleófilas and asked Felice to rescue her?
- What were your impressions of Cleófilas as you read the story? Were there times when you sympathized or disagreed with her?
- How does the character Maximiliano show any importance? What did Cleófilas’ perception of him tell us about her?