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The Language of Female Violence in Jorge Ibargüengoitia's Las muertas

From: Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies
Volume 12, 2008
pp. 79-92 | 10.1353/hcs.0.0040

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In the early 1960s in Mexico, accounts of three notorious sisters inundated newspapers. Delfina, María de Jesús and Luisa González Valenzuela, known as "Las Poquianchis,"2 were accused of crimes including mass murder, torture, the kidnapping of women for prostitution, and the clandestine operation of a brothel. Due to the extensive coverage of the case by the Mexican media, the Poquianchis became an infamous sensation, captivating the interest of the Mexican people and even drawing in international press.3 With his novel Las muertas (1977), Jorge Ibargüengoitia responds to the overzealous media damnation of the women by providing an alternative narrative of the crimes of the Poquianchis.

This article examines language used in the 1960s media coverage of the case and in parallel instances of violence perpetrated by the fictional women of Jorge Ibargüengoitia's novel Las muertas.4 My analysis begins by demonstrating how contemporary Mexican media, particularly the tabloid Alarma!, sensationalized the Poquianchis' crimes and demonized the sisters, transforming them into a pervasive, inhuman threat and flattening reality into black and white extremes. Ibargüengoitia's novel, in contrast, attempts to recontextualize these lower class women and their acts, conveying a more nuanced understanding of the events. By examining the rhetoric surrounding the fictional women's relationship with violence, I aim to show that in particular Ibargüengoitia relies on connotations of domesticity to add depth to his characters and make them and their actions more familiar to the reader. He couches the violence in metaphors, images, or objects having an intimate, domestic quality, altering our perception of ostensibly horrendous situations.

I further argue that Ibargüengoitia's use of these domestic details and mundane elements transforms our perception of these details and elements themselves. The basic nature of these is highlighted when they are placed in a violent context; scissors cut and an iron burns. The revelation that these instruments can be perceived to have a darker use, such as an iron's capacity to burn flesh, decreases the familiarity of these every day objects and provokes anxiety. Just as the association of violence with domestic elements functions to alter the readers' perception of the women of Las muertas, it reflexively changes their perception of those domestic elements, creating a new threat, much more intimate than that of the Poquianchis of Alarma!

On January 15, 1964, the prominent Mexico City newspaper Excelsior provided its first account of the Poquianchis featuring the arrest of Delfina and María de Jesús González Valenzuela. The opening lines of the article detail the crime:

Cuatro mujeres que estaban en poder de tratantes de blancas y encarceladas en un moderno campo de concentración, murieron de hambre y fueron sepultadas clandestinamente en el predio conocido como "Los Ángeles," a 30 minutos de aquí, por la carretera que va a Manuel Doblado. Otras 19 chicas fueron rescatadas hoy y se salvaron de muerte tan cruel. Pero algunas han tenido que ser hospitalizadas porque se encuentran muy graves.


The tone and content of the article mix objective facts with subjective descriptors. Phrases such as "encarceladas en un moderno campo de concentración" and "se salvaron de muerte tan cruel" do not just inform the reader but add dramatic notes to the story. Subsequent articles in Excelsior further rely on hyperbole, describing the women as "despiadadas," "las hienas," and "feroces 'Hermanas del Diablo.' " The public's outcry was such that mobs frequently gathered around the Poquianchis, seeking to stone or lynch them. An editorial piece written by Bernardo Ponce for the same newspaper reflects the public furor, sounding a still more condemnatory tone in demanding full punishment for these women: "Que todo el peso de las leyes caiga sobre los seres demoníacos que han violado las leyes divinas y humanas en forma inusitada y escandalosa" (A6). In the writer's opinion the women's actions transgress all moral boundaries, re-classifying them as diabolic rather than human beings. The use of language that dehumanizes the women reflects discourse used by the public to describe the Poquianchis and their crimes.

Excelsior does not always employ this type of language to describe violent criminals. In an article published...

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