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Subversive Desires and Bodies: Construction of a Female Paradigm in Mercedes Abad’s Sangre

From: Hispanófila
Volume 170, Enero 2014
pp. 39-56 | 10.1353/hsf.2014.0010

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In the novel Sangre (2000), Catalonian author Mercedes Abad portrays the discordant but nevertheless interdependent and parasitic relationship between Victoria and her daughter Marina. With Sangre, Abad joins an ongoing dialogue about mother/daughter relationships to which a plethora of contemporary Spanish authors have contributed, including Elvira Lindo, Lucia Etxebarría, and Esther Tusquets. The lives of Abad’s protagonists unfold in Spain during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, a period of time in which it was particularly difficult for many women to achieve any type of personal agency. Although the masculine-dominated society in which Victoria and Marina live tries to categorize them as objects rather than subjects, focusing on their female bodies as mechanisms for producing children, these women refuse to be defined in the objectifying terms of the body imposed on them. Mother and daughter search out avenues for undermining the patriarchal society in which they live through their subversive desires and a rejection of society’s traditional conception of the female body. For Victoria, her struggle towards female agency consists of a rejection of motherhood that can be interpreted as either liberating or a repetition of the masculine paradigm, depending on the perspective from which it is read. For Marina, her various subversive desires culminate in the drinking of her mother’s blood, which can either be seen as a symbolic violation (rape) of Victoria’s being – perpetuating the male construct – or a rebellious union with another female in an attempt to break free from the restricted patriarchal construction of the female body. This paper will examine whether or not the main characters’ efforts truly allow them to escape the limitations of their male-dominated political, religious, and social reality, or if they actually uphold the cycle of the masculine paradigm perpetuated under Franco’s rule that sought to confine women’s bodies and minds to a conservative, subservient state.

As is well known, the Spanish nation was subjected to Franco’s extremely conservative, Catholic regime from 1939 to 1975. Those in disagreement with the dictator’s ideas were generally silenced, murdered, exiled, or repressed. Franco’s political and religious beliefs overflowed into the Spanish people’s social reality, as well. Very firm gender roles were established for both men and women, moving away from the advances for women established during the Second Republic. Franco harbored a great “dislike of the Republic, instituted in 1931, because of its attempts to better the economic and legal positions of the working classes and women” (Labanyi 92); as dictator, he strove to recreate more traditional family structures. Men were to be the leaders of the households, while women were kept “dentro de los muros del hogar,” acting as followers and the emotional supporters of their husbands (Gallego Méndez 141).

During the early years of the Franco regime, Spaniards were intensely indoctrinated in accordance with these familiar Western models of gendered agency [men as active and women as their submissive counterparts]. According to the nationalist tenets of Francoism, a Spanish woman’s place was in the home, and that home should be filled with children. (DiFrancesco 9)

The Spanish woman, therefore, simultaneously represented much more and much less than herself as an individual. She became a powerful instrument within Franco’s plan for Spain; through her, future patriots would be born and theoretically raised to abide by the mandates of the country’s dictatorship. At the same time, the Spanish woman lost all pretense of personal agency as society reduced her entire identity into nothing more than that of a body – more specifically, a womb – a machine of production used to populate a male-dominated society. Thus, womanhood in Franco’s Spain implied motherhood; the distinction between the two was nonexistent. Perceived as a body – an object – within a society of masculine dominance, female agency, desire, and personal aspirations were not considered to be matters worthy of discussion.

In Sangre, Victoria and Marina attempt to defy Franco and the male-dominated society imposed on them by using any methods available to them. Victoria first learns how to use her religion as a political protest from her father, who converted himself and his family to Jehovah’s Witnesses in defiance of...



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