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Shaking Awake the Memory: The Gothic Quest for Place in Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo


Gothic forms are often associated with the US East, where writers like Hawthorne, Faulkner, and Morrison explore haunting themes: witch-burnings, racism, and slavery. But the West, and particularly the conflicted US-Mexico borderlands, should haunt us too—especially in today’s disorienting context of global flows and inequality. The Texas-based Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros is rarely read in Gothic terms, but she should be. Her 2002 novel Caramelo is a phantasmagoric romp through one family’s transnational history, but it is also a ghost story. Its narrator Celaya is literally haunted by her Awful Grandmother’s ghost and fears that she will repeat her grandmother’s life, subjugated in a hierarchical society. Celaya’s only escape is through a gothic quest for place: a desperate attempt to orient herself through memory, imagination, and social engagement. (In particular, Celaya searches for free spaces in which she can connect with other women.) Ultimately, Cisneros takes what I call a critical regionalist path; she steers away from exclusive cultural nationalisms, but also away from the transnational flux induced by contemporary capitalism. Instead, she recognizes that especially in today’s globally connected world, we must create durable and nurturing institutions and practices—even if no purely safe space can be found.

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