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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY FANTASIZING THE FEMININE: SEX AND GENDER IN DONOSO’S EL LUGAR SIN LÍMITES AND PUIG’S EL BESO DE LA MUJER ARAÑA JESSICA BURKE THICK with tensions surrounding issues of sex and gender, both José Donoso’s 1966 novel El lugar sin límites and Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel El beso de la mujer araña have biologically male protagonists that identify themselves as “women,” and create definitions of womanhood that would include them. Their struggle for acceptance in a society resistant to accepting them on their own terms reveals the stereotypes and assumptions linked to sex, gender, and sexual orientation. Both novels question traditional gender roles and “types,” as the concepts of “feminine ,” “masculine,” “man” and “woman” are all reconfigured in the light of marginalized characters’ struggles to find a “place” in a society unwilling to accommodate them as part of the mainstream. El lugar sin límites is the story of la Manuela, a transgender prostitute in a decrepit town with little hope for the future. El beso de la mujer araña tells the story of two cellmates in prison for very different reasons – Valentín for revolutionary activity and Molina for seducing a minor. While some critics prefer the label of “homosexual” in their studies of these protagonists , I prefer the use of “transgender,” as I feel it is more accurate in discussing characters who truly do identify more with women interested in pursuing relationships with men, rather than identifying themselves as men attracted to other men. This distinction is especially helpful when we consider that both characters use female pronouns and adjectives when describing themselves in relation to the men in their lives. The two novels also share other commonalities that facilitate a comparative consideration of their respective representations of sex and genYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 291 der. Both works are products of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 70s. Both novels have storylines that conclude with the death of the transgender protagonist and both reflect the social, political, and economic realities of the times, as well as a very present critique of the persecution of sexual behavior deviating from the societal norm. Lastly, these characters’ identification with women is not with “typical” women but rather with extraordinary women, extremely feminine women, alluring women, strong and sexy and yet fragile women. La Manuela models his own “feminine” behavior on the figure of the flamenco dancer, while Molina is inspired by the great actresses of classic films from the 1940s. The relationships in both novels are complex and cannot be captured by traditional dichotomies of sexual identity and orientation. La Manuela experiences a mix of fear and desire for Pancho, a brutish man whose imminent arrival inspires a simultaneous sense of anticipation and dread. Pancho’s violent temper hides a profound sense of insecurity, and he, too, feels a mix of fear and desire for la Manuela. While la Manuela fears Pancho’s abusive nature, Pancho fears his own attraction to la Manuela, as it calls into question his own sexual identity and “manliness .” In El beso de la mujer araña, Valentín identifies himself as straight, is still in love with an ex-girlfriend, and yet is able to engage in sexual relations with Molina that stem from a real emotional connection between the two. None of these characters fits traditional definitions of sexual identity. Both Donoso and Puig make deliberate and conscious efforts to break with traditional categories of sex and gender, just as they break with traditional modes of narration. El lugar sin límites has a storyline that spans roughly a day but includes flashbacks and multiple perspectives, which round out the narration and give us a more complete representation of the main characters ’ personal histories. El beso de la mujer araña is likewise an innovative text, as it omits the third person omniscient narrator altogether and tells its “story” through dialogue, internal monologue, and through official documents circulated amongst prison officials and government authorities. The dialogue between Molina and Valentín is introduced by dashes, but in order to know who is speaking, the reader must become familiar with their respective personalities and narrative styles...


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pp. 291-300
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