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Ana Castillo's So Far From God: intimations of the absurd.

One of few Chicana writers to be published by a New York publishing firm, Ana Castillo soon became popular in academic circles as a feminist whose poetry challenges the culture-based, stereotypic perceptions of Chicanas, perceptions held by the dominant society and espoused as well by Chicanos and other Chicanas. Potential readers of Castillo's work need to be aware that Castillo uses different narrative strategies in the three novels published to date. (1) The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986) is written in epistolary form: the story unfolds through the correspondence between two friends. Similar to Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch that he claims can be read non-sequentially from any chapter, Castillo alleges that the reader can begin the Letters at any chapter and can read it in any sequence. Sapogonia: (An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter) (1990) is a composite of genres--Bildungsroman, mystery, and magical realism--that follow the hero, Maximo Madrigal, in Joycean fashion as he unravels his identity from his destiny. Althou gh Castillo experiments with generic form in each novel, she explores the same aesthetics of confrontation: the "masculinized politics of power"; "the ineffectuality of racism specific to minorities under capitalism"; and "the complex nature of romantic love, its sexual expression, and its relation to the prevailing ideologies of social power" (Candelaria 1993, 147).The aesthetics of confrontation continue within the third novel, So Far From God (1993), the work analyzed in this study, yet in this novel, Ana Castillo uses the strategies of the absurdist author to confront and explore identity transformations of the characters.

In So Far From God, Castillo uses burlesque to highlight the characters' struggle against cultural inequities, stereotypes, and macho politics to produce ironic allegory. Briefly summarized, the novel tells the story of a family living in Tome, New Mexico. The main characters are Sofi and her four allegorically named daughters Fe (Faith), Caridad (Charity), Esperanza (Hope), and La Loca Santa (The Crazy Saint). Each daughter is a parody of the virtue represented by her name except for La Loca Santa, the youngest daughter whose name is not a virtue. She acquires her pseudonym after she was thought to have died at age three, was observed to sit up in her coffin, and to have repulsed the priest, and had since suffered from a "phobia of people." The five women experience a variety of personal adventures derived from mestizaje, (2) gender, and the geographical area in which they were born. A descendant of the Spanish who first settled the Southwest, Sofi, the matriarch, was born to Americans of Mexican heritage an d customs, and she lives on property left her by her grandfather. Sofi, her kin, and neighbors continue to speak Spanish and maintain syncretized Mexican/Amerindian/Spanish customs in unique and astonishing ways.

Since critical work on So Far From God had not been published when this study was initiated, the reviewers' comments seem to indicate the possible reader responses to the novel. The contradictory and evaluative nature of book reviews often point to quick readings, and the reviews appear to ascribe Castillo's rhetorical and literary force to different genres. Because the novel is multi-generic, combining poetry, folk literature and social and political commentaries, aspects indicative of both postmodern fragmentation and absurdist techniques, its reviewers describe the novel differently.

For example, Lisa Sandlin describes the novel as a "magical realist account" (1993, 23-27). Barbara Kingsolver writes that the story "is driven by such a charming and jocular voice" that the "most entertaining character is the narrator herself who sounds like some sort of omniscient nosy neighbor" (1993,9). For Kingsolver, "the ingenuous tone works a miracle" because it sounds like "the spicy lectures of a beloved, batty grandmother" (9). Both Kingsolver and Sandlin identify the central strength of Castillo's third novel, the narrator. I. Molina wrote that So Far From God"has reached a high degree of universality because of its frankness, sincerity, and avoidance of didactic invocations and stereotyping" (1993, 3).According to Molina, Castillo writes with "extraordinary literary prowess," and "exposes the socio-politico-economic concerns of a caring Mexican-American woman" (3). Patricia Dubrava describes the novel as "an often black, funny satire in which characters are more like caricatures, and chapter titl es arc more like paragraphs" (1995, 5). Ray Gonzalez calls it "reckless fantasies," and full of stories with predictable figures that are "too 'ethnic' for their lives to be believable" (1993. 772). Each reviewer privileges different elements of the novel, yet none offer a comprehensive framework for reading Castillo's So Far From God. However, an analysis of Castillo's use of language, characterization, and plot reveals that she combines the aesthetics of the absurd with a postmodern pastiche of genres to produce the first absurdist Chicana novel. (3)

The practice of using absurdist techniques began during the sixties, a period that Charles B. Harris terms "the Decade of the Absurd" (1971, iii). He explains that the expression of alienation, though not confined to the twentieth century, has been corroborated in other areas besides films and literature. Illogical media coverage of world events and "[post]modern science, with its denial of causality and its concept of entropy elevate chaos to scientific fact, so that present--day writers create in an age when absurdity because it is taken for granted, is no longer taken seriously" (18). Harris's study reveals absurdist techniques that novelists utilize to fuse form and content to express their concerns in the theme of their novels, in the language, in the characterization, and in the plot.

Abandoning Aristotelian logic, absurdist novelists use what John Aldridge terms "a new set of filters" to deal effectively with the "chaotic multiplicity of meaning, mass complications and ambiguities . . [in order to present] amorphous state[s] of American society" (qtd. in Harris 1971. 19). Absurdist novels also subvert essentialist beliefs and accepted modes of thought and experience. The novel of the absurd ignores the ideological, and like So Far From God, rebels against essentialist beliefs of both traditional culture and literature. Castillo espouses an absurdist vision in order to rebel against essentialist beliefs in culture and literature because for her and for other absurdists, human beings exist in a silent, alien universe that possesses no inherent truth or meaning. Human actions appear senseless and absurd, According to absurdist formulation, a writer must "portray absurdity effectively in a world which already expects absurdity as a basic premise" (19).

So Far From God fits nearly into Harris's paradigm for absurd fiction. In this work Castillo exploits the traditional forms of the novel by combining genres. She uses parody, allegory, black comedy, tragic farce, poetry and Heloise-type advice for women in order to mimic the absurdist vision. The artifice in the novel is exaggerated; the plots are overly elaborate and involve "too many coincidences" that are often fantastic, and the language is "pyrotechnic" (1971, 23). Within the novel, Chicana religious customs, dating mores, and cultural idiosyncrasies are presented in farce, magical realism, satire, and black humor--all characteristics of the absurd. A literary, linguistic, and cultural rebel, Castillo's recombination of genres also underscores two primary conflicts: the clash between accepting and rejecting either/or traditional Chicana cultural values and main stream values, and her clash with main stream traditional literary genres.

When the narrative voice of the novel quickly establishes the conflicts and ensuing tensions with its ironic, busy-body absurdist attitude, it also becomes the vehicle that recombines values and generic codes. The author parodies the allegoric form, revealing the absurdity of the characters' lives through the narrative commentary of a mitotera. The Pequeno Larousse Ilustrado defines mitotera as a person who makes noise and sweet talk, makes marzipan, fruit coated with sugar [que hace bulla, ruido, jaleo; hace melindres]; a metaphoric expression for coating the truth with niceties. In Chicana culture, a mitotera will expose people's experiences in order to ridicule and shame, feigning a sympathetic attitude while belittling the person's action and personality in private to her comadre who in this case is the reader. With ironic evaluation of the characters' personalities and motives, the mitotera continues to remind readers of the paradox between appearances and "reality." Castillo's mitotera provokes reader a lienation and disorientation by using ungrammatical double negatives and idiomatic expressions in Spanish, mimicking the language spoken in Tome while on other occasions, she uses the vocabulary and diction of an acculturated Chicana. The assumed, ungrammatical, "accented" English, the inconsistency of diction, and the irritating double negatives configure a type of American calo that produces a condescending tone. The condescending attitude of the mitotera toward the misfortunes of the characters identifies an intrusive, unreliable narrator, and at the same time engenders in readers a dislike and distrust of the narrative voice, a distrust that naturally extends to distrust of the author, since many readers unconsciously ascribe the narrative voice to the author. This is especially true in So Far From God because Castillo often intrudes as both author and narrator.

In absurdist fashion, Castillo's mitotera narrates the women's stories by combining burlesque and black humor in theatrical incidents. For example, when Esperanza brings her mother home from the hospital where Caridad lies dying, they cannot find La Loca.

They didn't find her in the roperos, under the beds, not out in the stalls with the horses. The dogs would not reveal where she was, staring blankly at Sofi when she asked them about La Loca's whereabouts. Esperanza suggested calling the police....But just as Esperanza was dialing the emergency number she heard a distinct clunk sound from inside the woodburning stove in the living room. Sofi and the dogs heard it too and they all rushed at once to pull La Loca out. "Mom, is Caridad dead?" "No, 'jita.... Just then Fe woke up and the walls began to vibrate with her screaming and since everyone including the dogs and cats had been concentrating on La Loca for a moment, they gave a start in unison. La Loca began to cry harder .... (Castillo 1993, 34)

Sofi sits down and Esperanza consoles her with words, but esperanza (hope) "did not come to put her arms around her mother's hunched shoulders" (1993, 34). Esperanza representing allegorical Hope cannot embrace her mother Sophia who represents wisdom. Again the allegorical implication of the character's name is subverted, for Esperanza/Hope cannot provide any hope for her mother, Sophia/Wisdom either as a character in the reality of the novel or to Wisdom, the personification. Again, the mitotera continues to use black humor ironically. Esperanza tells Sofi she is leaving, but Sofi does not hear her, and by the end of the novel, wisdom has lost faith, hope, and charity The mitotera narrator also interrupts the plot with tales of vagrant boyfriends, miracles, cooking lessons, and pilgrimages. Thus, the mocking tone of the mitotera's central consciousness intrudes throughout the novel, providing the absurdist element by using language whose tone and diction affects both characterization and plot.

Castillo's use of narrative voice functions in the Jamesian sense as a center of consciousness?' In this capacity the narrator dissembles, maintaining verbal irony by the explicit expression of one attitude or evaluation, but with indications in the overall speech-situation that the speaker intends a very different and often opposite, attitude or evaluation. Kingsolver identifies this role as that of an "omniscient nosy neighbor' (1993, 9) and in Chicano/Chicana culture, the mitotera is the person who fulfills this role. As center of consciousness, she comments on Sofi and her daughters, mocking the inhabitants of Tome in general and their spirituality, economics, and sexuality in particular. Ungrammatical, naive, and superstitious, speaking in lexical distortions, cliches, exaggeration and "deliberately misplaced particulars and juxtaposed incongruous details," the mitotera underscores the absurdity of the characters' behavior, producing burlesque "through the device of comic exaggeration" (Harris 1971, 22). Passively, she expresses misery, so that readers may remain detached from the fiat, two-dimensional characters and may laugh at the cruelty and violence suffered by the women. However, as Harris points out, when readers accustomed to the mimetic tradition in the novel first confront the fantastic and cartoon-like surface of an absurdist novel, they must adjust expectations, especially when the novel returns to a more traditional attitude. During these shifts of narrative modes, the mitotera acts as catalyst between the two forms of expression. Because Castillo does not organize the novel's "reality" or the characters' responses and reactions within the "mimetic tradition" nor use paradigms of innocent burlesque, through the mitotera's sarcasm, she underscores the absurdity of attempting an expected conventional response to the Chicana experiences of "reality."

Castillo continues the artifice of characterization and plot by parodying the picaresque novel with elaborate chapter descriptions such as those in eighteenth and early nineteenth century novels (Don Quixote, Tom Jones, Candide). She names her characters for virtues like those that appear in allegories (Everytman and Piers Plowman), representing the cardinal virtues: Faith (Fe), Hope (Esperanza), Charity (Caridad), Wisdom (Sofia), and Happiness (dona Felicia). The characters act out the attribute of the virtue of their names until they experience a catastrophe of "life" or until they interact with the macho male characters. Under these two circumstances, the women no longer embody the virtue of their allegorical name. For example, Esperanza's college education no longer holds out hope for her nor does it help her escape the cultural confinement represented by her family Even though Esperanza seeks to escape Tome by going to college presumably to learn new interactions and practical skills, her family's needs and her interpersonal relationships with men continue to draw her back into her family's dysfunctional behaviors. Because she harbors an attraction for machos, she continues to allow her renegade boyfriend to use her for sex and spending money Her family also continues to direct her life's choices, telling her what jobs to take, and she is torn between the "old" ways of her family and culture and the "new" ways learned at school and seen in the dominant society.

Fe's faith in the capitalist system and her ambition to possess a house, car, and social status are curtailed because her dedication to her job is based on her desire to make more and more money, so much so that she blinds herself to her poisonous surroundings. In this manner, she illustrates Sandlin's observation that "since we must rely on the narrator for character development, rather than on the characters themselves, Faith. Hope and Charity thin to allegorical figures, undone by our violent times" (Sandlin 1993, 27). Furthermore, the mitotera's comments render the thin allegorical figures into parodies because the virtue that they would personify is the very virtue that destroys them. Such parody can be seen when Fe's fiance sends her a letter of rejection just before their marriage, and she begins screaming non stop for months, having lost faith in herself; the mitotera describes her thus: "Fe and her bloodcurdling wail became part of the household's routine so that the animals didn't even jump or howl no more whenever Fe, after a brief intermission when she dozed off, woke up abruptly and put her good lungs to full use" (32).

The virtue of charity is also undermined by life and men [la vida y los machos]. Caridad's loving and charitable aspirations are stifled by an erotic obsession with Memo that results in promiscuity and later after her miraculous recovery; a naive, homoerotic attraction for Esmeralda, her lesbian lover. After Caridad has been raped and mutilated, nipples bitten off, branded and stabbed in the throat supposedly while drunk and having sex with some trucker she may have picked up, and she recovers miraculously, the narrator devotes a chapter to her "Holy Restoration." Subsequently, Caridad goes into trances and makes predictions to save her sister and help her father win the lottery However, she goes through her experiences in a somnambulistic stage, empty of all emotions until she meets Esmeralda. Her horse, Corazon, is stolen and killed, and she becomes the apprentice to Dona Felicia, the curandera who believes Caridad has special powers for healing. Caridad then becomes the "wise fool" who cannot care for hers elf because she is naive and innocent, and the love she feels for others leads to their unhappiness in the absurd world of Chicanas in Tome.

Thus, the characters combine with the plot, allowing Castillo to use absurdist filters in the novel to deal with the competing and conflicting subjectivities of being a Mexican American, a Xicana. (4) She presents not only the chaos of American society but also the chaos and alienation in Chicano/Chicana culture. Using the techniques developed by absurdist novelists of the 1960s, Castillo uses these filters to view the absurdity of life in American society for a Chicana, and thus, includes in So Far From God a series of preposterous and burlesquean events and characters who are distorted and caricatured.

Furthermore, like American absurdist novelists, Castillo will exaggerate "reality" but not distort it beyond recognition, choosing instead to imitate other novels, other forms, and other styles. Yet this imitation, because ironic, "transcends mere mimesis and becomes a comment upon the artificiality not only of art, but of life as it is usually lived, of mass society, and of all things which prevent the realization that life is absurd" (Harris 1971, 23). Similarly, Castillo's imitations-turned-burlesque often employ parody, a staple of the absurd. Parody, then, becomes a means of rejecting the "usual" manner of ordering reality in a novel and turns instead to ridiculing history, religion, society, philosophy, or any construction that tries to impose direction, order, or meaning upon existence. In a world of multiple realities, parody ridicules any pretension that life is understandable--literature, history, philosophy, religion--and usually rejects the view reflected in the art form being parodied (23-26). A brief listing shows the scope of cultural beliefs that Castillo ridicules and rejects: the veneration of saints, the sanctity of priests, the faith of penitents, the loyalty of friendships, the wisdom of mothers, and the fraternity of sisters.

In So Far From God Castillo's imitation of allegory and the intertexual link to novels written by Chicanas produces an ironic parody of Chicana literature. Because the novel is ironic, it transcends mere mimesis and becomes a comment upon the artificiality of art and life as it is lived by "mass society" and Chicanas. Thus, So Far From God also points to the socially perceived artificiality of Chicana life as it is "lived" and written about, of the culture's influence on women--all aspects that the novel argues hide the simple realization that "life is absurd" for the modern Xicana. Castillo comes to terms with this artificiality by affirming, even embracing, the artificial elements in Chicana art and culture in order to "make the artifice part of [her] point" (Barth qtd. in Harris 1971, 23).

Castillo combines the artificiality of the narrative expression with outrageous elements within the plot: Bsperanza, "the kind of woman that no town was big enough for no matter what category one might put her in," hopes to turn her life around by leaving Ruben and taking a job in Saudi Arabia (1993, 46). She is lost, assumed dead, and never seen again until she appears to La Loca as a phantom. La Loca, who does not let anyone touch her except her mother, lives at home as helpmate to her family and dies inexplicably of AIDS after suffering miraculous surgeries and tortures at the hands of the well-meaning but diabolical doctor and curanderas. Esperanza's irrational trip to Saudi Arabia, Caridad's helplessness, Fe's senseless death, and La Loca's absurd death--all point to an absurdist plot of rebellion against essential beliefs and values, ridiculing the characters' attempt to find order or meaning" in their lives. Harris explains,

Life, these novelists believe, resists any impositions of order because its realides are multiple. Any attempt to order these multiple meanings, unless done ironically, results in a falsification of reality. This view of a multiple reality reflects the influence of Einsteinian relativity and quantum physics...[that] maintains that experience that is discontinuous defies precise definition--its direction is indeterminate; and phenomena that have a semblance of meaning turn our, upon closer inspection, to suggest a multiplicity of answers. (Harris 1971, 26)

Castillo's haphazard leaps in plot from one tragic occurrence to another co-- mingled with the fantastic and didactic statements by herself and the mitotera demonstrate her attempt to create discontinuous multiple realities that defy explanation or "meaning."

The characterization parodies allegory to combine with black humor and tragic farce to fuel the absurdist plot. Thus, Castillo combines two-dimensional characterization with burlesque to highlight the ambivalence of Chicana culture and values. She combines the religious, social, and economic values evident in the didactic, poetically rendered Way of the Gross with narrative intrusions of advice to women and socio-political comments. In this manner, Castillo illustrates the absurdity of conventional attitudes toward the material, socio--economic vicissitudes that surround material Chicanas in everyday experiences. By combining fantastic events with realistic presentations, Castillo produces a calculated confusion and disorientation of readers that the absurdist novelist attempts to evoke in the reader as a response to the idea of absurdity.

Throughout the novel, the matriarch, Sofia, maintains an attitude of subordinated inadequacy, Castillo's reinscription of the traditional, Mexican mother. Intuitively aware of the absurd, Sofi does not blame God nor life for her misfortunes, yet neither does she, like many mothers, perceive her empowerment as located in her own virtues: rather, she attributes the source of her joys and tragedies to her daughters (virtues) and the external world (life). With diligent grace, she lives on the surface of life, caring for her daughters, managing her home and business:

Sofi had devoted her life to being a good daughter, a good wife, and a good mother, or at least had given it all a hell of a good try, and now she asked herself--"Y pa' que? Chingao!" She said this aloud and then crossed herself. Now there was no mother to honor, no father to respect, no 'jitas to sacrifice for, no rancho to maintain, and no land left to work. Nothing to look out for no more, except for la Loquita, her eternal baby. (Castillo 1993, 218)

Powerless to effect changes within her home and family, ironically, she is able to rally the community into a successfull cooperative with the help of her cornadre. However, all the social good that Sofi accomplishes is subverted by her presidency of the MOMAS, an acronym for Mothers of Martyrs and Saints. The members of MOMAS are mothers who fabricate miraculous happenings that involve their children. Not to be outdone by Sofi's daughters, who experience resurrection like Loca and miraculous healing like Caridad, the mothers in Tome invent fictitious miraculous happenings for their children in order to gain notoriety and belong to the club. Since Sofia stands in allegorical conjunction to both wisdom and mothers, the pettiness of her behavior, though comic--distinguishing between who and who is not a saint or martyr--makes mothers a parody. In this manner, Castillo manages to parody both wisdom and mothers, and she also reifies a type of motherhood that in an absurd world cannot separate itself from pettines s and martyrdom.

Consequently, Castillo's parody of allegorical form becomes a vehicle for the incidents of absurdity while the use of black humor and tragic farce respond to the senseless, brutal, and irrational events that ensue as the four daughters conform to or reject their Chicana culture. Kingsolver points to the manner in which 'Castillo's characters are caught between two cultures: an old one that is both reverent and exploitative of women; and a new one that views them mainly as a cheap labor force to be used up and abandoned" (1993, 9). In Tome, parody ridicules the "pretensions of literature (or history or philosophy or religion) to understand life but rejects as well the view of an ordered universe reflected in the art form being parodied" (Harris 1971, 26). During these incidents, the mitotera will digress to other incidents using ironic or sarcastic explanations. The hypocritical gossip and joking stance deny that there is any secure evaluative vision or even any rationale in the human situations that befall th e Chicanas in Tome. Like other contemporary novelists of the absurd. Castillo does not want to reform a world that is beyond comprehension or remedy; rather, she views the absurdity of the Chicana condition as a cosmic joke. The response she seeks is laughter. Readers realize that neither rejection nor acceptance of Chicana's cultural mestizaje in an Anglo world proves successful for the anti-heroes in So Far From God who strive for material success and a happy life.

In Massacre of the Dreamers (1994), Castillo points to the character, Tere, in The Mixquialmala Letters (1986) who "takes a stance against the institutionalization of spirituality and its direct connect [sic] to her sexuality" by using the "resources of folklore, Catholic mythology, and woman-identified beliefs to combat a negative energy force that threatens her and her friend" (1994, 177). In the absurd world of So Far From God, Sofi's four daughters are not so fortunate. To varying degrees, they invoke these three touchstones but still fail. The negative force emanating from machismo and patriarchy that makes Tere and Sofi strong kills the four daughters and the four virtues. Only Sofi endures by successfully accommodating all three--folklore, Catholicism, and feminism--by being a protector and nurturer, an accommodation that could function as a solution to sexual ambiguities and as a call to absurdity. Harris explains that American novelists of the absurd are incapable of committing themselves completely to absurdity because even though they believe society is absurd, life is not absurd. He writes that "although they give lip service to absurdity, they inevitably relent in the name of human and social progress" (1971, 31). (5) Ultimately, Castillo constructs her own absurdist vision of Chicana experiences in the novel in order to parody a lived, political material reality: life for Xicanas in the dominant society cannot be ordered and meaningful.

By resorting to 1960s aesthetics of absurdity in So Far From God, Castillo attempts to destroy Chicana stereotypes, albeit allegorically, while the humorous mitotera narration draws its power from the language of (burla) ridicule and black humor. According to Max F. Schulz black humor is primarily ironic and one of its characteristics involves the matter of human choice, for the black humorist "dissociates" and focuses less on "the individual than on the world of experiences, less on the agony of struggle to realize self than on the bewildering trackless choices that face the individual" (1973, 7). Sofi's individual efforts to realize the "I" in relation to bewildering experiences and choices points to the absurdity of integrating all the roles required of mestiza women. The mitotera's chisme (gossip) and Sofi's sober reflections as she lives her life exactly as prescribed by inherited Chicana cultural mores are incongruous, and this incongruity is a source of black humor. As an absurdist, Castillo is "not co ncerned with what to do about life but with how to take it' (12) but this does not mean that the writer has "no moral position, but only that this position is implicit" (13). The writer may challenge the stance and "hysterias of society," but will not "ordinarily urge choice" upon the reader. Thus, Castillo "seeks a comic perspective on both tragic fact and moralistic certitude" (13). By adopting an evasive point of view, she interrogates the ultimate ethical and aesthetic chaos that results from rebelling against the dominant culture's standards of what things should or should not be. Unlike Tere, Castillo's protagonist in Letters, Sofi is not presented as an insurgent even though she wants to be Mayor of Tome. The insurgents are her daughters, who, in their attempts to create order within their lives, experience the accidents of choice and of history that cannot transcend the literary and cultural suppositions of their mestiza heritage and customs. In classic black humor mode, they die from these efforts (1 4).

Each humorous, distressing exhibition by the daughters--Fe's screaming, La Loca's habit of sniffing people, Caridad's infatuation with Esmeralda, Esperanza's appearance as la Iloronn--all sustain a tone of detached indifference. Ironically, Sofi survives because she is able to work through and with the customs and culture she inherited. Without turning her back on her culture, she modifies it; her skepticism mirrors Castillo's in an absurd world. Implicitly, the combination results in Castillo's absurdist dictum that "nobody and nothing tare] able to know what was going on around them no more" (1993, 189).

In the end, Sofi, the antihero, plays out Castillo's techniques of the absur- dist novel that combine language, characterization, and plot to parody not only other allegorical forms but also other Chicana autobiographical novels that attempt to "order" and explain Chicana cultural beliefs. Sofi and Castillo both carry on, even if, as So Far From God indicates, they must struggle against Chicana's alienation from an absurd hegemonic society and her own culture's absurd restrictions of her. Like other absurdist novelists before her, Castillo does not "insist that despair represents the only possible human response to life's absurdity" (Harris 1971, 32). Absurdist novelists offer love, and in Castillo's novel, unconditional maternal love, as a temporary analgesic for existential pain. Consequently, Castillo's burlesquean, affirmative vision that could strike readers as insincere or contradictory, results in an aesthetic work. The incidents and the manner in which she manages language and style "allow the twin th emes, absurdity and the need for human love, to grow organically from the novel," thus successfully merging nihilism and love into a totality that does not lose the reader's trust (32).

My analysis demonstrates that absurdist aesthetics exemplify a reading framework for So Far From God. In the novel, Castillo merges the nihilism that results when the demands of mestizaje confront hegemonic expectations, yet her analgesic for Chicana suffering points to a return to and a strengthening of maternal nurturing and love. As the first absurdist novel written by a Chicana author of national acclaim, it demands and deserves a reading that recognizes Castillo's expert application of absurdist, postmodern literary strategies.


(1.) Pecl My Love like An Onion, Castillo's fourth novel was released 1999 after this study was completed.

(2.) The Spanish dictionary, Pequeno Larousse Ilustrado, defines the term "mestizaje" as the cross breeding of a blanco (white) and indio (Native American). In Massacre of the Dreamers, Castilo uses the term Mexic Amerindian to refer to herself and Chicanas. She hyphenates mestiza/Mexic Amerindian. She writes that "most Mexicans are mestizo/as and by and large mostly Mexic Amerindian. However the denigration of our indigenous blood has been so pervasive that few of us, especially in the past, have claimed our lineage" (1994, 8). She explains that

(3.) For novels of the absurd written by Chicanos, see Acosta (1972b), Arias (1987), and Cardenas (1981).

many women of Mexican descent in the nineties do not apply the term Chicana to themselves seeing it as an outdated expression weighed down by the particular radicalism of the seventies. The search for a term which would appeal to the majority of women of Mexican descent who are also concerned with the social and political ramifications of living in a hierarchical society has been frustrating. I have chosen the ethnic and racial definition of Mexic Amerindian to asser t both our indigenous blood and the source, at least in part. of our spirituality. I also use interchangeably the term mestiza, which has been used among Mexican intellectuals as a point of reference regarding our social status since the Mexican colonial period. When discussing Mexican culture and traditions, I may use mejicana for both nationals and women born in the U.S. When discussing activism I often use Chicano/a. I introduce here the word, Xicanisma, a term that I will use to refer to the concept of Chicana feminism. (Castillo 1994, 10-11)

(4.) Castillo uses the term "Xicana" to refer to the "concept of Chicana feminism" See Endnote 1 for full citation.

(5.) Harris explains that the affirmation proposed by the absurdists does not invalidate the basic premise that "the world is absurd. But they are post-existential in their view of man, generally lacking the existentialist's faith in the human character." The contemporary novelists of the absurd consider "man far too puny and helpless for self-reliance" (1971, 31).

Works Cited

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-----. 1972b. Revolt of the Cockroach People. New York. Arrow Books.

Arias, Ron. 1987. The Road to Tamazunchale. 3rd ed. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press.

Barth, John. 1967. "The Literature of Exhaustion." Thc Atlantic Monthly 220 (August): 29-34.

Candelaria, Cordelia Chavez. 1993. "Latina Women Writers: Chicana, Cuban American and Puerto Rican Voices." In Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Literature and Arts, ed. Francisco Lomeli. Houston: Arte Publico Press.

Castillo, Ana. 1994. Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

-----. 1993. So Far From God. New York: W.W Norton.

-----. 1990. Sapogonia: (An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter). Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press.

-----. 1986. The Mixquiahuala Letters. Binghamton: Bilingual Press.

Cortazar, Julio. 1966. Hopscotch. New York: Pantheon.

Dubrava, Patricia. 1993. "Impressions of a Xicana Dreamer." The Bloomsbury Review, December, 5, 13.

Gonzalez, Ray. 1993. "A Chicano Verano." The Nation, June, 772-74.

Harris, Charles B. 1971. Con temporary American Novelists of the Absurd. New Haven: College and University Press.

Kingsolver, Barbara. 1993. "So Far From God." Los Angeles Times Book Review 16 May, 5-9.

Molina, I. 1993. "So Far From God." Choice 31 (Spring): 3.

Sandlin, Lisa. 1993. "La Loca Lives." New York Times Book Review, 3 October, 23-27.

Schulz, Max. 1973. Black Humor Fiction of the Sixties: A Pluralistic Definition of Man and His World. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Manriquez is Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University where she teaches American literature written by diverse Americans.
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Author:Manriquez, B.J.
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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