Symbols of Hope, Resistance and Change

Female Characterization in the Novel of the Dictatorship

by Lori Lammert (Author)
©2021 Monographs XII, 214 Pages


There are few critical studies about female characterization in the novel of the Latin American dictatorship. The existing studies, "La mujer ante la dictaduraen las dos primeras novelas de Isabel Allende," by Alina Camacho Gingerich, "De amor y de sombra: Una aproximación a sulectura," by Eliana Moya Raggio, and Female Development Amidst Dictatorship in Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies and Mario Vargas Llosa’s La fiesta del Chivo, by Sereana Eileen Call, focus on female characters in novels written by Isabel Allende and Julia Alvarez. This lack of criticism ignores what other Latin American writers may have to say about female characterization in such narratives. Though a simple critical approach might be to focus on female characterization in novels written only by women, male writers should not be excluded because they often make strong statements about women’s conditions through their female characters (Urania in La Fiesta del chivo, by Mario Vargas Llosa, for example). This work argues that the main female characters in Ivan Ângelo’s A Festa (Brazil), Diamela Eltit’s Por la patria (Chile) and Luisa Valenzuela’s Cola de lagartija (Argentina) function as symbols of hope, resistance and social change and that they do so in ways different from the male characters because of their unique relationships with the authoritarian regimes, which can be read as political manifestations of patriarchal order. This work will be of importance in the fields of gender studies, women’s studies, Latin American studies and contemporary Latin American literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • The Novel of the Dictatorship and Historical Background
  • Women’s Roles and Female Characters
  • The Chosen Works: Commonalities
  • Bibliographies of the Chosen Works
  • Characterization and Literary Theory
  • The Characters
  • Gender Roles
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • 1 A Festa, Criticizing the Dictatorship and the Society that Supported It
  • An Unusual Structure
  • Female Characters: The Conformists
  • Foils: The Mother and the Policeman
  • The Daughter-in-Law and the Son
  • Cremilda and Ataide
  • The Professor and His Wife
  • Jorge
  • Family Secrets
  • Samuel
  • The Character Writer and His Narratee
  • In Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • 2 Por la patria: Deconstructing the Official Discourse and Culture of the Pinochet Regime
  • The Neobaroque
  • Fragmentation
  • Male Characters
  • Pinochet’s Ideal Woman
  • The Mother
  • Coya/
  • Incestuous Relationships
  • Queerness (Androgyny and Bisexuality)
  • Metafiction and Coya’s Friends
  • Testimonies and Documents
  • The MADS 1-6
  • Symbolism within the Text
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • 3 Cola de lagartija, Gender Bending and the Battle of the Sexes
  • Cola de lagartija
  • The Number Three
  • Humour within the Text
  • Cultural Myths
  • The Sorcerer
  • The Lust for Power
  • Other Male Characters
  • Luisa Valenzuela, the Character/Writer
  • The Writer’s Quandary
  • La Machi/730 Wrinkles
  • La Muerta/The Dead Woman
  • La Intrusa and the Indian Maidens
  • Estrella
  • A Feminist Text and the Female Writer
  • A Sex-Change
  • Binary Thinking and Patriarchy
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Conclusion
  • Social Criticism
  • The Character/Writer
  • Narrators and Narratees
  • The Demarcation of Genders
  • The Role of Religion in the Texts
  • The Orphans
  • Fiction and Reality
  • The Brazilian Novel
  • The Chilean Novel
  • The Argentine Novel
  • In Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography

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This work is based on my dissertation which was successful thanks to the support of many people, including my professors, colleagues, family and friends. I would like to thank my thesis director, Dr. Earl E. Fitz who helped me find a subject matter that I truly loved and for his encouragement. Secondly, I would like to thank the other members of that committee, Dr. Russell Hamilton for all of his support, Dr. Marshall Eakin for his suggestions and Dr. Emanuelle Oliveira for her participation. In addition, I would like to thank Dr. Cacilda Rego for her support and for introducing me to the work of Ivan Ângelo.

I would also like to thank the authors. Ivan Ângelo exchanged emails with me and allowed me to call him at home. Diamela Eltit exchanged emails with me and sent me a signed copy of Por la patria. Luisa Valenzuela also kept in contact with me via email and met with me in person after the dissertation was approved.

Last of all I would like to thank my family and friends. I am grateful to my parents, Robert and Shirley Lammert for their love and support and to my siblings and their spouses, Leigh and Bob Parker and Chris and Vicki Lammert. I would like to especially thank my sister Dr. Leslie Taylor and her husband Dr. Jefferey Taylor for their help and support during this endeavor and for being such good role models. I also wish to extend my gratitude to my friends and colleagues whose emotional support proved invaluable.

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Even though novels of the dictatorship and its principal subgenre, the novel of the dictator, have existed for some time, little has been written about the female characters in these novels.1 In fact, as the bibliography shows, there are only three critical studies about female characterization in the novel of the Latin American dictatorship. The existing studies, “La mujer ante la dictadura en las dos primeras novelas de Isabel Allende,” by Alina Camacho Gingerich, “De amor y de sombra: Una aproximación a su lectura,” by Eliana Moya Raggio, and Female Development Amidst Dictatorship in Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies and Mario Vargas Llosa’s La fiesta del Chivo by Sereana Eileen Call focus, moreover, on female characters in novels written by Isabel Allende and Julia Alvarez. This lack of criticism ignores what other Latin American writers may have to say about female characterization in this type of narrative. Though a simple critical approach might be to focus on female characterization in novels written only by women, male writers should not be excluded because they often make strong statements about women’s conditions through their female characters (Urania in La Fiesta del chivo, by Mario Vargas Llosa, for example). Taking this position, this work will argue that the main female characters in Ivan Ângelo’s A Festa (Brazil), Diamela Eltit’s Por la patria (Chile), and Luisa Valenzuela’s Cola de lagartija (Argentina) function as symbols of hope, resistance and social change and that they do so in ways different from the male characters because of their unique relationships with the authoritarian regimes, which can be read as political manifestations of patriarchal order (Tierney-Tello 6).

While non-authoritarian governments are considered patriarchal by Latin American feminists, military regimes are considered exacerbations of already patriarchal societies. As Sonia Alvarez notes, South American feminists insist that militarism and its “institutionalized violence rest on patriarchal foundations” (7). During the most recent military regimes women’s movements in the Southern Cone and Brazil “came to see authoritarianism as an expression and outgrowth of patriarchal oppression” (Tierney-Tello 6) because of the official discourse that was directed at women and the types of torture they used against them. These forms of torture often included “systematic sexual assaults,” the raping women in front of family members, and the abduction of pregnant women who were then tortured until they miscarried. In Uruguay and Argentina women were “allowed to give birth only to be permanently separated from their newborns” because the military would take their children and give them up for adoption to “friends of the regime” (Tierney-Tello 7, 225).2 This horror was brought to the attention of the international community through Luis Puenzo’s film The Official’s Story which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986. Of course, this treatment of women not only occurred in South America but in other parts of the Americas. Novels of the dictatorships from or about the Caribbean also focus on patriarchal oppression during authoritarian regimes. For example, the dictator Trujillo from the Dominican Republic was infamous for how he treated women which is the focus of such works as La fiesta del chivo by MarioVargas Llosa and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Even though these are excellent works, I have decided to focus on novels written during the most recent dictatorships in Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

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Within each of the texts I have chosen, female characterization functions as a subversion of patriarchy either through the characters’ sexuality (which includes bisexuality and homosexuality), the critique of traditional female gender roles, or the questioning of gender differentiation (through behavior that is not considered effeminate or androgyny). During my research I noticed that sexuality became a very powerful site of resistance in the novel of the dictatorship in all three countries as a reaction to censorship and the official discourse of the very sexist (and homophobic) “masculine” regimes.3 Although some works were censored because they were “contrary to moral principles” (Baden 56) and the official discourse in each regime condoned only marital sex for procreational purposes (Valores patrios 42), authors in all three countries referred explicitly to sexual acts whether they were hetero-or homosexual in order to rebel against the regimes and “test the waters” once censorship was repressed (Baden 111).4 Homosexual or bisexual characters appear in each of the texts I have chosen, however female characters (such as, Coya and Flora in Por la patria) undermine the patriarchal system through their sexuality while gay male characters either do not represent resistance to the regime (for example, Roberto in A Festa) or they reflect authoritarianism (like the Sorcerer in Cola de lagartija). Homosexual male characters also subvert patriarchy in other texts, such as, El beso de la mujer araña by Manuel Puig or Stella Manhattan by Silviano Santiago. While an emphasis on the role of the homosexual male would make an excellent subject matter for a future project, I have decided to focus on female characterization in this work. Because so little has been written about female characterization in the novel of the dictatorship, this is the first critical work of length done on the subject. Until now no one has focused so clearly and systematically on female characterization in this genre.

The Novel of the Dictatorship and Historical Background

Upon defining the novel of the dictatorship, Carlos Pacheco emphasizes, in Narrativa de la dictadura y crítica literaria, that narratives of the dictatorship are part of a historical and cultural response to dictatorships, and that there has always been a constant and evolutionary literary response to the persistence and capacity of military regimes to adapt to new social, political and economic situations.5 Angel Rama states that narrators do not write works about former dictatorships in order to glorify authoritarianism, but rather to understand the recent past and how it affects the present (12–15). Mario Benedetti agrees that novelists who write about dictators from the past do so in order to make a judgment on the present and to issue a warning for the future (22). Herberto Espinoza defines the novel of the dictatorship as a novel of the opposition in which certain forces in a society oppose and combat the antagonistic forces in power (9). Domingo Miliani separates the narrative of the dictatorship into different groups, arguing that although all of these narratives deal with the theme of power, the primary focus of the novel of the dictatorship is the dictatorial system, in comparison with the novel of the dictator where the narrative focus is a single person who serves as a symbol or an abstraction which alludes to the dictatorial reality in all the continent (467).

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While the novel of the dictatorship enjoyed renewed popularity in the mid-1970s with the publication of the trilogy, El Recurso del método by Alejo Carpentier, Yo el supremo by Augusto Roa Bastos, and El otoño del patriarca by Gabriel García Márquez, all written in response to the return of the dictatorial system in Latin American (Pacheco 33), novels of the dictatorship also appeared as part of the cultural response to the installation of military regimes in each country. The Brazilian regime began in 1964 with the ousting of President Goulart whose reform programs had been met with unease from wealthy landowners and the international business community. The first president under the dictatorship was Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco (1964–1967) who opened doors to foreign capital, invited multinational companies to invest in Brazil and abolished all political parties except for an official government party and an official opposition party. During the first years of the dictatorship anti-government protests were allowed but during the presidency of General Artur da Costa e Silva (1967–1969) the police killed a high school student during a demonstration. Because demonstrations increased and became more violent the government passed Institutional Act Five which banned the right to demonstrate, the writ of habeus corpus and led to strict censorship of the media. Emílio Garrastazu Médici took over in October of 19696 and ruled until 1974. This was considered the most violent time of state repression and coincided with Brazil’s economic “miracle.” It is also the time period that A Festa refers to, the year 1970, when the people were trying to adapt to rapid modernization and social change while anyone who was even suspected of disagreeing with the dictatorship was thrown into jail, tortured and sometimes killed. Even though the Brazilian economy suffered from the 1973 oil crisis, the generals continued to borrow money from international banks which led to a very high international deficit. The military began to accede to civilian demands as more opposition party members were elected into the government during the presidency of Ernesto Geisel (1974–1979). Public reaction to human rights abuses continued to rise after a journalist, Vladimir Herzog, was tortured to death in the Information Operations Detachment-Center for Internal Defense Operations in São Paulo in October of 1975 and in January of 1976 a metalworker, Manoel Fiel Filho, was killed in the same manner. For this reason, Geisel dismissed the commander of the São Paulo based Second Army, General Ednardo D’Ávila Mello which caused quite an impact in military circles. In 1979 General João Baptista de Oliveira Figuieredo took office and began the “abertura” period, the “opening” to democracy. Amnesty was given to political prisoners and people began returning from exile. The elite business community turned against the government because of the high external deficit and more opposition party members were elected to many offices.7 The campaign for direct presidential elections began in 19828 and while the military did not allow for direct elections until 1989, it agreed to make the transition to civilian rule. On April 22, 1985 José Sarney was sworn as the first civilian president in 21 years.9

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The CIA and international companies donated large amounts of money to opposition parties before 1970 to keep Salvador Allende from being elected president of Chile.10 They continued with a destabilization plan after he was elected by publishing anti-government propaganda in El Mercurio, an important Santiago newspaper and by paying truckers to strike. This caused food shortages which the people blamed on the government. Allende’s reform programs angered wealthy landowners who feared agrarian reform and the international business community who disliked the nationalization of the Chilean copper industry. Chileans who bought into anti-government propaganda were relieved when the military took over on September 11, 1973. President Allende died during the coup.11 Afterwards many people were imprisoned and tortured for suspected involvement or support of the former government and large numbers of people were imprisoned and massacred in the Municipal Stadium. Detention centers and concentration camps were set up all over Chile from the infamous Pisagua in the north to Dawson Island in Tierra del Fuego in the south. Pinochet banned political and union activities, heavily censured the media and dissolved congress. The military took over main industries and universities and denationalized companies that Allende had nationalized.

Pinochet improved the Chilean economy by bringing in a group of economists called the Chicago Boys who advocated radical economic reforms.12 The World Bank and International Monetary Fund approved and after the 1973 oil shortage petrodollars flowed into Chile. By the late 1970s the economy was growing steadily and inflation had fallen. The “miracle” hit a severe recession in 1981 so Pinochet devalued the peso and implemented a more pragmatic economic policy. Pinochet won a plebiscite to remain in power in 1980 but promised another plebiscite to offer free elections in 1988. A coalition of political parties voted against Pinochet and won the plebiscite on October 5, 1988. They went on to elect Patricio Aylwin president in 1989.13 Pinochet remained popular among conservatives even after leaving power because by 1989 the annual economic growth rates had gone up to 10%, but not everyone had profited from the new market economy. During the 1980s the poor became poorer and the “poblaciones” on the outskirts of Santiago became focal points of resistance. For this reason they were often raided and were victims of the worst repression at that time. This is the setting and time period in which Por la patria takes place. The characters in the novel are “población” dwellers who, after a raid, are imprisoned in Pisagua.

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In the years before the Argentine coup in 1976 the country was in shambles because of terrorism and guerrilla warfare between the left and right. When Isabel Perón took power after Juan died an ultraright extremist organization called the Argentine Anticommunist Association run by José López Rega (the Minister of Government) joined the wave of terror. Isabel refused to resign even though the violence between the left and right increased with attacks, hijackings and assaults on military units. On March 24, 1976 the military took over and sent Isabel and José López Rega into exile. López Rega was an unusual and mythic character. It was rumored that he, in truth, ruled the country during Isabel’s presidency. Because he was known to practice the black arts, the military used his strange reputation against him in order to instill fear in the people and “canonize” its coup (Guest 9). While the comical and grotesque character, El Brujo (the Sorcerer) in Cola de lagartija represents both José Lopez Rega and the military, he is also used to make fun of them and their lust for power. After the coup former political leaders were removed from office and imprisoned. The new military, engaged in what it called the “proceso” (The Process of National Reorganization) and what was later referred to as the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War), dissolved parliament, removed members of the supreme court, prohibited political and union activities and suspended the right to strike. They also prohibited the reporting of all abductions and assassinations of terrorist origin (Foster 186).

Argentina quickly fell under criticism from the international community for human rights abuses. Because of this the American Export Import Bank refused to finance the Yaciretá hydroelectric project in 1978. A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights written after they had visited political prisoners and their families was rejected by the Argentine government (Foster 187–188). In 1981 Lieutenant General Roberto Eduardo Viola took the place of General Jorge Rafael Videla. By this time internal violence had been brought under control while censorship and cultural control were increased.

The Argentine military regime fell because of insurmountable internal and external pressures.14 Viola relinquished his duties in 1981 and Lieutenant General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri assumed the presidency. In March of 1982 a work stoppage began led by the General Labor Confederation while the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo led large demonstrations in the plaza. In an effort for the military regime to regain popularity with the people on April 2, 1982 Argentina invaded the Malvinas and waged war with Great Britain. After losing the war, Galtieri voluntarily retired and Reynaldo Benito Bignone took over. On December 10th, Raúl Alfonsín was sworn in as constitutional president before the national Congress.

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Women’s Roles and Female Characters

The paucity of discussion on female characterization is notable because women played such important roles in the most recent military dictatorships in these countries. Ironically, some of them helped the regimes gain power by protesting in large numbers against the preceding governments and the food shortages and high prices their policies had created (Marcy 8; Álvarez 5–9). Once the regimes were in place, these women accepted the conservative official discourse directed at them which instructed them to uphold traditional family values, to stay at home and to not be politically active. Some women rejected this official discourse because their families suffered from economic hardships or because they or their family members became victims of the regime. Eventually they began to protest collectively against human rights abuses, including certain types of physical, sexual, and psychological torture which were used to demoralize women.15 These protests became known to the international community and eventually helped bring about a return to democracy in their respective countries.16

The female characters in A Festa, Por la patria and Cola de lagartija are affected in some way or another by military repression. Some are torture victims or have relatives who have disappeared. Others suffer in ways that are less obvious, or by having to continuously censor what they say and do. In many cases, male characters (the policemen in A Festa, Juan in Por la patria, and the Sorcerer in Cola de lagartija, for example) represent the regime while the female characters are their victims, yet in all three novels the female victims prevail over repression by exacting revenge on the torturer, by becoming stronger from the experience, or by gaining control over their own lives. In so doing, these female characters represent the country as a whole, a particular social strata, or a group that has been particularly repressed by the regime. While these female characters function as symbols of hope, male characters in Por la patria and Cola de lagartija do not serve this function. Two male characters in A Festa, Carlos and Ataíde, survive imprisonment and torture but the actions of Ataíde’s wife, Cremilda, are more symbolic of overcoming repression. She helps Ataíde kill one of his torturers though she does not let him know that the same man had raped her several times while he was in prison. She does this out of love for her husband and to protect him from feeling even worse when he returns from prison. In terms of her text, therefore, she is a functioning symbol of resistance and hope while her husband is not. Both Cremilda and Ataíde represent the lower classes and are the only two characters who resist by exacting revenge on their torturer. Their actions emphasize the importance of persistence in overthrowing the regime.

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Por la patria is about a teenager named Coya/Coa whose name represents both Incan royalty and the language of the people. Diamela Eltit explained in an interview that she found the name Coya in a book and that it comes from Incan culture (Donoso 47). Coya, the queen, was also the sister of the Inca and mother of the future Inca. Therefore, the character represents the royal past of the country. Coa is the slang of the slums of Santiago, and in this way she also represents popular culture which was suppressed during the Pinochet regime (Donoso 47–49). Coya/Coa lives in a “población” or shanty town on the outskirts of Santiago which were targets of repression during the 1980s when the novel was written. The characters in the novel make their living doing odd jobs, working in factories, by selling drugs and by engaging in prostitution. Coya’s mother is an alcoholic and prostitute who prostitutes Coya in the family’s bar while her father is a member of the resistance who dies at the beginning of the novel. The novel records some examples of police harassment before there is a huge raid in which many people are arrested (including Coya and her friends) and taken to prison camps. Coya/Coa’s sense of self during her imprisonment develops through self-expression in the form of writing. The other female prisoners read what she is writing and decide to collaborate with her. She becomes the leader of that group of women whose survival represents the survival of the Chilean people.

A Festa offers a very strong social criticism of the bourgeois values that supported the military in 1964 and the political inactivity of the Brazilian people during the worst years of repression (after the passing of AI-5). It is about a group of people from the upper classes who are going to a birthday party in Belo Horizonte the night of March 31, 1970, the same night that there is a riot at the train station between the police and some migrants from the northeast. The only connection between the two events is a journalist who was invited to the party but who decided to participate in the riot instead. Because he has the phone number of the apartment where the party is given, the police assume that the order to set fire to a train came from the party and decide to interrogate everyone that was at the party. The characters in this book represent different levels of Brazilian society and how they were influenced by the military regime. It is not a coincidence that these events occur on the sixth anniversary of the coup.

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Cola de lagartija is about a female writer, Luisa Valenzuela, who decides to write the biography of the Sorcerer, a witch doctor who represents both José Lopez Rega (Perón’s last Minister of Well-Being) and the military regime. Because she is writing while living in the country during the dictatorship she is very afraid of writing this work. The novel is full of black humor and, through the Sorcerer, a megalomaniacal buffoon, Valenzuela makes fun of the dictatorship and patriarchy in general. While she is writing her character decides to write his own biography thus usurping her text. They battle for control of the novel and when he gains control of the novel his excesses, although grotesque, are quite laughable. His crazy antics continue until the end of the novel when he has gained full authorial control which he loses by self-imploding from trying to have a child with his third testicle. His odd appearance as a strange looking pregnant hermaphrodite is a result of his lack of desire to really become a woman. His goal is to become all powerful by gaining female power (by giving birth) while maintaining male power and giving birth to himself. He self-implodes when he decides not to give birth in order to maintain his power as a man, a woman and a child. His failure represents the impossibility of having total power.

The Chosen Works: Commonalities

These three novels not only have remarkable female characters but have other commonalities as well. For example, all three of the novels are well-known political allegories. In The Untimely Present: Post dictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning, the most comprehensive work about novels of the dictatorship in all three countries, Idelbar Avelar discusses the importance of allegory and its relationship to mourning in certain novels of the dictatorship. Allegory, among many other tropes, is used by authors in situations where what they want to express cannot be said directly. Such situations exist during dictatorships because of governmental controls and censorship. Because of this, writers living in countries during dictatorships feel the need to veil what they are truly saying. Often writers living in exile have the same needs if they intend on publishing their works or wish to circulate their texts in their homelands. The novels I have chosen were either written after the author went into exile (Luisa Valenzuela) or during a time when censorship was suppressed. A Festa is considered an allegory of the dictatorship by many important Brazilian critics including Flora Süssekind,17 Davi Arrigucci Jr.,18 and Renato Franco.19 Stacey Skar considers Por la patria to be a revalorization of the sociopolitical history of Chile after the 1973 coup as Chile’s contemporary history is reinterpreted through the subversion of patriarchal cultural and historical discourses (113). Geralyn Pye discusses how Cola de lagartija is an allegory of the Argentine regime during the 1979 World Cup in her article “Political Football: Sports, Power and Machismo in Luisa Valenzuela’s The Lizard’s Tail” (115).

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All three of the novels I have selected for comparison are metafictions. In each novel a character claims to be the writer of the novel or is writing something which is very similar to the novel itself. In A Festa a nameless character presents himself as the author. He leaves notes in the text and expounds his views in various conversations with a friend who is editing the text. In Por la patria, the protagonist Coya/Coa writes a family allegory of the Chilean people which is similar to parts of the novel, while in Cola de lagartija the character/writer Luisa Valenzuela battles with her character, the Sorcerer, for control of the novel.20 This character gains control of the novel only to lose it by the end because he self-implodes from trying to procreate with his own being. In each text various forms of metafiction have a surprise effect which fully engages the reader and causes him or her to question reality. In Cola de lagartija this effect is heightened by the use of the name of the real author. The battle with the Sorcerer for control of the novel thus develops as a gender battle written from the character/writer’s female point of view. Coya, in Por la patria, sees writing as a form of liberation (Skar 120). Even though she is not explicitly described as writing the novel itself, the similarities between what she is writing and the text we read are striking and make the reader question if Coya is really supposed to be the author of the novel. While the writer/character in A Festa is not female, the protagonist of the novel, Samuel, is writing a fictitious novel about the main female character, Andrea, which causes serious problems for her when it falls into the hands of the military.

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Each of these texts functions as a form of protest against the regimes and each speaks for those who could not speak out at that time. Luisa Valenzuela, who had to leave Argentina in 1979, wrote Cola de lagartija in Mexico but stated in an interview with Silvia Lemus that her work became political as a response to the violence of the military regime in her country.21 Ivan Ângelo started to write A Festa before the coup of 1964. At the beginning of the dictatorship he wanted to write it as a protest against the regime but did not feel comfortable because of censorship and the self-censorship that writers endure during dictatorships. After a trip to Europe in which he reunited with his old friend, Fernando Gabeira, he felt compelled to finish the novel and it was published in 1976 (Van Steen 151). According to Ângelo, the editor received the book in 1975 around the time that Vladimir Herzog and Manuel Fiel Filho were killed by torture at the DOI-Codi in São Paulo. He believes that the problems these deaths caused for the military helped the novel pass safely through censorship.22 Diamela Eltit, who wrote four books during the dictatorship, considers writing her secret political resistance (Preface 5). Her characters are often poor people who have become more marginalized by the dictatorship (Preface 5–6). Moreover, Eltit believes that reading should be more than just entertainment, that it is a generator of conflict and should be serious work for the reader (Preface 8), who must be engaged with the text. Ivan Ângelo stated that in writing A Festa he wanted to make the reader an accomplice in shaping the text and in determining its significance, since his intention was to call attention to the problems in Brazil at that time.23 Luisa Valenzuela, too, prefers to leave much up to interpretation for the reader. For her, the best literature allows for a wide range of symbolic interpretations (Garfield 29).

All three novels are also similar in their language and structure. The structure of A Festa is unusual because the work is divided into seven stories and two final segments. The stories can be read separately but one does not understand the work fully unless one links the stories together. Only at the end does the reader see that the stories and two final parts are interrelated and form a single cohesive narrative. The narrative point of view in the work changes constantly with extensive use of interior monologues, dialogues and with parts written in the third person. The first story, “Documentário,” consists of news-clippings from newspapers, quotes from history books, official documents and false police reports. The last part of the novel, “Depois da Festa,” is written like a police report.

Black humor is very important in Cola de lagartija. It is used as an evasive tactic to hide grief and avoid censorship (Valenzuela 7), it creates a camaraderie between the narrator and reader, and it serves a subversive function by inverting the social order (Guest 31–32). For example the Sorcerer passes gas and sets a swamp on fire. He has a masquerade ball at his home and makes the guests wear Sorcerer masks in his honor. As a climax to the celebration he orders everyone to beat each other with clubs, which leads to a blood bath. The Sorcerer wants his guests to wear Sorcerer masks at his masquerade ball because he believes that everyone instinctively longs for the power of violence even though they hold these desires in check (Guest 18). The Luisa Valenzuela character, who has come to believe that the Sorcerer is merely a mask of the military, believes that by destroying the masks one could destroy the military regime (Valenzuela 199), but the guests of the ball survive, albeit disfigured and covered with blood. Because of the battle for authorial control between the Sorcerer and the character/narrator Luisa Valenzuela, the structure of the novel and the narrative point of view change constantly. Interruptions of conversations between military officials about the Sorcerer are as frequent as references to Argentine history and to figures like Juan and Evita Perón.

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Por la patria is considered part of the Neobaroque because of the experimental use of language in the text (Cánovas 146). The work is full of neologisms, archaisms, street slang, changes in syntax and morphology, alliteration and other poetic devices. The structure in this novel is also non-traditional. The unconventional use of language makes it seem as if one part of the novel flows into the next as if there were no chapter separations. Diamela Eltit employs a plurality of discourses in this text to form a counter-discourse to the official discourse of the Pinochet regime. The female characters are also part of this counter-discourse because they are the opposite of the ideal Chilean woman that Pinochet described in his many speeches directed at Chilean women (Marcy 10–14).

Bibliographies of the Chosen Works

As the bibliography shows, very little criticism has been written on A Festa compared to the two other novels in this comparison. The Muffled Cries: The Writer and Literature in Authoritarian Brazil, 1964-1985, by Nancy T. Baden, is a comprehensive overview of literary works written during the dictatorship. It includes information obtained through interviews with the authors on what it was like to write during the dictatorship. This work briefly discusses the importance of A Festa, its structure, its many literary styles, and its social criticism. Protesto e o novo romance brasileiro by Malcolm Silverman, is another comprehensive overview of literary works from that time period. It also briefly discusses A Festa and its importance as an experimental text that documents and directly protests against the repression that followed the passing of Institutional Act 5 (155). Janete Gaspar Machado also discusses the importance of the social criticism and the role of the character/writer in A Festa in her work Constantes ficcionais em romances dos anos 70. Renato Franco’s Intinerário Político do Romance Pós-64: A Festa is more pertinent to this work because it offers a detailed overview of novels of the dictatorship written during the years of repression. The final chapters of that book focus on A Festa, its use of allegory, literary styles, unusual structure and how it functions as social criticism. It also comments on some of the female characters, though it does so without giving an in-depth analysis.

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Randal Johnson’s entry, “The Celebration,” in Latin American Literature and Its Times is most useful. It contains historical information important for understanding the novel and a plot summary even though Johnson states that the work has no central plot line, main character, or single narrative voice or perspective (78). He discusses various characters within the plot summary and the role of the character who claims to be the author of the text. A few articles have been written on A Festa including “A Narrativa como criação e resistência: a cumplicidade da escritura,” by Beth Brait, “O gosto amargo da festa: produção literária e momento político no Brasil, 1960–1990,” by Emanuelle Oliveira, and “Celebrating the Celebration,” by Ricardo da Silveira Lobo Sternberg. These articles discuss either the structure of the novel, its literary styles, its political importance, or the role of the character/author but do not focus on female characterization. Flávio Aguiar also discusses the structure of the novel and the role of the character/author in the entry “O Escritor: de amanuense a jornalista,” in his book A Palavra do purgatório: literatura e cultura nos anos 70, but does not comment on any other character in depth. Robert DiAntonio’s article, “The Confluence of Mystic, Historical, and Narrative Impulses in Ivan Angelo’s A Festa,” discusses social criticism and some of the characters but not in depth. Sylvia C. Blynn-Avanosian’s article, “Deconstrução em A Festa de Ivan Ângelo, uma abordagem de acordo com a resposta do leitor,” is more useful. It discusses both the effect of the structure and the use of various literary tropes on the reader and the deconstruction of various female characters as a social criticism.

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More criticism has been written on Por la patria than on A Festa. Rodrigo E. Cánovas’ article, “Apuntes sobre la novela Por la patria (1986), de Diamela Eltit,” is most useful to this work. It discusses the structure, neobaroque language and symbolism in Por la patria and offers an analysis of Juan’s relationships with the women in the text. Juan, the only male character with a name who appears throughout the novel, represents the military and is a sexually impotent extortionist and informer (149). According to Cánovas, Juan’s relationships with Coya and her friends reflect power relationships within a family environment but Juan never fulfills the role of the father figure that the young women are seeking (153). In this way the text would represent a rejection of Pinochet’s patriarchy. Stacey D. Skar’s article, “La narrativa política y la subversión paradójica en Por la patria de Diamela Eltit,” discusses how language and the use of incest in Por la patria subvert socio-cultural authorities but it only closely analyzes the main character, Coya, through her role as a writer and her relationships with her parents, friends, and Juan. SylviaTafra discusses the main characters, literary styles and language in the chapter, Por la patria: la toma colectiva del habla, of her book Diamela Eltit: El Rito de pasaje como estrategia textual. She emphasizes Coya’s relationship with Juan and her parents but most importantly notes that the male characters are weak in this text while the female characters are strong and that the female characters parody the marianist idea that motherhood is the ideal role for women. She states that because traditional female values are subverted in the text, the independent outspoken and self-sufficient female characters participate in the public sphere and obtain political power (58). Augusto Pinochet divided the Chilean people in his official discourse by referring to those who supported his regime as “los chilenos” and those who did not as “los no chilenos” (Munizaga y Ochsensius, 72). Claudia Femenías discusses how Por la patria subverts these social divisions created by Pinochet’s official discourse through literary styles and linguistic play in her dissertation, La Novela chilena contemporanea: un participante activo de la conversación cultural de la época (1986-1991). She also discusses the relationship between Juan and Coya and the importance of Flora, Rucia, and Berta as contributors and co-writers of the Chilean epic that Coya is writing. Eugenia Brito’s article, “El doble relato en la novela Por la patria, de Diamela Eltit,” discusses Coya’s search for self-identity and her relationships with her parents and Juan.

Anne Marcy’s master’s thesis, Female Voices in Authoritarian Chile: The Transgressive Voices of Diamela Eltit and Pia Barros (1994), discusses women’s roles in Chile before, during and after the military regime and how Pinochet’s discourse, which was directed at women, relegated women to the home and the role of the abnegated mother. This book is about how the literary works of Diamela Eltit and Pia Barros responded to official and oppositional discourses directed at women during the military regime through female characterization and by discussing subjects traditionally prohibited to women writers, such as politics and sex. Although I do not agree with some of the assumptions she makes about the relationships between the characters, this work is very important to my work because of its subject matter and the information it provides on women’s roles in Chile during the dictatorship.

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By researching female roles during the Brazilian and Argentine dictatorships, I have found that all three of the regimes used the same conservative ideology in respect to what women’s positions should be in society. Mary Beth Tierney-Tello’s Allegories of Transgression and Transformation: Experimental Fiction by Women Writing Under Dictatorship is about how four female authors, Nélida Piñon from Brazil (A Casa da paixão), Diamela Eltit from Chile (Por la patria), Reina Roffé from Argentina (La rompiente), and Cristina Peri Rossi from Uruguay (La nave de los locos), confronted and responded to patriarchal and authoritarian discourses and attacked processes of gendering in their texts while opening new imaginary repertoires for women writers and creating new possibilities for female subjectivity (7). This is an excellent source because it discusses how and why Latin American feminists have come to see authoritarian and patriarchal discourse as one and the same. Both forms of discourse naturalize aspects of sexuality and gender, including women’s roles within the family and sexual relations, the latter considered the sex/gender system.24 The military regimes used the naturalization of women’s roles in their official discourse in order to relegate women to the home while at the same time causing the disappearances of their spouses and children. Because of this, Latin American feminists came to see authoritarian systems as intensifications of patriarchal order and insisted that militarism and institutionalized violence rested on patriarchal foundations. Therefore, gender issues and politics were seen as interrelated. Tierney-Tello cites many sources on feminist theory and information on women’s movements in all three countries which I have included in my bibliography.

Far more criticism has been written on Luisa Valenzuela’s Cola de lagartija than on either of the other two novels. The most comprehensive work on novels of the dictatorship written during the Argentine proceso is Nombrar lo innombrable: Violencia política y novela argentina: 1975–1985 by Fernando O. Reati. It includes an analysis of Cola de lagartija as a work that is written partially from the point of view of a repressor (the Sorcerer) whose sexual behavior is aberrant and whose sexuality is ambiguous. Reati, like many other critics, considers the Sorcerer to be an androgen or hermaphrodite (225). However, this character does not really have female sexual organs until the end of the book. Reati also does not mention the misogynist attitude of this character who claims to not need women because he has a woman incorporated in his body (his third testicle) that he refers to as his sister, Estrella. Even though he claims his testicle is feminine it is, of course, not a female body part and the testicle does not have female body parts. Luisa Valenzuela stated in an interview that she decided to give the Sorcerer an extra testicle and make it feminine because of the expression “He has balls” which is often used for male writers.25 In this way she subverts the Sorcerer’s notion that he does not need women. His misogyny is also subverted by his love for Estrella who serves as his voice of moderation. Without her he would not be able to become the all-powerful father/mother/son which he wished to be in order to gain complete power. She also serves as part of the resistance because she reprimands him at times and causes him much pain by cramping when she does not want him to do something that he wants to do.


XII, 214
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 214 pp.

Biographical notes

Lori Lammert (Author)

Lori Lammert is an independent scholar who received her Doctorate Degree from Vanderbilt University. The author of many book and film reviews in Chasqui and Hispania, she also wrote "Chomsky’s Culture of Fear and the Character/Writer in the Brazilian Novel of the Dictatorship, A Festa by Ivan Ângelo" in Narrativas del miedo: Terror en obras literarias, cinematicas y televises de Latinoamerica (Peter Lang, 2018).


Title: Symbols of Hope, Resistance and Change