Dr. Jami Huntsinger
17 July 2018
A Woman’s Cry for Help: Cleofilas Story
In “Woman Hollering Creek,” Sandra Cisneros discusses the issues that Cleofilas had to go through during her marriage. Cleofilas grew up with her father, six brothers, and no mother. Being the only girl in the family Cleófilas learned how to become a woman by watching her telenovelas on Television. She leaves her small town in Mexico with a new husband Juan Pedro who she hardly knows to cross “en el otro lado–on the other side” to Seguin, Texas. When she got to Texas, she finds that there is no community or family to support her. Since she couldn’t work, she cares for Juan Pedro’s house and gives birth to their first son Juan Pedrito. After giving birth to her son she then realizes that she has to face a life of abuse, poverty, and an alcoholic husband. She was trapped by disbelief, shame, and confined in the traditional roles of women on the banks of La Gritona. She was in denial because she never thought that she would be a woman that would be abused. Cleofilas had got pregnant with their second son and her husband still abused her. Cleofilas doctored noticed the marks on her she called a friend named Felice to help her escape back to Mexico where she would be free from her abusive husband. In this essay, Cisneros illustrates how Cleofilas had to live a life of a Mexican immigrant that had to endure the domestic violence from her husband; but Cisneros also shows how Cleofilas broke the cycle of abuse with the help of strong independent women.
Before discussing the abuse that Cleofilas went through during her marriage, we need to discuss what domestic violence is. Describing this abuse, McMahon and Armstrong writes,
“Domestic violence, also termed intimate partner violence (IPV), has existed since the dawn of man. Its occurrence is more acceptable in some countries than it is in others. Domestic violence is commonly described as the occurrence or threat of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, as well as emotional and psychological abuse by a spouse or intimate partner” (30)
Often times, victims of domestic violence may endure behaviors like pushing, striking, slapping, choking, threatening, getting put down, forcing to have sexual activities, isolating them from seeing friends family or from going to work. Many women that have been abused do not leave the abuser. It’s not that they like to get abused but it’s because if they leave it might be dangerous for them. The United States Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey writes, “The most dangerous time for a woman who is being abused is when she tries to leave.” Many women just like Cleofilas deal with domestic violence in their everyday life, and some are not as lucky as Cleofilas to be able to escape the abuse.
The first behavior of domestic abuse is marginality also known as isolation; it is one characteristic Cisneros includes in “Woman Hollering Creek.”
According to Anne Koci and Ora Strickland, isolation or Marginality is
“Marginality significantly correlated with all forms of abuse and abuse in all age categories, suggesting that being distanced from society’s powerful center is associated with women’s abuse. Hence, the placement of women at society’s social periphery encourages them to be invisible, powerless, and vulnerable to abuse… Such attributes socially isolate and diminish one’s impact and voice, causing a silencing that alters one’s view of the world and promotes liminality, that is, hypersensitivity and an intense perception of the world” (p.79,88).
We can see this behavioral characteristic in Cleofilas’ home life in “Woman Hollering Creek.” In one passage, Cisneros reveals isolation when she writes “This town with its silly pride for a bronze pecan the size of a baby carriage in front of the city hall. TV repair shop, drugstore, hardware, drycleaners, chiropractors, liquor store, bail bonds, empty storefront, and nothing, nothing, nothing of interest. Nothing one could walk to at any rate; because the towns here are built so that you have to depend on husbands” (Cleofilas 224). This illustrates that Cleofilas had to deal with the pain and suffering in a male-controlled world and a male dominated, society. As a man Juan Pedro took on the role that he had more power than she did; just like the definition explained. Cisneros also illustrates marginality when she said, “…Or you stay home. Or you drive. If you’re rich enough to own, allowed to drive, your own car.” Cleofilas is isolated where she lives because there is no where she can go without a vehicle. Just like Cleofilas, women in today’s society are typically marginalized because they often are left out from influential decision making roles.
The second characteristic behavior of domestic violence Cleofilas undergoes before and after she was pregnant is the physical aspect of domestic violence. Most women who experience physical abuse, according to McMahon & Armstrong write, “The most commonly recognized signs and symptoms of domestic violence can be excessive bruising, especially a combination of new and old bruises, low weight gain by the mother, noticeable anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and negative self-image” (32). As a result, many women go through physical abuse during and after their pregnancies. Just like Cleofilas she had visible signs of physical abuse soon after her marriage and during her pregnancies with her two boys. “She had always said, she would strike back if a man, any man, were to strike her , so when the moment came, and he slapped her once, and then again, and again, until the lip split and bled an orchid of blood”(Cisneros 222). Cisneros illustrates the physical abuse that Cleofilas endured shortly after she got married to her husband Juan Pedro. She has noticeable signs of physical abuse with a split lip. While pregnant Cisneros shows her readers the abuse that Cleofilas went through she writes, “He had thrown a book. Hers. From across the room. A hot welt across the cheek” (Cisneros 225). As a result, she displays the characteristic behavior of physical abuse.
The third form of domestic violence Cleofilas encounters in the story is psychological abuse. According to Anne Koci and Ora Strickland, they write, “Not only does marginality impact women’s physical vulnerability, but it also impacts their psychological vulnerability by making them feel alone and powerless to control their own destiny” (79). Woman that go through domestic violence encounter psychological abuse as well. Just like Cleofilas she was also dealing with psychological abuse because her husband would play mind games with her throughout their marriage; she would also find excuses for her husband’s abuse. Cisneros shows the first time that Cleofilas encounters physical and psychological abuse when she writes, “instead, when it happened the first time, when they were barely man and wife, she had been so stunned, it left her speechless, motionless, numb” (Cisneros 222). The quote demonstrates the psychological side of abuse. It defines her emotions, letting the readers to feel the psychological pain that Cleofilas endured.
The final behavior of domestic violence is denial.
According to Libuku, he explains why women may be in denial, he writes,
“Women enduring domestic violence are often in denial, believing the violence will not get worse or that it will end once the child is born…Women often feel there is little or nothing they can do when domestic violence occurs during pregnancy, except to tolerate it. They also may choose to stay because they have low self-esteem, or have a fear for their safety if they try to leave” (Libuku31, 32, 33).
Majority of women that have been abused are in a state of denial. Cleofilas had imagined a wonderful life just like the telenovelas on the television, but she was in denial caught in the cycles of abuse. Cisneros illustrates the denial that Cleofilas feels when she writes, “You or no one. Because to suffer for love is good. The pain all sweet somehow. In the end” (220). Cleofilas fells that all of the hardships that she has endured, she believes that love is worth suffering for and that overtime she will get over the pain because love is all that she ever wanted. But finally realizing that the abuse she was going through was not love; and that the love for her children was unchanging even over time. Cleofilas had finally had the help to break the cycle of abuse and be free from all the domestic violence she went through so her children would have a better life.
Given these four characteristic behaviors of domestic violence, Cisneros shows her readers that Cleofilas was a victim of domestic violence. She endured marginality (isolation), physical abuse, psychological abuse, and denial. Under all of those circumstances Cisneros illustrated how Cleofilas had to live a life of a Mexican immigrant that had to endure the domestic violence from her husband. With no family or friends to help Cleofilas with the abuse she was trapped, until she broke the cycle of abuse with the help of two strong independent women.
Cisneros, Sandra. “Woman Hollering Creek.” Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora, 2018.
Koci, Anne, and Ora Strickland. “Marginality and Physical and Sexual Abuse in Women.” Routlegde, 2009.
Menez Cooper, Tanya. “Domestic Violence and Pregnancy: A Literature Review.” International Journal of Childbirth Education, 2013.
Thawley, John. “Common Myths- Domestic Violence.” Domesticviolence.org, 2015, domesticviolence.org/.