Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories is a short story book written by an American writer and poet Sandra Cisneros and published in 1991. The story the book is named after is the author’s interpretation of a Mexican cultural myth of La Llorona, with Cisneros granting its heroine a much happier ending. Cleófilas – Woman Hollering Creek’s protagonist – is a woman who grew up in a small Mexican town, in a toxic patriarchal culture, and with no mother to take care of her. The only female role models she had were the figures of Mexican folklore and the heroines of telenovelas Cleófilas watched as a little girl, who are passive, self-silencing, and dependent on men. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that she lives a life of humiliation and humility until Cleófilas meets two females who help her escape the trap in which she has found herself. It seems that one of them, Felice, becomes someone who changes Cleófilas’s perception of what a woman can be; however, it is the protagonist’s own willingness to change herself and her life that emancipates her.
At the beginning of the story, the protagonist leaves her family in Mexico to move across the border with a man she marries. As a young woman, Cleófilas craves love and passion but feels like she would not tolerate it if a man were to mistreat her – and she is sorely mistaken. When Don Pedro, her husband, beats Cleófilas for the first time, she finds herself numb and speechless, unable to fight. Having internalized from her telenovelas the notion that a woman must suffer and continuing to stay silent when it happens again, Cleófilas still tries to come to terms with it (Sánchez 71). It does not fit her idea of what love and marriage are to be; she does not think it is right. However, there is not much she can do: with no female community in Texas to confide in like back home in Mexico, the only one who keeps Cleófilas company is a creek. It is named ‘woman hollering’ – La Gritona, and the protagonist listens to its stream to pacify herself. Perhaps, Cleófilas could have escaped sooner had she had the support and encouragement of other women to embolden her.
By listening to La Gritona’s stream, Cleófilas hears its voice and imagines that it must be what La Llorona’s weeping sounds like. La Llorona – a figure of Mexican folklore – is usually presented as a mother who drowned her children and, as a punishment, has to roam searching for them forever. Sánchez notes that, in an attempt to find role models other than the telenovelas’ heroines, Cleófilas involuntarily turns to the icons of tradition – she simply has no more options (51). However, these icons can only offer the same ideals of sorrow and suffering, with La Llorona being the pinnacle of it, doomed to anguish for good. Cleófilas does not want to accept the lot but feels as if she is unable to do anything about it, and once even admits the thought of killing her baby – just like La Llorona. It is evident that with a dependent child and another one on the way, a lack of money and no opportunities to move, isolated and humiliated, Cleófilas desperately needs a support system (Jarrin 80). Luckily, fate offers her a chance – and Cleófilas takes it.
The protagonist asks her husband to take her to a prenatal clinic, where an attentive nurse-practitioner, Graciela, notices bruises on Cleófilas’s body. Graciela then persuades her friend to drive Cleófilas and her son to a bus station so that they could go back home to Mexico. The friend, Felice, amazes Cleófilas to her core: she has no husband and drives her own pickup truck, laughs loudly and unapologetically, and defines ‘woman’ as she wants. When they drive past La Gritona, Felice hollers ‘like Tarzan’ and says that it is because of the creek’s name – ‘woman hollering’. Whereas from Cleófilas’s perspective, the creek laments like La Llorona, from Felice’s viewpoint, it cries like a caveman. It is as if Felice appropriates the notions of freedom associated with masculinity for women (Jarrin 212). Felice’s flexibility, independence, and willingness to live life on her own terms open Cleófilas’s eyes to a wide range of possibilities that a female has. The other woman’s loud voice enables Cleófilas to regain her own, but only because she already has a deep desire to do it herself and finally finds a source of inspiration.
In conclusion, throughout the story, it is evident that Cleófilas, while being a classic example of an obedient woman in a patriarchal society, struggles to accept it as her lot. Even after having spent her whole life with no strong and independent female role models, she still feels that living the way she has been taught is wrong. This is why Felice – a single example of a self-sufficient and assertive woman – is enough for Cleófilas to get inspired to change her life for the better. Many women would still find it too difficult and energy-consuming in a world where they are expected to conform and comply. However, since Cleófilas has always wanted to live freely and only needed a boost, she is to gladly embark on this journey.
Jarrin, Felicia. “Ending the Cycle of Abuse: Intimate Partner Violence, Gender Roles, and Sisterhood in “Woman Hollering Creek” and “Sabrina & Corina.” Sigma Tau Delta: Journal of Creative Writing, vol. 97, 2022, pp. 206-213.
Sánchez, Sierra. Woman Hollering/la Gritona: The Reinterpretation of Myth in Sandra Cisneros’ The House On Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek. 2019. Wittenberg University, PhD dissertation.