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The Vain Pursuit of Unrealized Truths

The Vain Pursuit of an Unrealized Truths
An Exegesis of “Eyes of a Blue Dog” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

“Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.”
Jean Paul Sartre

“Necessity has the face of a dog.”[1]
Gabriel García Márquez

[Please Note: I wrote this when I was an undergrad. I am now a graduate student and my current sentiments are as follows: FUCK FREUD]

When the sun dips and the world outside cools down, it is time to sleep. For many, this is a simple ritual. They rest their heads on their pillows. They close their eyes and suddenly they are flying, reliving distorted childhood memories, or traveling the various avenues that their dreams take them. Then when they wake in the morning, they think nothing more of it. Hidden beneath the depths of the mundane façade of these landscapes and events lies a deeper, more profound truth of who these sleepers are– what they crave, what they fear. What are dreams if not windows to the subconscious? In The Uncanny[2], Sigmund Freud writes that “the meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure, the reason is that at night we are visited by desires that we are ashamed of and must conceal from ourselves, that have for this very reason been repressed, pushed into the unconscious.” This idea sets the stage for longing and desolation to manifest in “Eyes of a Blue Dog”[3] a short story by Gabriel García Márquez in which the narrator meets the perfect woman in his dreams each night. They gather in the shadows of a cold world of solitude that provides solace because they share it together. Yet, there lies danger in the man’s suppression and idealization of the object of his desire.

Dreams forgo logic in favor of depicting one’s most raw self. So what is the narrator longing for without end? It is clear that he recognizes his meetings with the woman as something that has been ongoing on for years. Some nights he can feel the sheets fall from him, magnifying the cold, and in others he wakes to the sound of a spoon falling. This may emphasize the intensity and ceaselessness of his yearning but does not reveal it. Consider Freud’s interpretation of dreams: “A jocular saying has it that ‘love is a longing for home‘, and if someone dreams of a certain place or a certain landscape and, while dreaming, thinks to himself, ‘I know this place, I’ve been here before’, this place can be interpreted as representing his mother’s genitals or her womb.”[4] We can view the woman as a being of comfort, of home, of care and love that is often associated with a mother. The narrator longs for the feelings associated with whom he first desired in this world. It is a comforting sentiment knowing you are not alone, but the solitude of these two beings–whether fictitious of not– is only heightened in this illusory world. It serves as a stark contrast to the yearning and passion that lay between a lonely man and woman. Everything they wish for is within proximity, but they still cannot have it. Perhaps this is why the woman is characterized as being “oily, slipper,” an object that could easily slip through his grasp the moment he tries to latch on to her (Márquez 433). She is present in his dream because she is absent in his reality.

In Being and Nothingness[5], Jean-Paul Sartre touches upon the relationship between lovers. He writes: “While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the Other, the Other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the Other, the Other seeks to enslave me” (Sartre 475). He goes on further to note that to know someone is to own them. In his dream, the man and woman own one another. He wishes to dominate her and to be the center of this woman’s world. In his dreams, he is. Márquez writes: “Her life had been dedicated to finding me in reality, though that identifying phrase: “Eyes of a blue dog.” And she went along the street saying it aloud, as a way of telling the only person who could have understood her” (434). The woman even reveals her nakedness to him.[6] In this dream world, his cravings are realized, and to a small extent, met. Sartre also expands on this possession as being something that travels beyond the physical. He claims that “if Love were in fact a pure desire for the physical possession, it could in many cases be easily satisfied” (Sartre 478). The characters’ encounters are far from “easy.” They are in the midst of their deepest wants, but cannot attain them. The narrator is seeking something deeper than touch. He craves connection. Moreover, not only does he desire a partner in his solitude he also desires possession. The narrator claims, “I’ve always wanted to see you like that, with the skin of your belly full of deep pits, as if you’ve been beaten” (Márquez 434). The bruises serve as a sign of her submission to a stronger power, himself.

These observations all lead to yet another question: Is the woman imagined? Is she a tangible and active participant of the “real” world? Several instances indicate that this woman is merely a figment of his imagination. Why can she remember the contents of the dream and he cannot? She is a reoccurring participant of his fragmented dreamscape is fully cognizant of who is sleeping outside of the room they share and what is down the hallway from their tiny space. For her, he is the Other. Despite the dream being an object of his own construction, he is the intruder in the world that she is a part of. While the narrator remains cold due to the sheets falling off in his sleep, the woman can warm herself over the flames of the lamp in the room. That is, he is subject to the happenings of the outside, while she only exists and experiences what is in the room– in the dream. In addition, the lamp shared between them is almost a border stopping him from crossing into the world she lives in. While he wishes to touch her, he cannot. Rather, “[He] kept on walking with the cigarette and matches in [his] hand, which would not go beyond the lamp” (Márquez 435).

It can further be argued that the woman is even his own subconscious come to him in the form of what he both fears and desires the most. For him, she represents both companionship[7] and loneliness. They are both desolate creatures and when he looks in the mirror he sees himself. Take the following lines from Márquez:

“I thought she was looking at me for the first time. But then, she turned around behind the lamp and I kept feeling her slippery and oily look in back of me, over my shoulder, I understood that it was I who was looking at her for the first time” […] and “I said to her again: ‘I see you.’ And she raised her eyes from the brassiere again. ‘That’s impossible,’ she said. I asked her why. And she, with her eyes quiet and on her brassiere again: ‘Because your face is turned toward the wall.’” (Márquez 433-434)

Even when his gaze is not directly on her, he knows what she is doing: “She had raised her eyes;” and what part of the room she lays: “Sitting in front of the mirror again” (Márquez 433-434). It is as if every movement of hers is his own. Her longing for him is the most extreme version of his own yearning. While she wakes up from each sleep remembering the phrase they use to find one another: “Eyes of a blue dog,” he never fails to forget despite him being the one inventing the phrase for them to use. It becomes apparent that he is the one who truly wishes to find her, but, ironically, is the one who cannot remember the happenings of the dreams when he wakes. Thus, this only affirms the suppression of his longings in the real world. More than that, the woman tells him not to come closer or he’ll ruin the illusion. If he breaks this fantasy of her and of their shared space, he will come face to face with his own unfulfilled desires and his own solitude. If we take the woman to be an extension of his subconscious, the narrator is warning himself against that which would shed light into his deepest fears.

The woman is both a symbol of his loneliness and a balm for it. Yet, his idealization of her is only damaging the ability of his subconscious to reach a resolution. He traps her in his gaze. Sartre writes, “The Other [the narrator] looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I [the woman] am. Thus, the profound meaning of my being is outside of me” (Sartre 473). Her being is only given value from his view of her. By “her” I am referring to any companion the narrator wishes to find in reality as the woman of his dreams is a representation of the unrealistic expectations he may project onto women in the real world. In this dream, he designs her to be perfect, but in doing so, she is confined to such perfection. By idealizing her, he offers no room for improvement. It stunts her growth and in a deeper sense, their potential growth as a couple. Were he to actualize this desire in the outside of his subconscious, the manifestations of his unrealistic expectations would only disappoint him once he comes face to face with the inevitable flaws of reality. Thus, suppressing his desires, failing to bring them into the light–– into the real world where they can be resolved–– the narrator only fuels his solitude, only heightens his cold. His fears and desolation must first be recognized before his desires can be actualized. Only when the narrator meets his repressed feelings of solitude and desire for companionship can he go beyond the lamp, warm himself from the cold, and truly wake up.

Notes

[1] This quote is the English equivalent of the Spanish proverb “la necesidad tiene cara de hereje,” which translates to “the need has the face of a heretic.”

[2] Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 1534-1536) Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[3] Márquez, Gabriel. “Eyes of a Blue Dog.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, pp. 433-437

[5]Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Washington Square, 1993.

[6] In The Uncanny, Freud explains this nakedness as the desire for truth. When a dreamer is naked, he/she is in their most raw and honest form. Thus, the narrator desires to know someone when they are their complete, honest self—a form of intimacy deeper than touch.

[7] In the following passages, the idea of “her” can be understood as “companionship” and its derivatives–the longing of it– or the extension of the narrator’s own being rather than the actual woman herself.

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion
An Exegesis of “The Saint” by V.S. Pritchett

“My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think… and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“How extraordinary it is that one feels most guilt about the sins one is unable to commit.”
V.S. Pritchett

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.[1]
Jean-Paul Sartre

The great burden and blessing of life is the innate freedom belonging to humanity. We are free to live, free to die, free to walk to the grocery store or drive there. Our very identity is comprised of choices that have been dictated by our own actions or inactions. Perhaps the question is not whether or not we have choices but rather, which one is the better of the two, or the three, or the myriad of other possibilities. The facticities of life may illucidize[2] us into believing we are limited in opportunity– that the only choice is to take that test, to continue living, to wallow in poverty– yet what this truly points to is the reluctance of individuals to accept the responsibilities, burdens, and uncertainties of the other options we are too afraid to unbury. In V.S. Pritchett’s “The Saint,”[3] the burden of freedom surfaces from the depths of systematic religion– that which confines its congregation to routine behaviors that restrict individual consciousness and displaces responsibility.

In the Church of the Last Purification, the image of God is unsullied by imperfection and is revered. Mr. Timberlake and his congregation all seek an entity who will cast his final judgement on the world, determine the outcome of their individual lives, and thereby, remove the responsibility of action. To be a part of the Purification is to become a passive participant of one’s own life. It is to immobilize the fearful limbs of uncertainty. When the narrator describes Mr. Timberlake after he unmasks the pretense of the Purification, he claims, “By no word did he acknowledge the disasters or the beauties of the world,” (Pritchett 620); he was a man unable and unwilling to grasp onto reality long enough to participate in the world around him. The characters in the text illustrate this passivity through their dependence on God to provide the necessities of life. The uncle is described as a man “always in difficulties about money […] convinced that in some way God would help him” (612). The congregation lays in constant wait for the way to be “shown” to them rather than actively pursuing their opportunities (615). In Being and Nothingness[4], Sartre writes:

I am abandoned in the world, not in the sense that I might remains abandoned and passive in a hostile universe like a board floating on the water but rather in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility in an instant. For I am responsible for my very desire of fleeing responsibilities. To make myself passive in the world, to refuse to act upon things and upon Others is still to choose myself, and suicide is one mode among others of being-in-the-world. (710)

What the characters in the story are doing is allowing their abandonment to take root and control their lives. The facticity of their worlds remains unmastered and prevails through the weak will to substantiate their existence.

The Purification, moreover, is under the misconception that attaining a transcendent state of being will fill the lack, the nothingness, that all humans come from. Yet, this pursuit is a vain endeavor. Humans are incapable of perceiving perfection– a state which, by its very definition and the facts of their very existence, is unattainable. Sartre writes, “Human reality arises as such in the presence of its own totality or self as a lack of that totality. And this totality can not be given by nature, since it combines in itself the incompatible characteristics of the in-itself and the for-itself” (140). Thus, because they cannot perceive or experience perfection, they can never truly attain it. Because humanity possess consciousness, they can never truly become a being-in-itself. They are confined to the for-itself. To immortalize God (a being-in-itself) as they are (a being-for-itself) is to immobilized the progression of humanity– to deny the ability to surpass even the standards by which perfection was first casted.

To expand, in the narrative, Mr. Timberlake serves as a god amongst men and women. He is idealized and glorified. His presence in the narrator’s home is described as an honor. The narrator recalls, “It was unbelievable that a man so eminent would actually sit in our dining-room, use our knives and forks, and eat our food. Every imperfection in our home and our characters would jump out at him” (Pritchett 613). The flaws of their daily living, mundane aspects of their home that another would hardly notice, are starkly contrasted in the presence of this ideal being. His every word is law. Again, the narrator continues, “Whatever Mr. Timberlake believed must be true and as I listened to him at lunch, I thought there could be no finer life than this” (Pritchett 614). Yet, what we will come to find is that Mr. Timberlake is merely a human hiding beneath the pretense of perfection. He is a man who has abandoned the onus of his existence. He was a man “formally acknowledging a world he did not live in. It was too interesting, too eventful a world. His spirit, inert and preoccupied, was elsewhere in an eventless and immaterial habitation” (Pritchett 619). Mr. Timberlake looks at the physical world with “boredom,”(Pritchett 619) not actualizing his physical presence. He is disrobed of the illusion when he falls into the river. The narrator describes the moment: “It was a fatal flaw in a statue, an earthquake crack that made the monumental mortal… he was a declining dogma” (Pritchett 617-18).

In the text, the Purification and the existence of a God functions more as an illusion of security than an genuine pursuit for self-fulfillment. Yet, The inability to recognize the deficiencies of life, puts the members of the church in danger. Pritchett writes:

We regarded it as ‘Error’– our name for Evil– to believe the evidence of our senses, and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them they therefore did not exist. (612)

When Mr. Timberlake accompanies the young narrator punting down the river, a branch bares itself in the way. Governed by rules that deny the existence of a hazardous situation, Mr. Timberlake denies that there is a branch and as a result he falls in the river. Despite reality, in the eyes of the Purification, he did not fall and the branch was not present. In accordance with his faith, he continues on the day acting as if he is not drenched and the event did not happen; God would not bring into being an object that would hurt his creations. Sartre argues, however, that, “[humanity] is responsible for the world and for [themselves] as a way of being… since [humanity] is the one by whom it happens that there is a world; since [humanity] is also the one who makes [themselves] be” (707). The belief of the Purification displaces the responsibility of action to that of a being with no physical existence– who lacks any grounding in reality. Moreover, renouncing the onus of existence is still an act in itself. Sartre continues, “I am ashamed of being born or I am astonished at it or I rejoice over it, or in attempting to get rid of my life I affirm that I live and I assumed this life as bad” (710). There is only the world which we live in and there are only the choices we make. The trees, the air we breathe, the solid ground beneath our feet are tangible proofs of existence. To place blame on anyone other than himself for his own actions, Mr. Timberlake–– and in a larger sense, the Purification–– refuses to accept the burden of responsibility that freedom entails. They seek purification to provide the comfort of a predetermined existence. The narrator comes to realize this for himself when he is disillusioned of Mr. Timberlake’s ideality. He states:

I saw the shoes dip, the water rise above his ankles and up his socks. He tried to move his grip now to a yet higher branch– he did not succeed– and in making this effort his coat and waistcoat rise and parted from his trousers[…] It was at this moment I realized that the final revelation about man and society on earth had come to nobody and that Mr. Timberlake knew nothing at all about the origin of evil. (618)

The narrator realizes that this man, whom all members of the church have glorified, is no better than the rest. Yet, perhaps Mr. Timberlake had been aware of his lack all along when the narrator recalls, “[Mr. Timberlake] had come out with me, I saw, to show me that he was only human,” (620) which illustrates the active choice in remaining ignorant.

Another confining aspect of the Purification that Pritchett brings forth is the threat of a blanketed ideology that denies individual consciousness. An unspoken rule to establish membership in the church is that one’s own thoughts are poisonous to the goal– to the pursuit of transcendence. What follows are guidelines set to deny the negative outcomes that inevitably enter the lives of each character. Once again, when the narrator warns Mr. Timberlake of the branch obstructing his path, the faithful man proclaims that the branch is barely a challenge. The narrator then thinks to himself, “I did not want to offend one of the leaders of our church, so I put the paddle down; but I felt I ought to have taken him further along away from the irritation of the trees” (Pritchett 616). In an earlier passage the narrator is discouraged from exploring his thoughts when his uncle remarks, “This is my nephew. He thinks he thinks, but I tell him he only thinks he does” (Pritchett 614). This mentality discourages individual existence and reduces it to a whole, unified being. The foundation of this perceived unity, however, is laid with fear of repercussions from all members of the Purification. Sartre writes of subjectivity and individual experiences that “for [him], this glass is to the left of the decanter and a little behind it; for Pierre, it is to the right and a little in front. It is not even conceivable that a consciousness survey the world in such a way that the glass should be simultaneously given to it at the right and at the left of the decanter, in front of and behind it” (405). Thus, individual experiences are the only truth there is. A life cannot be dictated by a universal ethic, by which there is none.

Despite recognizing the restrictive nature of religion, one is left to wonder why it still prevails to this day. Churches are filled to the brim every Sunday. Theology is a pertinent subject in many private educations. Priests stand around pews preaching homilies from morning, afternoon, and twilight. Religion is, to many, a necessary part of being. While the primary argument of “The Saint” demonizes the Purification, the system of religion as a whole should not be demonized. For followers of Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, and the countless other gods, a sense of belonging overshadows individuation. The hope for an hereafter designed as paradise or the fear of the afterlife consumed in fires, albeit intangible and unprovable in our reality, can greatly drive one’s actions. Sartre writes: “My abandonment–i.e. My facticity– consists simply in the fact that I am condemned to be wholly responsible for myself (711). Hence, should our endeavors never reach fulfillment or our lives turn dark with dismay, we must assume the burden of the outcomes. This proves a paralyzing concept and some may find comfort in an assigned or predictable routine. What many view as “freedom” or “lack of freedom” is a neutral concept awaiting to be assigned a negative or positive character created by a subjective experience.

In a more positive light, while done to the extreme may prove unhealthy, perhaps denying the negative events that occur can alleviate the stresses of life and provide a sense of comfort. After his incident in the river, Mr. Timberlake tells the narrator, “Let’s go on. We‘re not going to let a little thing like this spoil a beautiful afternoon” (Pritchett 618). As the story progresses, the narrator recounts, “Heart disease, it was plain, was the cause of the death of Mr. Timberlake… It was a miracle, the doctor said, that he had lived as long. Any time during the last twenty years the smallest shock might have killed him” (Pritchett 620). It is at this point of the story where the narrator comes to realize that the Purification and its teachings saved Mr. Timberlake from an untimely end. This only affirms the notion that religion serves multiple purposes. While for the narrator it disillusoned him into discovering his own consciousness and reclaiming his freedom, for Mr. Timberlake, his faith, while a pretense, prevented a heart attack; he had “made for himself a protective, sedentary blandness, an automatic smile, a collection of phrases,” which provided him the comfort and security many seek for in religion.

Thus, to truly understand our purpose in this world, we must first recognize it as the only world. We can only fully understand our reality through our own experiences. Following this, we must reclaim our responsibility and move from a passive existence to an active one, in which our pursuits are predominantly governed by physical, forward motion and effort. What then becomes of our actions after this revelation? We may realize these truths, but to what end? The answer is that we must cast off the illusion, understand our responsibility and then decide if we should continue on our existence as individuals in a collectivist society or if we should partake in the ideals of our congregation and alleviate some burden of responsibility. Regardless of the outcomes that follow thereafter, we must always remember that we are never as alive, never as able, and never as responsible as when we become fully cognizant of a moment in which the progression of our lives depend on our action or inaction.

Notes

[1] There is no reality except in action.

[2] For the purposes of my paper, I took the liberty of creating my own word. To illucidize is to incite illusion or cause it to be.

[3] V.S. Pritchett. “The Saint.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, 612-21.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Washington Square, 1993, 405+.

Of Love and Other Demons

Demonizing the Hegemonic Culture of 18th Century Colombia
An Exegesis of Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

 “Absence is God. God is the loneliness of man. There was no one but myself; I alone decided on Evil; and I alone invented Good.”

Jean Paul Sartre[i]

“Take care. Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.”

Gabriel García Márquez[ii]

The pursuit of a higher existence following death, one that lacks any form of pain or hardship, sets the tone for the actions carried out by those who adhere to the belief of God and heaven; and even more inspiring than the fruitful promises of Paradise lies the fear of its dreaded counterpart, the devil and hell. While the genesis of such beliefs may start with good intentions–– i.e. to prevent chaos and disorder–– the results are often manifested through fear or ignorance, producing a lack of empathy and hindering moral progression. Thus, what may start out as a means to deter evil, becomes a vehicle for demons to come out from the shadows. Of Love and Other Demons[iii], a novella by Gabriel García Márquez, places itself in the midst of social-transformation that evolves during the decline of the Spanish Inquisition and slavery in colonial Colombia. It is here where evil takes the form of sacred institutions and hides behind individuals comprising the dominant upper class. The effects of this pandemonium are most apparent through Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles[iv], the foundling virgin who is subject to the horrors created by those who present themselves as her saviors. What results from the blind faith inspired by the Inquisition and the persistent oppression of non-Western tradition by the dominant White culture is the gradual degradation of the purest soul in the novella, Sierva María.

To provide context for the points to be argued in the following passages, what directly follows is a brief summary of the novella. One fateful Sunday on a South American seaport of Cartagena, a twelve-year-old Sierva is bitten by a rabid dog. She shows no apparent signs of infection other than a barely visible abrasion. However, perpetuated by her animalistic behavior–– taught to her by Dominga de Adviento, the black slave woman charged with her care and the girl’s practice of the Yoruban beliefs shared with her by the other slaves of her father’s home–– she is believed to be possessed by the devil. When Dominga de Adviento dies, the child becomes the sudden responsibility of a hateful and absent mother, Bernarda Cabrera, and an apathetic father, the Marquis de Casalduero, who, previous to his revelation[v], despised the girl for reminding him of her mother. To avoid responsibility of their unloved heir, Sierva is abandoned to the Convent of Santa Clara where she meets Josefa Miranda, the bitter Abbess and Father Cayentano Delaura, the priest entrusted to carry out her exorcism. Yet, rather than removing the demons believed to be devastating her soul, Delaura falls hopelessly in love with the tragic creature and his actions incite a divide between his desires and his duties. What results from these events is the death, or arguably the murder, of Sierva María through the rituals of exorcism.

The most pressing question of the novella persists throughout the text: Is Sierva María really possessed? To answer this, we must first indicate the symptoms often associated with possession. According to scholar Michael Grosso:

The possessed person behaves in ways that are totally alien to his usual self. He (or more probably she) blasphemes and acts out violent loathing of the conventional sacred symbols; is, moreover, tormented by physical contact with them; demoniacs recoil in pain from holy water sprinkled on them […] The moral otherness of demoniacs looks like an invasion from without; to view it as “merely” a revelation of something repressed within is no less uncanny […] Another symptom of possession is said to be the preternatural strength displayed by demoniacs. (510)[vi]

In the novella, Sierva shows little to no aversion to sacred symbols and does not scream or yell obscenities when Delaura sprinkles holy water in her cell. Any signs of preternatural strength are presented only as rumors spread by others rather than actual events narrated by Márquez. Following her arrival in the convent the persistent destruction of the edifice and the odd behavior of the farm animals surrounding it supports the assumption that “nothing occurred that was not attributed to the pernicious influence of Sierva María. Several novices declared in the acta that she flew on transparent wings that emitted a strange humming” (Márquez 69). To further emphasize the ability for these scandals to manifest in the community, Márquez also writes, “The fiction that Cayetano Delaura was the Bishop’s son had replaced the older rumor that they had been lovers ever since Salmanca” (138). He utilizes qualifying diction such as “novices declared,” “they said,” “rumor,” and “the fiction” to show that these tales are the creation of humans rather than the devil. Meanwhile, the physical and psychological signs of Sierva’s possession are a result of the harsh treatment done unto her by her exorcisers or, as they claim to be, “healers.” Márquez writes: “Sierva María felt as if she were dying […] after two fruitless weeks she had a fiery ulcer on her ankle, her body was scalded by mustard plasters and blistering poultices and the skin on her stomach was raw” (51). Along with these physical ailments, Sierva experiences delusions, convulsions, and loses control of her bladder and bowel movements, but such symptoms are the effects of others’ treatment of her.

Animalistic behavior, moreover, is often associated with demons. This is the sole trait displayed most by Sierva. The young girl is prone to biting and to ferocious tendencies. When the priest first encounters Sierva she “look[s] at Delaura for the first time, weigh[s] and measure[s] him, and attack[s] with the well-aimed pounce of a hunted animal” (Márquez 85). She is described as being “a viper,” “a tiger,” and “snapping at the air like a dog” (Márquez 64+). Sierva’s behavior, however, is more so a result of her parents’ abandonment and her lack of formal education and social grooming. Her behavior is akin to that of an animal because she is raised with the “primitive” characteristics of slaves who were treated like beasts by the Whites. In regards to animalism, Julia Kristeva writes in “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” that “the abject confronts us, on the one hand, with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal. Thus, by way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder” (12-13). This attitude is prevalent in Cartagena as the upper class continues to treat slaves like property, Other Blacks, and characterize African rituals and beliefs as savage, animalistic. The Marquise only perpetuates these stigmas when he tries to undo the teachings the slaves teach Sierva. He “tried to teach her to be a real white […] to suppress her fondness for pickled iguana and armadillo stew,” (Márquez 47) exposing his belief in a wrong culture and a right one. Sierva is thus Othered and oppressed by the onslaught of the dominant Western culture.

Despite the perpetual demonization of the slaves, Marquez’s text argues that the real villains are the colonizers. In fact, it is the “savages” who take in Sierva and treat her with kindness. They teach the foundling their traditions and beliefs. Sierva would often be found in the servants’ courtyard “helping to skin rabbits, and her face was painted black, her feet were bare, and her head wrapped in the red turban used by slave women,” (Márquez 16) and when she relived herself she would  “urinate behind the tree, squatting and holding a stick at the ready to defend herself against abusive animals and predatory men, just as Dominga de Adviento had taught her to do” (Márquez 64). She is the antithesis of her aristocratic family and adopts her own “lower-class” identity. Márquez writes, “‘The only thing white about that child is her color,’ her mother [Bernarda] would say. This was so true that the girl changed her name to an African name of her own invention: María Mandinga” (45). It is because she is so similar in behavior to the despised Blacks but white with ethereal, coppery hair– qualities favored by the West– that she often confounds those around her. She is what Kristeva would describe as being “repulsive and fascinating, abject” (158) and her juxtaposing behaviors and looks “disturbs identity, system, order” (4). She is the living product of two cultures integrated into one being; and society’s exclusion of her and of their non-Western counterparts, illustrate the failure of the Spaniards and Christians to adapt to cultural evolution. In simple terms, it is not the act of the devil, but the West’s persistence in hegemonizing­­­­­ South America that demonizes Sierva María, or more precisely, that demonizes the lower class and culture.

Ironically, the most prominent face of evil in the novella wears the mask of Josefa Miranda, the Abbess of the convent in Santa Clara. She is a woman fully governed under the pretense of “faith” and duty and lacks any indication or desire for truth and reason. When she leads Delaura to Sierva María’s cell and exclaims that the wall is covered in blood, Delaura admonishes her for being so rash in her declaration. He claims that “just because the water was red, that did not mean it had to be blood, and even if it were, that did not mean it had to be diabolical” (Márquez 82). This indicates the impulsive inclination those blinded by faith possess to believe the worst in matters that they do not fully understand. The insidious nature of religion is further emphasized when Abrenuncio, a well educated doctor claims, “‘There is not much difference between that and the witchcraft of blacks […] In fact, it is even worse because the blacks only sacrifice roosters to their gods, while the Holy Office is happy to break innocents on the rack or burn them alive in a public spectacle’” (Márquez 72). The nuns of the convent view the girl with curiosity and wonder rather than disdain. In fact, “the presence inside the convent walls of a girl possessed by demons had all the excitement of an extraordinary adventure” (Márquez 70). The nuns break into Sierva María’s cell and plead with her to speak to the devil and intercede on their behalf–– asking her to illicit impossible favors from the very entity they vow to despise. This further highlights that the pretense of religion and faith are merely the masks of corrupt sacred establishments. Delaura and Abrenuncio, both well-read scholars, and the Abbess, a cloistered nun dependent on the teachings of the Church, represent the divide between religion and science, but even deeper, the divide between women and men. The Abbess and “all women of her day were forbidden any kind of formal education, yet from the time she was very young she had learned scholastic argumentation in her family of distinguished theologians and great heretics” (Márquez 82). The Abbess is a product of the institution that raised her. Allegorically, this contrast reflects the period of the Spanish Inquisition, the coming of the Enlightenment, and the damaging effects of a patriarchal society.

Evil does not lie only in sacred institutions as the face of the teachings of a debauched society is also visible in Sierva María’s mother. No one is as repulsed by the girl nor wishes her demise more than Bernarda. She is incapable of loving her own daughter and is apathetic in all aspects of life irrelevant to her. When Sierva María is first bitten by the dog, the primary concern of her mother is that the reputation of their family would be tarnished. And again, when the Marquis  explains to her that their daughter has been left at the convent, she cries; we are first moved to see the first indication of her love only to be disillusioned by her next words: “‘You mean that now our shame is public knowledge” (Márquez 108). Yet, like the Abbess, she is a product of her time and society. The degradation of her soul had been enacted far before Sierva María’s birth. She had been whored to the Marquise, through the will of her father, and ordered trap him into marriage through means of impregnation. The Marquis, himself, had desired Bernarda only for the physical pleasures of her body, rejecting her when she first came to him with child and only submitting to an official union when his life is threatened by her father. Thus, the societal view of her as the submissive gender reduces her to merely a body easily distributed and discarded by men. To add to the evolution of her sour character is the death of the only love of her life, Judas Iscariote, a black man who perishes in a fight against three other slaves. She laments, “‘I would have been capable of hacking them [runaway slaves] to pieces with a machete. And not only them but you and the girl and my skinflint of a father, and everyone else who turned my life to shit” (Márquez 141). While Bernarda victimizes Sierva María and abandons her to an ill fate, in the end of the novella, we see that she, too, is a victim of her place in life and is haunted by demons of her own.

Although Sierva shows signs of aggressiveness, aversion to society, and ferocity, she possesses no evil entities within. Rather, the real demons lie without. They hide behind the mask of the Abbess and the executors of the Spanish Inquisition. They lurk in the corridors of apathetic parents, slave-traders and colonizers. They prey on those who oppress others in order to maintain their high position in the hierarchy of corruption. More than anything else, they are creatures of humanity that create their own demise. Of Love and Other Demons is Marquez’s critique of society and religion and the corrupt individuals that the teachings of both have brought forth. While not wholly representing every devout Christian or all Spaniards of the 18th century, Márquez does opens the cracks of a system built atop decaying foundations. By adhering to the strict and limiting orders of hegemonized institutions that fail to integrate themselves into a diversifying world, his characters fail to transcend the boundaries of their oppressive society and such attitudes often lead to demonizing and destroying the most innocent of souls.

Notes

[i] Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Devil and the Good Lord,” in The Worlds of Existentialism: A Critical Reader, ed. Maurice Friedman (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 248.

[ii] Gabriel García Márque Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons, (New York: Vintage International, 1995), 80.

[iii] Gabriel García Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons. New York: Vintage International, 1995.

[iv] According to Márquez, Sierva Maria is based on a corpse he had come across while transferring unclaimed crypts in the convent of the Clarissan nuns to a common grave. There, he came across the decayed body of Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles with a long flow of coppery hair that belied her deceased corpse. He claims that this reminded him of the story his grandmother told of a twelve-year-old Marquise with long, fiery hair that preformed miracles.

[v] When arguing with Bernarda about the state of their daughter’s health, the Marquise comes to the realization that he truly does love Sierva and from that point on works to rectify his mistreatment of her.

[vi] Michael Grosso. “Possession & Exorcism: Understanding the Human Psyche in Chaos\The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Journal of Scientific Exploration 28, no. 3 (2014): 509-17.