The Inhabited Woman

923 words | 4 page(s)

In Gioconda Belli’s novel The Inhabited Woman, magical realism is intertwined with the narrative about the growing political consciousness and love feelings of the novel’s protagonist a Latin American woman Lavinia. An orange tree outside the young woman’s house is the embodiment of the magical realism. It is inhabited by the spirit of one Indian woman who once fought the Spanish conquerors conquistadores. In this essay, I will explore in more detail the cases of magical realism in The Inhabited Woman. Firstly though, the definition of the genre needs to be provided.

Magical realism, a genre particularly popular in Spanish-speaking literature (e.g. Gabriel Garcia Marquez with his One Hundred Years of Solitude), unites realistic and naturalistic narrative with surreal elements typical for dreams or fantasies. Myth and folktale often provide the basis of motifs in magical realism. For example, magic realism features the magical worldview of rural folk or indigenous peoples and positions the story within the “primitive” perspective (Haase 600).

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In The Inhabited Woman such motives are evident. Part of the novel’s message is conveyed through the orange tree. This is the element of nature which links to the folktale and myths of the ancient times. The orange tree is actually presented as a character: from within the tree an indigenous woman Itza speaks out. The spirit of the young Texoxe Indian, which is around four hundred years old, tells a compelling story of how her people suffered in the hands of conquistadores back in the fifteenth century and describes how her people resisted the Spanish invaders. Itza died tragically while she followed her beloved man Yarince into the battle, as a warrior. Itza’s story runs parallel and clearly intertwines with the first. Itza’s character reminds that of Lavinia herself.

The beliefs of Indians intertwine with the contemporary realities. The presence of the tree symbolizes the cycle of reproduction as it was understood by the indigenous people, who believed that “the unfettered living giving of one’s body (fruit or flesh)” could provide “another’s sustenance or pleasure.” (March 146)

Another important aspect of the magical realism is Lavinia’s relationship with the orange tree. The tree nourishes her (as Lavinia drinks from its juicy fruit) and helps her to recharge mentally (as Lavinia contemplates the leaves). At the same time, the tree is not only a source of Lavinia’s strength as a woman, but her supervisor and guide in the issue of political growth. In ancient times, “tribal people allow (ed) all animals, vegetables, and minerals (…) the same or even greater privilege than humans” (Allen 243). Such attitude has characterized the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, for whom nature was the fundamental part of the overall cosmology and who worshipped the elements of nature.

Itza’s presence within the tree leads us to animistic beliefs of the Indian tribes. Indians believe that all natural world is essentially inspirited and its inhabitants are able to communicate and interact with one another. All throughout the story, the author makes us pay attention to the connections and similarities between plants, animals, and humans. In many cases, this is done through comparisons: Lavinia and Felipe make love the way animals do; Lavinia is seen as tiger by Felipe who finds her upset; the lovers are further compared to felines.

Finally, the whole life is conceptualized as a hoop in which every living being is connected with others. This is seen in Itza’s reflections on the life’s renewal and the interconnections between all living beings. This is seen in the idea that upon his death, Felipe “returned to take his place beside the sun. Now he is the companion of the eagle, a quauhtecatl, the star’s companion. In four years he will return as an airy and resplendent huitzilin, a hummingbird flying from flower to flower in the balmy air” (Belli 367). Likewise, in the end, when Itza speaks about the death of Lavinia, she says Lavinia is earth and humus now. Her spirit dances in the afternoon wind. Her body fertilizes the rich fields” and she adds “neither she nor I have died without purpose or legacy. We returned to the earth from whence we will live anew. We will populate the air of new times with fleshy fruits” (Belli 411). Clearly, for Itza, Lavinia and Felipe did not die but rather changed their shapes and went to occupy new places within the life circle. All these things may be called “magical realist procedures” and it is clear that Belli knows well what she writes about (Williams 118).

Overall, the novel has many features of magic realism. They manifest themselves in the image of the orange tree inhabited by the spirit of the deceased Indian woman; in the belief that humans are equal (or even inferior) parts of the nature, in the belief in the life circle and animism, and in the belief in close connectedness to the ancestors.

  • Allen, Paula. “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective.” The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Ed. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1996. 241-263. Print.
  • Belli, Gioconda. The Inhabited Woman. Trans. Kathleen March. New York: Warner Books, 1994. Print.
  • Haase, Donald. Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales, Volume 1-3. Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.
  • March, Kathleen. “Engendering the Political Novel: Gioconda Belli’s La mujer habitada.” Women Writers of in Twentieth-Century Spain and Spanish America. Ed. Catherine Davies. Lampeter, UK: Edwin Mellen P, 1993.Print.
  • Williams, Raymond. The Columbia Guide to the Latin American Novel since 1945. Columbia University Press, 2007. Print.

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