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Reading: Monstrous Mothers and the Cult of the Virgin in Rosario Castellanos' 'Oficio de tinieblas'


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Research article

Monstrous Mothers and the Cult of the Virgin in Rosario Castellanos' 'Oficio de tinieblas'


Lisa Davies

University of Cardiff, GB
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Lisa Davies begins her article by showing how the image of the mother seems to be at the heart of Mexican culture. But whilst the pure and idealised mother is represented by the Virgin of Guadalupe, within the very same culture there exists another more sinister mother figure, that of La Malinche. Patriarchal society imposes on women the myth of the good, self-sacrificing Virgin mother and tries to deny and banish the sexualised, and strong figure of Malinche, perceived as being extremely dangerous to patriarchal values.

In analysing Castellanos’ text, Oficio de tinieblas, Davies points out how the author, in line with the strong influence of Simone De Beauvoir, maintains that the will to bear children and care for them is a product of social pressure rather than free choice. Throughout her fiction, Castellanos deconstructs the saintly images of the Mother that patriarchy is promoting and shows how the myths created around motherhood are central to a patriarchal society which depends on woman’s reproductive function and willingness to nurture the children for it to survive. Davies illustrates how Castellanos’ text reflects the status of women, accepted in Mexican society only as mothers, contextualizing the experiences of two women, one a biological mother, the other an adoptive mother, but ‘monstrous’ because they wish, and bring about, in a ritual re-enacting of the Crucifixion, the death of their child. For Davies, Castellanos’ text, with its emphasis on race and class, the symbiotic relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor, becomes even more political when the author denounces, in a more sinister and violent re-writing of Biblical narrative, the oppressive and misleading myths surrounding motherhood, which keep women marginalised within the culture and history of Mexico.

How to Cite: Davies, L. “Monstrous Mothers and the Cult of the Virgin in Rosario Castellanos' 'Oficio de tinieblas'”. New Readings, vol. 6, 2000, pp. [21–44]. DOI:
Published on 01 Jul 2000.
Peer Reviewed


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