« Linguistic Formations of Race | Main | Nation, country, homeland »

Women and Nationalisms: Gutiérrez-Chong and Belli

Gutiérrez Chong, citing McClintock, writes “men and women have different trajectories vis-à-vis the modern nation: ‘while women present the traditional face of the nation […], men represents the progressive feature of national modernity’.? And then Gutiérrez-Chong adds: “Women are the repositories of authenticity and originality which all nations pursue, while their rights in the political terrain of legality are delayed. We do not find elements in these affirmations that undermine the importance of nationalist symbolism, which, were not to exist, would make any nationalism unthinkable. […] In fact, there is no nationalism lacking symbolism and, if such symbolism incarnates the exaltation and celebration of domestic space, then the body or the heroic feat of women is neither a trivial not minor affair. In short, there are several roles which women assume in nationalisms, it is not only a question of seeing women as symbols or ‘garments’, but as social actors who are implicates in national processes in differing ways? (p. 2).


This passage from Gutiérrez-Chong made me think about the character Itzá in Belli’s “The Inhabited Woman?. This passage clarifies for me the relationship both women, Itza and Lavinia, have in the novel. The main character is Lavinia, because she is the “inhabited woman?, and the novel’s title sets this role for her. My doubt was what Itzá represents. I saw her as an important character but since she has no body, no house (besides the orange tree where she dwells) and she is the one who inhabits Lavinia, where her importance comes from? In other words, where comes from the power Itzá has to make Lavinia to do what she herself wishes to do? . So this passage from Gutiérrez-Chong clarifies for me the symbolic place Itzá represents in Belli’s novel. Her “presence? legitimizes the actual armed struggled against the Grand General regime in the novel. It also gives continuity to a previous confrontation between the native people against the Spaniards. And finally it gives the modern nationalist actions of The Movement the occasion to suceed this time, that is, to transform the original defeat into a victory.

Gutiérrez Chong proposes that “there is no nationalism lacking symbolism?. In Belli’s novel, there is no exaltation of the domestic space exactly but, in my view, of the ethnic component, which is not otherwise present in the novel (although the reader assumes that all the people implicated are descendants of Itzá’s race -except maybe Lavinia, who seems to have Italian ancestors.) So, Itzá represents tradition and Lavinia modernity and both are linked by the fact of being women participating in a nationalist movement to form a “multicultural nation?.

How then, Lavinia, from a privileged situation, and enjoying personal freedom, the possession of a house, a good job, beauty and youth, gets to the point of sacrificing herself in her quest? My answer is that her “conversion? happened by accumulation of experiences. First, she realizes that Felipe was involved with the movement. She then sees Sebastian almost dying in her house. Then, she deals with Lucrecia and her sister. And finally she is in the waiting room in the hospital with the “other? people, that is, people Lavinia never was in contact with before. (To all this we can add that she meets Flor, which is also a crucial event for Lavinia in the development of her conscience and political awareness.)

Lavinia finally accepts her full and complete participation in the Movimiento the day before the inauguration of the general’s house (Chap. 24) in “el cerrito verde de su infancia, al grabado de la niña viendo un mundo que consideraba suyo? (p. 329). There is a mention of the childbirth of a woman and then: “sus compañeros, en algún lugar, se prepararían para desatar el látigo de los sin voz, los expulsados del paraíso y hasta de sus míseros asentamientos? (p. 329). Lavinia, then, is personally convinced, and declares her own conviction contemplating the landscape: “Bien valía la pena morir por esta belleza, pensó. Morir tan sólo para tener este instante, este sueño del día en que aquel paisaje realmente les perteneciera a todos.
Este paisaje era su noción de patria, con esto soñaba cuando estuvo al otro lado del océano.? (p. 330)