“Here’s to You Jesusa” by Elena Poniatowska Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 25th, 2020

Introduction

The book under analysis presents a magnificently captivating story of a woman named Jesusa, who explores her role in the world and looks for her identity during the time of the Mexican revolution. Throughout the course of the book, the readers get to observe the life of the main protagonist starting with her childhood memories of spending time with her family and moving all the way towards her elderly life as a hard worker. The author shows many different aspects of Jesusa’s life such as her social status, economic situation, spiritual beliefs and worldviews, and her relationships with the other people.

Because the life and personality of Jesusa are depicted in such a realistic and detailed way, the author manages to create a vivid character with her unique flaws and advantages. Besides, Poniatowska uses first-person narration in her book, and that is why the story is rather subjective, which sometimes makes it difficult for the reader to understand the reactions of the main protagonist. At the same time, the first-person narration makes Jesusa relatable and open for the comprehension by the reader. This paper presents an exploration of the book “Here’s to You, Jesusa” and the themes of feminism and female identity in a male-dominated world in particular.

Book Summary

The story begins with a depiction of Jesusa as an elderly woman with a rather harsh and rude character; this description is accompanied by the author’s explanation of her relationship with the main protagonist and the desire to eternalize the story of her unconventional life. The readers then get to meet Jesusa as a child and observe that she was surrounded by victimized and oppressed women – her sister Petra, her brother’s woman Ignacia, and many of her father’s lovers. As soon as the revolution begins, Jesusa immediately becomes sucked into its unstoppable and merciless political and social mechanism.

Revolution penetrates every sphere of her life as she becomes a soldadera, marries an officer, and is forced to participate in the revolution and choose sides. As a woman, she is mistreated by society and by her husband. It is clear during the Mexican revolution that women have very low value as individuals even though their contribution to social life is massive. As a product of the society extremely abusive toward women, Jesusa grows up as a fighter and a survivor, she becomes harsher and colder as the years pass, but she never loses two main qualities – the desire to take care of living beings and her faith in God.

Further, regardless of all the neglect that Jesusa had to withstand being with her husband Pedro, her life after his death became increasingly confusing and difficult. As a woman without a husband, she got lost in the male-dominated society and had to search for ways to survive the poverty and rightlessness day after day. However, despite all the hardships, Jesusa chooses to stay single for the rest of her life to protect herself from abuse and disrespect by a man. The main protagonist faces many challenges in her life, deals with multiple losses, and is time after time healed by her faith and spirituality.

Character

The main protagonist of the story is based on an actual person who lived in Mexico during the revolution, that way, the book can be described as a mixture of testimony (or a documentary writing) and fiction. Jesusa’s character has a fiery temper and a strong will-power as she is ready to face whatever struggles life throws at her. Along with her bravery and endurance, Jesusa is also a very emotional individual who could be viewed as the symbol of her historical period in Mexico – the time of rapid changes, boiling passions, and uncovered emotions.

Moreover, in her society, Jesusa, as a woman, is stereotyped to be only suitable for her expected gender roles such as being a mother, a caregiver, and a wife; which basically puts her in the framework of an eternal servant. Poniatowska (2001) notes that the country does not have any appreciation for the women like Jesusa: “Mexico does not welcome them, it doesn’t even acknowledge them” (p. xxi). However, Jesusa shows herself as a powerful woman. Right at the beginning of the story, she is reluctant to speak with the author, making the following statement: “Listen, I work. If I don’t work, I don’t eat.

I don’t have time to hang around chatting” (Poniakowska, 2001, p. viii). Also, it is obvious that the challenging life of a marginalized individual forced to fight to survive for many years has shaped Jesusa’s self-perception. When Elena is done with her interviews with Jesusa, the latter attempts to push her away saying: “One day you come by I’m not going to be here anymore… It’s a lie that you’ll miss me. What the hell is there to miss? (Poniatowska, 2001, p. 303). That way, Jesusa treats herself as a part of her dire reality – just a woman who does whatever she can to oppose the merciless realities of her environment without hoping to change the world but merely saving her own life and helping those in need on the way.

Meaning of the Story

“Here’s to You, Jesusa!” is written in a form of a testimony, a type of literary writing that has become increasingly popular in Latin America around the middle of the 20th century (Ledford-Miller, 2012). This period in the history of many Latin Americans can be characterized by social tensions and a growing unrest expressed in the form of revolutions and wars such as those in Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, and Guatemala (Ledford-Miller, 2012).

Among the other themes discussed in the story, “Here’s to You, Jesusa!” highlights the topic of class differences the most. The main protagonist and the author are the representatives of two different groups of the population in Mexico; Poniatowska comes from the elite whereas Jesusa has always been a part of the marginalized and impoverished society. This point of difference comes up quite often in their interactions. For instance, when Jesusa refuses to share Elena’s bed, she points out: “the only bed we both fit in is mine because it’s a poor person’s bed” (Poniatowska, 2001, p. xix).

The protagonist implies that only the beds in the low-income households are designed to hold several people. Jesusa treats Elena is a rude way showing her disdain towards the wealthy population; at the same time, the author attempts to show as much understanding as possible in order to avoid the biased perception of the realities she is unfamiliar with. The contrast between the two women symbolizes the deep social gap between the rich and the poor classes in Mexico

Themes of Feminism and Female Identity

As noted by Bueno and Andre (2012), women have been present in literature for many centuries; however, the roles of the female characters have visibly gained importance only in the historical periods closer to the modern time. This is the case not only in Latin American literature but in that all around the world.

The story of Jesusa is filled with dramatic events that the main protagonist takes for granted because she does not believe in the better future for the low-income population (especially women) in Mexico at the time. When viewed as a feminist character, Jesusa matches the image of a strong and powerful woman fighting for her own wellbeing and independence, and handling multiple challenges by herself.

At the same time, Jesusa can hardly be considered a feminist hero because her lifetime of a struggle does not lead to any victories (DeMott, 2006). She isolates herself from men, refuses to get married after the death of her first husband, she confronts men multiple times, and bears no children, and she works hard to support herself. However, none of these efforts and decisions makes her life easier or happier. Jesusa remains a socially weak and depowered person with limited rights dealing with inequality.

Conclusion

“Here is to You, Jesusa!” is one of the most discussed books of the Latin American literature that highlights a series of important themes such as social division in Mexico throughout the beginning and the middle of the 20th century, the Mexican revolution, gender roles and inequalities, religion and spirituality (Blake, 2009). The story is a testimony of a female protagonist based on a real memoire of a Mexican woman who matches the modern perception of a feminist character but misses the element of liberation (Duran, 2016).

References

Blake, D. (2008). Chicana sexuality and gender. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bueno, E. & Andre, M. (2012). The Woman in Latin American and Spanish Literature. Jefferson, MO: McFarland & Co.

DeMott, T. (2006). Into the hearts of the Amazons. Madison, WI: University of Books.

Duran, J. (2016). Women, Philosophy and Literature. London, UK: Routledge.

Ledford-Miller, L. (2012). Jesusa in the context of testimonios: Witness to an age or witness to herself? In E. Bueno & M. Andre (Eds), The Woman in Latin American and Spanish Literature. Jefferson, MO: McFarland & Co.

Poniatowska, E. (2001). Here’s to You, Jesusa! London, UK: Penguin Books.




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