Pastor, Brígida M. A Legacy to the World: Race and Gender in Sab Revista del CESLA, núm. 9, 2006, pp Uniwersytet Warszawski Varsovia, Polonia - PDF

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Revista del CESLA ISSN: Uniwersytet Warszawski Polonia Pastor, Brígida M. A Legacy to the World: Race and Gender in Sab Revista del CESLA, núm. 9, 2006, pp Uniwersytet

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Revista del CESLA ISSN: Uniwersytet Warszawski Polonia Pastor, Brígida M. A Legacy to the World: Race and Gender in Sab Revista del CESLA, núm. 9, 2006, pp Uniwersytet Warszawski Varsovia, Polonia Available in: How to cite Complete issue More information about this article Journal's homepage in redalyc.org Scientific Information System Network of Scientific Journals from Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal Non-profit academic project, developed under the open access initiative Brígida M. Pastor A Legacy to the World: Race and Gender in Sab Just as Blacks did in the master-slave relationships [...], women in patriarchy have traditionally cultivated accents of acquiescence in order to gain freedom to live their lives on their own terms, if only in the privacy of their own thoughts 1. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda s first novel Sab (1841) has been subject to many different interpretations. Although many critics consider Sab an abolitionist novel, not all agree that this was the author s main purpose 2. Others have considered it as little more than a sentimental and shocking romantic story of the impossibly unconventional love of a black slave for a white woman 3. Sab could be seen as a particularly noteworthy example of anti-slavery literature that ranks with the work of other unquestionably anti-slavery contemporary Cuban writers (Juan Francisco Manzano s Autobiography (1838), Anselmo Suárez y Romero s Francisco: El ingenio (1839, published in 1880) and Antonio Zambrana s El negro Francisco (1875). It could be argued that none of these abolitionist works quite reach Sab s 1 Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p See Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Conferencias pronunciadas en la Fundación Universitaria Española, ed. by Carmen Bravo-Villasante, Gastón Baquero y J. A. Escarpanter (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria, 1974), p. 15. See also Mary Cruz, Prologue to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab (La Habana: Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1973); Carmen Bravo- Villasante, Prologue to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab (Salamanca: Anaya, 1970); Emilio Cotarelo y Mori, La Avellaneda y sus obras. Ensayo biográfico y crítico (Madrid: Tipografía de Archivos, 1930); Helena Percas Poseti, Avellaneda y su novela Sab , Revista Iberoamericana, 38 (1962), ; Concepción T. Alzola, El personaje Sab , in Homenaje a Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Memorias del simposio en el centenario de su muerte, ed. by Rosa M. Cabrera and Gladys B. Zaldívar (Miami: Universal, 1981), pp ; Stacey Schlau, A Stranger in a Strange Land: The Discourse of Alienation in Gómez de Avellaneda s Abolitionist Sab , Hispania (Cincinnati), 69 (1986), ; Pedro Barreda Tomás, Abolicionismo y feminismo en la Avellaneda: lo negro como artificio narrativo en Sab , Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, CXII CXIV (1978), ; Lucía Guerra, Estrategias femeninas en la elaboración del sujeto romántico en la obra de Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda , Revista Iberoamericana, 51 (1985), ; Joan Torres-Pou, La ambigüedad del mensaje feminista de Sab de Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda , Letras Femeninas, 19 (1993), 55 64;. Mayuli Morales Faedo, Sab: la subversión ideológica del discurso femenino en la novela cubana del siglo XIX , Revista de Literatura Hispanoamericana, 31 (1995), 51 60; Nara Araújo, Raza y género en Sab o el juego de espejos , El alfiler y la mariposa (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1997), pp ; Brígida Pastor, Symbiosis Between Slavery and Feminism in Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda s Sab?, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 16 (1997), Mary Cruz, Prologue to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab (La Habana: Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1973), p It should be noted, however, that in a later article the same writer does treat the abolitionist theme in the novel. See her article Sab, vigorosa protesta contra toda servidumbre , El caimán barbudo, 60 (1972), 58 REVISTA DEL CESLA No 9 level of condemnation: the novel s condemnation of the shackles placed on both Blacks and women by society: Sab s description of women s helpless lived burial under the marriage bond evokes as much horror as his earlier account of the slaves condition of endless toil 4. Although Susan Kirkpatrick in 1989 has correctly, in my view, noticed that in Sab, Avellaneda s feminism rather eclipses her denunciation of slavery, 5 she does not seem to offer an exclusively feminist reading of the novel. She asserts that the theme of slavery is a disguised form of feminist protest, but she remarks on the fact that Avellaneda found it easier to express her abolitionist feelings, implicitly suggesting that the novel also had an abolitionist intention 6. Evelyn Picón Garfield, too, elaborates a convincing analysis of Sab as a novel from which different discourses of marginality emerge, such as race, gender, social and geographical isolation and political exclusion. Furthermore, from her gender-oriented study, she concludes that Avellaneda s own marginality allowed her to produce a unique antislavery novel that was textually distinct from other anti-slavery narratives written by male authors 7. In summary, although some gender-oriented studies have noted that Avellaneda s feminism overshadows her denunciation of slavery, others have declared that the feminist concerns were subordinate to, or disguised by, a more overt preoccupation with slavery. Or in Nina M. Scott s words, all these gender-oriented critics seem, by and large, to coincide in considering that Avellaneda used the slave Sab, not only to protest slavery, but to vent many of her own particular frustrations . 8 I agree with Nara Araújo s evaluation of Sab, that the slave Sab emerges as a mirror of woman s consciousness rather than a complementary character; thus, in her own words: La dinámica raza-género es paradigmática en esta novela, precisamente, por la mutua complementariedad 9. My aim in this article is to demonstrate that Avellaneda s feminist concern is an integral part of the novel at every level, from that of the characterisation to the plot and stylistic expression. I will argue not that Avellaneda s purpose is to disguise her feminist views under the pretext of an abolitionist novel, but that she resorts to the anti-slavery theme to establish an analogy between the position of women and slaves, thus highlighting her feminist concern, which is repeated and treated more explicitly in her other early novel Dos mujeres. Sab arises from the need of women 4 See Jill A. Netchinsky, Engendering a Cuban Literature: Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Narrative (Manzano, Suárez y Romero, Gómez de Avellaneda, A. Zambrana) (unpublished doctoral thesis, Yale University, 1986), p Susan Kirpatrick, Las románticas. Women Writers and Subjectivity in Spain, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p Kirkpatrick, p See Evelyn Picón Garfield, Poder y sexualidad: el discurso de Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993), p Nina M. Scott, Introduction to Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab and Autobiography, trans. by Nina M. Scott (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), p. xxv. 9 Nara Araújo, Raza y género en Sab o el juego de espejos , El alfiler y la mariposa (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1997), pp (p. 45). Brigida M. Pastor A legacy to the World to express their feminine identities within the prevailing social structures. Avellaneda s later works confirm the depth of her commitment to justice and freedom, explaining why she had to use a variety of strategies to survive in a society that condemned those who dared to transgress its norms. In Sab, the contemporary problem of slavery allowed the author also to affirm the rights of women and her desire for social equality. 10 But I hope to show that Avellaneda s powerful portrayal of her feminised male slave Sab and of her female characters constitutes an even greater form of rebellion, in that they constitute authentic feminine voices, who in one way or another articulate the problematic relationship between the sexes in a patriarchal society. From early age, Avellaneda had clashed with the conventional ambiance of her time and had become conscious of the marginal role of women within the oppressive patriarchal system. As a result, she had come to equate the situation of black slaves with women as both are on the margins of society and culture. In my view, Sab constitutes a discourse of hybrid marginality which links the social position and condition of woman with the representation of the other , represented by the slave. The similarity that Avellaneda clearly sees between slaves and women is exploited in her portrayal of the mulatto slave Sab. His marginal position (like women s) means that he is not a patriarchal man, and so, like the female voice in Avellaneda s autobiographical letters, he can articulate the other of male selfidentity. As Araújo points out: La otredad compartida por los «no blancos» y la mujer, como sujetos diferentes, el paralelismo entre la retórica de la opresión sexual y la opresión racial, conforman la dinámica raza-género 11. Avellaneda is clearly working within the terms of a language which has been defined as phallocentric, while posing questions about patriarchal organization and generating subtexts through a disguised semantic and somatic language. The slave Sab is a highly feminized figure: as a man he possesses a masculine identity, but as a slave, he identifies himself with and is identified with woman in culture. In addition, his position as a slave prevents him from coming to terms with his masculinity, both as a man and as a slave. This results in an ambiguously gendered character who addresses eloquently, but indirectly, the male/female conflict in patriarchal culture. I hope to show that Avellaneda attempts to expose patriarchal culture s failure to give equal value to the feminine and the masculine, indicating how this is a fundamental flaw in society s cultural life. Although Sab and Autobiografía y cartas share femininity as their main theme, Kirkpatrick has observed: The notes of protest and denunciation sounded in 10 Picón Garfield, citing Russet, explains the basis of the scientific ideology which relegates blacks and women to a second rank: Los científicos llegaron a ser los profetas que concedieron el estado de madurez revolucionaria al blanco, al civilizado, al europeo y al hombre, mientras a los otros la gente de color, el primitivo y la mujer los relegaron a un estado infantil perpetuo (p. 62). [See Cynthia Eagle Russett, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 1989)]. 11 Araújo, p. 40. 60 REVISTA DEL CESLA No 9 Sab add to Avellaneda s representation of female subjectivity an element that was [...] repressed in the autobiography 12. Avellaneda identifies with the slave because their respective destinies no [les] [abrían] ninguna senda, [y] [...] el mundo no [les] concedía ningún derecho 13 : Colour, for slaves, and gender, for women, [eran ] el sello de una fatalidad eterna, una sentencia de muerte moral (p. 312). A close reading of Avellaneda s autobiographical texts helps the reader to understand the link she saw between woman and slave. Avellaneda confesses in a letter published in El Arlequín: soy huérfana [...] soy sola en el mundo 14. This statement echoes Sab s words: Yo no tengo padre ni madre... soy solo en el mundo; nadie llorará mi muerte (257). These words underline the way in which the equation between woman and slave throughout the novel has a purpose the construction of the female voice. In Avellaneda s Autobiografía y cartas, we see that Avellaneda constructs herself as a feminine voice to seduce her male beloved, resulting in the contradictions and conflicts generated by the desire to voice her female identity in the context of a patriarchal culture. It is precisely these tensions and conflicts which emerge in Sab as a result of the unrequited love between Sab/Carlota and Enrique/Teresa. Sab was written at the same time as other anti-slavery novels such as Cirilo Villaverde s Cecilia Valdés (1839), Félix Tanco s El niño Fernando (1838) and Anselmo Suárez y Romero s Francisco (1838), all of which also have passion as the central theme. In all these works a white man loves a black or mulatto woman. 15 Avellaneda transgresses the tradition of these authors, not only by being the only woman to write a novel of this kind during the period, but also because she reverses the relationship in order to serve her feminist purpose. A black man (he is actually mulatto), Sab, dares to desire a white woman, Carlota. Thus, Avellaneda tries to create a double impact on her audience by presenting a social inversion that breaks the existing social and literary canons and by using this unusual relationship to promote a feminist message. Furthermore, in Sab, Avellaneda offers a more sophisticated 12 Kirkpatrick, p Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab. Prologue by Mary Cruz (La Habana: Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1973), p All the quotations of Sab are from this edition. 14 Mentioned by Carmen Bravo-Villasante, Una vida romántica: La Avellaneda (Barcelona: EDHASA, 1967), p Cruz, Prologue to Sab, p. 35. The publication of controversial novels was not possible in Cuba. Two generations of antislavery novels can be distinguished. The first ones were written around 1838, but not published then, and the last, Cecilia Valdés, appeared in Francisco is considered the first anti-slavery text in Spanish America, although not published at the time, it had circulated as a manuscript since 1838 [See Iván A. Schulman, The Portrait of the Slave: Ideology and Aesthetics in the Cuban Antislavery Novel , Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 292 (1977), (p. 365)]. Scott notes that Avellaneda had the advantage of being in Spain and living under the generally liberal government of the Regent, Queen Mary Cristina; publication of an anti-slavery work was possible in Spain, as opposed to Cuba (p. XXI). Brigida M. Pastor A legacy to the World linguistic approach by articulating openly the female other of the otherwise black slave-oriented male discourse. At the time of writing Sab, Avellaneda had immersed herself in the works of liberal thinkers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu and others. The figure of Sab owes a great deal to the literary type of the noble savage, who was used in these writings to criticize the injustices of more highly developed societies. Such writers believed that earlier, more primitive societies permitted humans to live together in harmony. Sab - given an image similar to that of the noble savage - also serves to advance Avellaneda s critique of society, as the idealization of Sab reveals him to be different from the average slave. However, as Araújo very convincingly argues: La diferencia en la novela de la escritora reside en la diferencia con la cual se homologan los personajes que encarnan la raza y el género, con lo que la cubana se distancia del modelo maestro 16. Despite the similarities between Sab and the noble savage of the European liberal literature (he is noble, royal and learned), Sab s social position and colour makes him different. Sab does not reflect the stereotypical image of the slave, for Avellaneda makes him a spokesman denouncing the injustice inherent in the position not only of slaves, but also, indirectly, of women in society. Blacks (like women), [están] condenados a ver hombres [...] para los cuales la fortuna y la ambición abren mil caminos de gloria y de poder; mientras que ellos [ellas?] no pueden tener ambición, no pueden esperar un porvenir (p. 258). It is noteworthy that the mulatto slave in Sab only expresses his anger, feelings and ambitions, in other words, his own identity, when he is in dialogue with a woman, in the private medium of the letter, or in his silenced inner thoughts, just as the issue of women s equality was hardly addressed in public. Although the narrative voice has the last word in each chapter, Sab s voice is the major one throughout the novel, allowing him to establish a powerful and alternative discourse that challenges the dominant male discourse. The novel presents a picture of life in central Cuba where Avellaneda spent her childhood and adolescence, in the 1820s. We find the family of Don Carlos de B..., a Cuban landowner who has a young, romantic daughter, Carlota. Sab, a slave who is protected by the family, is the illegitimate son of Don Carlos brother. Teresa, an illegitimate orphan, is Carlota s cousin and is brought up by her family. Carlota is pursued by Enrique Otway, son of Jorge Otway, a greedy English merchant. Enrique believes Carlota to be very rich and asks for her hand, but when he learns that she has lost her fortune, is encouraged by his father to break his promise. Sab learns that Teresa loves Enrique and secretly, but hopelessly in love with Carlota, the slave follows developments carefully. He wins money in a lottery and offers it to Teresa so that she can gain Enrique s love, but Teresa renounces the money out of gratitude to the family who had cared for her. Teresa makes Sab pretend that Carlota has won the money in order that she may have a dowry and thus marry Enri- 16 Araújo, p. 42. For an interesting comparative study on the typology of the noble savage, see Araújo s, Visión romántica del otro. Estudio comparativo de Atala y Cumandá Bug-Jarcal y Sab (La Habana: Colección Ache, 1993). 62 REVISTA DEL CESLA No 9 que, which she does. That same day, Sab dies and Teresa enters a convent. Carlota continues to believe that Enrique has married her out of love, but soon discovers that this is not the case and that her father-in-law dominates both their lives. At the conclusion of the novel, Teresa dies and, on her deathbed, she tells Carlota of Sab s sacrifice for her and gives Carlota a letter which Sab had written before his death. In this he confesses his eternal love for Carlota and equates her destiny as a woman in marriage with that of black slaves. The pain of the daily visits to Teresa at the Convent of the Ursulines helps Carlota to mature. Although she is very unhappy with her lot as wife and daughter-in-law, she finally realises that the slave had been superior to the master. In the end, we are unsure of Carlota s fate, although there is a possibility that she has gone to Europe with her husband, disappearing into oblivion. Sab s Race: The Enslaved Feminine I hope to demonstrate that throughout the novel, Sab undergoes an inner development which enables him to create an identity that depends on a balanced relationship between the masculine and the feminine. 17 This growth process must begin from the real position in which he finds himself that is, from within the narrow confines of his role as a slave in society. The process consists of him being able to articulate his other (feminine) pole of identity, which is censored in culture, and which if repressed prevents him from fulfilling the wholeness of which he is capable. As we shall see later, Sab s creation of this other (female) discourse is strengthened by his interactions with the female figures of the novel. These key relationships show him coming face to face (and to terms) with the negative projections that the (male) cultural imaginary imposes on the women with whom he identifies as a slave. Sab is not an ordinary slave, being of royal blood on his mother s side. When his mother is stolen from her homeland and brought as a slave to Cuba, she falls in love with a son of the plantation owner. Sab is thus linked on his father s side to the land-owning ruling class of the island, but because of the status of his mother
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