Features of Symbolism, setting and conflict used in “Woman Hollering Creek”


Woman hollering Creek written by Sandra Cisneros is a short story that is very interesting because it narrates the destruction of a woman’s dreams called Cleofilas. It begins when she is given into marriage to Juan Pedro while her father telling her that, “there is no time I will abandon you because I am your father” (Cisneros, 50). Before her marriage, she had grown up with only her dad, the six-good-for nothing brothers and no mother. Owing to the fact that there was no woman around her during the time she was growing up, she has to learn how to be a woman only through watching telenovelas on the TV. The telenovelas help her learn that she should expect passion to fill her heart and her life which will bring her great love into her life and guide her to “do what is supposed to be done, must be done, and at all costs” (Cisneros, 51). This makes her create a belief that life needs to be that way because when one suffers from love, it is good and makes one good because the pain goes with sweat in the end. This story has however used features like conflict, symbolism and setting to bring out the theme of suffering that Cleofilas passes through and it is described below in details.

The setting of the story Woman Hollering creek takes place in both Texas and Mexico. The setting in this story is equally important because Cleofilas lived in a small town in Mexico where she had only six brothers and her father who looked after her (Payant, 95). The only thing that inspired her from this small town was the telenovela that was usually shown on the TV, and this made her get the belief that her life would be exactly as what used to take place in the telenovela. Cleofilas decided to marry Juan Pedro while in Mexico and moves to his place in Texas and she leaves her six brothers and her father in Mexico. According to Payant (95), after moving to Texas, she discovers that she did a mistake when she chose to marry Pedro but she had had a baby with him. She has to take responsibility of the child that is on the way as a mother and the best for it or stay make another decision of staying with her lover Pedro and get beaten by him constantly.

The setting of this story was very important because it created the direction of the story and the way things were unfolding before Cleofilas.  As Brady (122) puts it, the places of this story showed a long road for her and everything that transpired along the way, which had its own meaning. Therefore, the borderland’s center is Woman Hollering Creek and it is in this place that the story unfolds. Cleofilas refers to Mexico as “a town of dust, despair and gossip” on the other side that is very similar to a Texan town called Seguin. Seguin was another town full of gossip except the fact that while in her father’s town in Mexico, she was very safe from the physical harm she was receiving on this other side. Therefore, the creek called Woman Hollering Creek is located in central Texas and at a certain time, it crosses the interstate between San Antonio Texas and Seguin Texas.

The setting is also equally important because it describes the real environment surrounding Cleofilas, what she faces and the situations and hardship she passes through. For example, when she describes in her imagination “the same house as always, nothing new… the faded housecoat was just in the same position where she had left it in the bathroom.” The description of her house showed the level of difficulty that she was passing through (Brady, 122). Additionally, the setting brings the picture of the environment with activities take place within the surroundings in the story. When the writer describes the town, in which Cleofilas was, as “a silly town full of pride and despair, there was nothing interesting where she was standing, only a TV repair shop, a drugstore, dry cleaners, hardware, empty store fronts, bail bonds, liquor store and nothing else of great interest (Jaynearose). It is true from the description that the town has nothing good to attract the eyes. However, it is touching to see Cleofilas describe it as a city build so that all women have to depend on their husbands entirely. No place to go in the city except to a neighboring lady’s house, but the rest of the time is solitary, on one side and the other side is Dolores.

In story of Woman Hollering Creek, Cisneros has used several symbolisms to portray and demonstrate how women are powerless whenever trapped in a relationship that is very abusive to them. According to Doyle (55), the best symbolism used in this story is the telenovela, which was mainly an indication of Cleofilas’ life. She thought that her life would be like the flow of the telenovela that used to be shown on the TV. The contrast occurred because the episodes in her own telenovela were getting sadder with hardly any commercials between her episodes of life that would have brought comic relief and probably a happy conclusion. In spite of all these, she constantly made excuses about her husband and falsely convincing herself that as much as there were many abuses in her life like being beaten by her husband, things would soon get better. Originally, the word creek is in itself a symbolic word that meant a road that had not been taken by Cleofilas when she decided to staying in the relationship where she suffered physical and emotional abuse. However, the origin of the creek is not known, it is still a mystery and most probably frightening just as the road that not taken.

Additionally, there exist a number of symbols in woman hollering creek which Cisneros used as a helper in plotting the story line in addition to creating a literature impression in the story. For example, “the borders of all kinds” is a symbolic statement in the Woman Hollering Creek. It does not necessarily mean the physical border between US Texas and Mexico. In one perspective, it means linguistic borders that confine Cleofilas within a particular cocoon, like the gender and cultural borders. This is evidenced when she said, “this city is built in a way that women have to depend on men entirely” (Doyle, 57). In another perspective, the borders of all kinds means the border of confinement of past traditions, that restricted the actions of women and the violent poverty that encounters her and forces her to change her view on what is freedom and what is confining.  However, most of these borders were self-imposed, while others were imposed by the society, but both the borders despite their imposition were just as strong as a brick fence.

In clear interpretation of the name creek, in the Woman Hollering Creek, is a border on its own in symbolic terms. Like instead of saying the word ‘Holler’, it can be translated as ‘yell’ in a deeper translation which means weep (Doyle, 55). Moreover, this symbolic border is so powerful, however natural it may seem. It is stronger than the passing of the creek and a representation of what it does to the surrounding nature with comparison to Cleofilas’ heartless and poor life that she faces away from the creek. In Mexico, the ice house was like a church where Cleofilas could meet with other women and gossip or as she described it, “engage in huddled whispering.” However, while she was in the United States in Texas, which was her marital home, the gossiping used to begin at sunset at the icehouse, the only difference is that in this new place, she had to sit and mute beside their conversation. Additionally, the laughter at the end of the story was a symbolic of long awaited freedom finally achieved, the incredible feeling that one experiences when she/he attains the long awaited freedom.

Sandra Cisneros uses conflicts to show several perspectives including Cleofilas’ expectations as contrasted with what happens in reality. As Phan (32) puts it, all she had ever wanted was a successful conclusion in her life, a loving husband and a pretty house, having sweet children around her and anything interesting that she had seen on the telenova. Never had the slightest though wink up her mind that things change in life, her conflict was what she wanted was not coming, a happy life is what she had thought all her life. In this story of Woman Hollering Creek, conflict is used to display the harsh realities of the patriarch world that Cleofilas finds herself in. she was silenced by the ways of this patriarch world but finally found her voice in the end. The writer brings out the conflict of Cleofilas, which is not only with her cruel and abusive husband, but also with the patriarch world (Doyle, 66). According to her, the world seemed to say that whatever was happening to her was okay and one day she will get what she expects in life. It is really a conflict within her heart for she has to keep on loving her husband that was betraying and abusive just to maintain the expectations of the patriarchal society.

In addition to that, conflict is depicted in the viewpoint of Pedro’s understanding of marriage. In fact, it is the major source of conflict in the story of “woman hollering creek” as a result of adopting patriarchy (Phan, 34). Pedro adopted patriarchal rules where he was the head of the family and the final decision maker in the house, an issue that constantly broke out domestic violence in their marriage with Cleofilas. The domestic violence was as severe as explained by Cisneros, “when he came home and slapped her once, twice… until her cheek split and bled, she did not fight back, neither did she run away as she had earlier imagined.” She is again faced with the conflict of making a hard decision as to whether she should escape with her child to Mexico so that she takes care of her or she should remain in her marital home and continue to face the cruelty of her husband.

In conclusion, Cleofilas always saw herself as a woman who would have a destiny like the ones she used to view on the TV. She was however not given an imperfect storyline and she kept hoping things would change and turn out to be better. Cisneros has used epiphany, conflict, symbolism and setting to bring out the image of harsh realities that Cleofilas faced in “Woman Hollering Creek”.  The features bring out the real picture of the patriarch world unlike her expectations in life, which was part of her major conflicts.