Can Estrella Speak? The Voice of the Subaltern

By Adam Long.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper looks at the use of language in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus, combining the tools of Lacanian and postcolonial criticism. After briefly discussing the problems with using a Western master narrative (such as psychoanalytic criticism) to interpret a text that seeks to speak for the subaltern, the sessin will focus on the way that Estrella is brought into the symbolic order. This is complicated by constructions of ethnicity. Though Estrella seems to have been acculturated into the symbolic order, her status as subaltern prevents her from speaking in any meaningful way. The only way that she can communicate is through violence. There are two problems with this. First, it is hardly communication. Though Estrella gets her money back, it is difficult to imagine that she has fully communicated her situation to the nurse. Second, this communication is distinctly outside of the symbolic order. When Estralla’s symbols fail her, she is forced to use violence. The problem, it seems, is that the symbolic order is distinctly Anglo.

This paper explores how the limitations of the subaltern’s use of the symbolic order affect not only critical interpretations of texts but also the practical lives of the subaltern. After all, Lacan seems to suggest that an inability to enter the symbolic order leads to (at least metaphorical, but sometimes actual) madness and death. This is one of the points that Viramontes is trying to make. Ultimately, Viramontes suggests a (tentative) solution to this problem, allowing Estrella to enter the symbolic order through symbols other than language.

Keywords: Lacan, Spivak, Viramontes, Subaltern

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 8, pp.153-162. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 612.046KB).

Adam Long

Graduate Student, American Literature Department, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA

Adam Long is a PhD candidate in American literature at the University of Kansas. He holds an MA from the University of Arkansas and a BA from Lyon College. He is the former assistant editor of the Philological Review.

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