Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974)

Rosario Castellanos is one of the preeminent poets in twentieth-century Mexican literature and one of the most significant women writers of Latin America. She was a prolific writer who worked in all literary genres--poetry, short and long fiction, drama, and essays. She was also a professor of literature in Mexico, the United States, and Israel, and for many years she was a regular columnist for some of the most prominent newspapers in Mexico City. She also held several governmental positions. Among her many awards and honors are some of the most prestigious literary prizes in Mexican letters: the Premio Chiapas (Chiapas Prize) in 1958 for her first novel, Balún-Canán (Nine Stars, 1957; translated as The Nine Guardians, 1959); the Premio Xavier Villaurrutia (Xavier Villaurrutia Prize) in 1961 for Ciudad Real (Royal City, 1960; translated as City of Kings, 1993), her first collection of short stories; and the Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize) in 1962 for her second novel, Oficio de tinieblas (Twilight Services). The body of her work was recognized with the Premio Carlos Trouyet de Letras (Carlos Trouyet Literary Prize) in 1967 and the Premio Elías Sourasky de Letras (Elías Sourasky Literary Prize) in 1972.


Castellanos was born on 25 May 1925 in Mexico City. One year later her parents, Daniel and Adriana Figueroa de Castellanos, moved the family to their native state of Chiapas, where they lived on the family ranch on the Jataté River in the extreme south of the country. Later they moved to the town of Comitán, also in the southernmost region of the country, where Castellanos lived until the age of sixteen. Her formative years, therefore, were spent in the remote mountains and provincial towns of Chiapas, ancestral home of the Maya civilization. Her childhood environment was one of rigid distinctions and segregation on the basis of race, class, gender, and language. As ladinos, or Spanish-speaking people of European heritage, she and her family belonged to the privileged minority whose relative wealth and prestige were maintained by the exploited indigenous population. The native people worked the land and served as domestic help and childcare providers while living in dire poverty and primitive conditions in the tribal villages that have existed for centuries throughout the province.

Her earliest years were marked by solitude, not only because of the remote area in which her family lived but also because her parents never showed her much affection. Rather, they demonstrated a clear preference for her younger brother, the varón (male) of the family and their hope for the future; when he became ill and died suddenly, they were devastated. By all accounts this loss deepened their feelings of rejection toward their daughter. In her later years Castellanos acknowledged to Mexican novelist and journalist Elena Poniatowska that her parents had said that they could not bear the pain of having "the wrong child" die; thus, she spent her childhood feeling that her parents had wished for her death. As a result she struggled throughout her life with feelings of insecurity and a fear of inadequacy.

She also spent much of her youth with a native woman who was her nanny and with the other household workers. These relationships not only were warmer and more affectionate than those with her family but also were the source of her lifelong connection to indigenous cultures. Through the native people employed at her home she heard the stories, myths, and legends of the rich Mayan civilization as well as the Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages that are still spoken in southern Mexico. These experiences informed her literary work.

During the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) the widespread agrarian reforms promised as a result of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) finally occurred; in Chiapas the ladino landowners, including the Castellanos family, lost many of their properties and their privileges. In response to the situation Castellanos's parents moved the small family back to Mexico City, where, she told Ángel Flores in Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century (1992), they lived "on a par with the petty, very petty bourgeoisie." She was sixteen at the time. As she noted in various interviews in her later years, the change ended the racial and economic superiority that were absolute in Chiapas and forced her to find meaning and values of her own. It also brought her into the cultural and intellectual circles of the cosmopolitan capital city.

In Mexico City, Castellanos completed her secondary education and entered the prestigious Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National University, known generally as UNAM). Although she had been writing poetry since her early childhood, she followed her parents' recommendation that she pursue a practical course of study and enrolled in the school of law. In short order she recognized that the decision had been a mistake, and she transferred to the school of Filosofía y Letras (Philosophy and Letters, or Liberal Arts). Once again she found herself at odds with the academic structure, finding that studying about literature ran counter to her long-standing and more instinctive attraction to reading and especially to writing. She chose to major in philosophy while also involving herself with a group of other young Mexican and Central American writers who became known as the Generation of 1950. Members of the group, most of whom became famous writers and many of whom remained her lifelong friends, published their work in the journal América: Revista Antológica (America: Anthological Review). Some of the members of the Generation of 1950 are Mexican dramatist and novelist Emilio Carballido; Mexican novelist and playwright Luisa Josefina Hernández; poet Jaime Sabines, also from Chiapas; Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal; Guatemalan poets Otto-Raúl González and Carlos Illescas; and poet and teacher Dolores Castro, whom Castellanos had met in high school and who was one of her closest friends.

During this time of study and intellectual collaboration Castellanos's life was again changed profoundly when, early in 1948, both of her parents died within a period of several weeks. The loss produced a religious crisis and a period of psychoanalysis, but she recognized that it also liberated her from the tangled web of family relationships and provided her the freedom to pursue the literary career she had come to recognize as her true vocation. Several months later, in September of 1948, she published her first book, Trayectoria del polvo (Trajectory of Dust). As the title suggests, this long poem was a response to her parents' deaths and, more generally, a meditation on the reality of death. She acknowledged in later interviews that the work had been influenced by her reading of Muerte sin fin (Death without End, 1939), by the renowned Mexican poet José Gorostiza.

In the last sections of Castellanos's poem--parts eight, nine, and ten--the poetic voice speaks directly to parents and gives them advice. Referring to "Poesía" (Poetry) rather than to any particular person, the instructions include: "Permitid que florezca" (Permit it to flourish) and "Dejadla que respire" (Allow it to breathe). Clearly, the verses can be read as a personal statement as well as a meditation on art and creativity. Also in 1948 Castellanos published Apuntes para una declaración de fe (Notes for a Declaration of Faith), another long poem characterized by abstraction and rhetoric, in América: Revista Antológica. She considered this poem and Trayectoria del polvo to be flawed, and critical judgment was harsh. The second poem, as the title suggests, refers to the search for spiritual meaning that often characterizes the transition from youth to adulthood; in Castellanos's case the religious crisis was made more acute by her personal contact with death, the losses of her young brother and parents. The poem is also a critical commentary on modern life and an homage to Latin America. As the final verses indicate, there is the possibility of change in spite of the legacy of colonialism: "en este continente que agoniza / bien podemos plantar una esperanza" (on this continent in the throes of death / we may well plant a hope).

In 1950 De la vigilia estéril (Of the Sterile Vigil) was published in América; this volume reveals more concrete imagery and less reliance on rhetorical devices, signaling a major change in Castellanos's poetry. Death and metaphysical preoccupation remain predominant themes, but there are also love poems with an emphasis on the physical aspect of intimacy. In 1950 she also received her master's degree in philosophy, and her thesis, Sobre cultura femenina (Regarding Feminine Culture), was published that year in the same journal. This first theoretical work was subsequently judged to be the starting point of the feminist movement in Mexico in the late twentieth century; in it Castellanos argues that the lack of participation by women in cultural activity results from the domination of male attitudes and values that are incompatible with women's life experiences. With the ironic humor that came to be a dominant note in her later work, she declares that there is, therefore, no such thing as feminine culture, and she concludes that a redefinition of the entire concept of culture is required.

Having completed her studies and begun her literary career, Castellanos decided that she needed more than anything to travel. In 1950 she accepted a grant from the Instituto de Cultura Hispánica (Institute of Hispanic Culture) to attend a graduate course on aesthetics at the University of Madrid. She spent a little more than a year in Europe, studying in Spain and traveling in various other countries, accompanied by her lifelong friend Castro. When she returned to Mexico at the end of 1951, she went almost immediately to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the modern capital of the state of Chiapas, where she had been appointed to serve as liaison for cultural activities at the Instituto de Ciencias y Artes (Institute of Science and Art). In that capacity she arranged lectures, organized a motion-picture series, taught classes in Latin American literature, and worked to improve the library. She also became ill with tuberculosis. When the disease was no longer contagious, she was allowed to return to Mexico City, but she remained convalescent for a full year, during which time she read extensively and continued to write.

A collection of her poems, El rescate del mundo (The Ransom of the World), was published in 1952; these are short, spare poems that continue Castellanos's move away from the abstraction of her earliest works. The poems of this collection reflect her experiences in Chiapas; many are descriptive tributes to indigenous women and their work, such as "Lavanderas del Grijalva" (Washerwomen of the Grijalva [River]), "Tejedoras de Zinacanta" (Weavers of Zinacantán [a native village in the highlands]), and "A la mujer que vende frutas en la plaza" (To the Woman Who Sells Fruit in the Plaza). In each case the poetic voice addresses the woman/women of the poem, using the familiar personal pronoun tú. While centuries of racist tradition in Chiapas mandate the use of the familiar address to native people, who must in turn use the formal pronoun usted in addressing ladinos, the poems suggest friendship and solidarity rather than superiority. Indeed, the poetic voice addresses the woman selling fruit as "amiga" (friend), and each of the poems demonstrates respect for the women and their accomplishments. At the same time, however, there is a clear sense of separation or of distance between the speaking voice and the women spoken of or spoken to, and in many cases the poems end with a focus on the speaker. The poetic voice, for example, asks the women washing clothes in the river: "halladme un río hermoso / para lavar mis días" (find me a beautiful river / to wash my days). She makes a similar request of the weavers: "Tejedoras, mostradme / mi destino" (Weavers, show me / my destiny). Other poems in the collection concern Maya culture, such as "Silencio cerca de una piedra antigua" (Silence near an Ancient Stone), which refers to one of the many archaeological remains from pre-Columbian times, and "El tejoncito maya" (The Little Maya Badger), written about a small stone statue in the Archaeological Museum in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

In 1953 Castellanos applied for and won a grant from the Centro Mexicano de Escritores (Mexican Writers' Center) to continue writing poetry and to conduct research on the contribution of women to the cultural process in Mexico. The long poem Eclipse total (Total Eclipse)--which was published as a special monograph in 1991, many years after her death, on the occasion of a total solar eclipse that drew hundreds of spectators to Mexico--and "Testimonios" (Testimonies), a collection of poems eventually published as part of Poesía no eres tú: obra poética, 1948-1971 (1972; translated as The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos, 1988), were completed during that time. These poems also are both personal and collective, and they continue the themes of her earlier works. One of the poems from Testimonios, however, signals a move in a completely new direction, one that she continued to develop in her later works. The poem is "Lamentación de Dido" (Dido's Lament), in which she recasts the story of Dido and rescues her from mythology by presenting the woman's perspective. Significantly, Castellanos gives Dido the role of speaker, allowing her to tell her story in the first person. She acknowledges: "yo amé a aquel Eneas, a aquel hombre de promesa jurada ante otros dioses" (I loved that Aeneas, that man of the promise sworn before other gods). His abandonment of her causes terrible suffering and compels her to commit suicide, but in the final verses of the poem she recognizes her fate and, thus, comes to terms with it; she states: "Ah, sería preferible morir. Pero yo sé que para mí no hay muerte. / Porque el dolor--¿y qué otra cosa soy más que dolor?--me ha hecho eterna" (Ah, it would be preferable to die. But I know that for me there is no death. / Because pain--and what else am I but pain?--has made me eternal). Mexican poet and novelist José Emilio Pacheco, one of Castellanos's friends, wrote in his prologue to her 1974 volume, El uso de la palabra (The Use of the Word), that "Lamentación de Dido" is "uno de nuestros grandes poemas" (one of our great poems).

A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for the years 1954-1955 allowed Castellanos to begin work on her first novel, Balún-Canán. The title means "nine stars" in the native language of the region and refers to the name the original Maya settlers gave to the area that became the town of Comitán. Although she completed the writing in less than a year, the novel was not published until 1957. Drawing on her childhood experience in Chiapas, Castellanos created a fictional world of ancient native traditions and beliefs juxtaposed against the dominant system of racist exploitation, presented from the point of view of one of the narrators, a ladina girl. She acknowledged in later interviews that the process of writing about her early years in Chiapas was a revealing encounter with her past and led to a new social and political consciousness. She told Emmanuel Carballo that after so many years in Mexico City she was surprised to find that "La gente que en mis escritos pugnaba por salir era la de Chiapas" (The people who struggled to come out in my writing were those of Chiapas). The novel was an immediate critical success, and it was recognized with the Chiapas Prize in 1958.

The writing of Balún-Canán compelled Castellanos to consider "the indigenous problem" as well as her position of privilege on the basis of race, class, and language; she told Flores, "Suddenly those matters demanded not only my intellectual attention but also a certain moral attitude. So I decided to return to Chiapas and see how I could be of use to the Instituto Nacional Indigenista [INI], which had established a Coordinating Center in San Cristóbal." She spent two years, 1956 and 1957, as director of a program of the INI, Teatro Petul, a puppet theater that traveled to the native villages throughout the region, presenting plays based on the history and the contemporary concerns and problems of the area. The purpose of the theater was practical as well as didactic, as the intention was to raise important issues in order to effect meaningful change. Castellanos not only coordinated the productions and the travel arrangements but also wrote various plays the troupe performed, among them "an interpretation of the Constitution so that the Indians would know their rights."

These two years of direct involvement with the native peoples of her homeland, doing work that was pragmatic as well as artistic, were, she later acknowledged to Poniatowska, "una de las experiencias más importantes de mi vida" (one of the most important experiences of my life). In addition to her work with the theater group, she taught Latin American literature and philosophy of law in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the largest city and the center of economic, political, and cultural life in the Chiapas highlands.

Soon after her return to Mexico City, in January of 1958, Castellanos married Ricardo Guerra, a professor of philosophy; she was thirty-two years old at the time. There are many accounts, in interviews and letters and in her literary work, of the difficult, troubled marriage. Although she waited until an advanced age to marry and was by that time a successful, established professional, the weight of tradition and the expectations for wives in a rigidly patriarchal society proved to be more than she could bear. She suffered two miscarriages during the early years of the marriage and finally, in 1961, gave birth to a healthy son, Gabriel Guerra Castellanos. Although the marriage ultimately ended in divorce, the attainment of the social status of señora (a married woman) was an important achievement for her, and her son provided the meaning, love, and alleviation of loneliness that she had yearned to find.

Castellanos continued to work with the INI for three years while living in Mexico City following her marriage, writing didactic texts as she had done with the Teatro Petul. In 1962 she was named director of public relations at UNAM, where she also was a professor in the department of comparative literature. In spite of the changes and the difficulties in her personal life, this period was also one of great literary accomplishment. Castellanos published a collection of poems, Al pie de la letra (Literally), in 1959. These poems are, she commented to Carballo, "reminiscencias prosísticas" (reminiscences in poetic prose), as they address the memories of her childhood that her years of working in Chiapas had provoked. One of the poems is titled "El otro" (The Other), and it signals her growing preoccupation with other people, particularly those of different ethnic or social groups, and with the often problematic relations between men and women. The poetic voice urges: "Nunca digas que es tuya la tiniebla, / no te bebas de un sorbo la alegría. / Mira a tu alrededor: Hay otro, siempre hay otro" (Never say that darkness is yours, / do not drink in your happiness in one gulp. / Look around you: There is the other, there is always the other). In another poem, "Monólogo de la extranjera" (Monologue of the Foreign Woman), Castellanos directly addresses the issue of the subjugation of the Maya people and her early memories of the racial division of Chiapas. Speaking from the perspective of an older woman who has returned to her homeland, the poetic voice exclaims: "Ay, de niña dormía bajo el arrullo ronco / de una paloma negra: una raza vencida" (Ay, as a young girl I used to sleep to the hoarse lullaby / of a black dove: a conquered race). Critic Eliana Rivero comments that "los recuerdos de niñez a que se remite el hablante no hacen sino establecer la similaridad entre los dos espacios y las dos dimensiones temporales" (the childhood memories to which the speaker refers do nothing less than establish the similarity between the two spaces and the two temporal dimensions). That is, the poem clearly indicates that the situation of the native population of Chiapas remained exactly the same in the late 1950s as Castellanos remembered it during her childhood, the passage of some thirty years and remarkable changes in much of the rest of the world notwithstanding. Castellanos develops this same argument in several of her later essays.

In the same year, 1959, she published together the long dramatic poems Salomé and Judith that, like the earlier "Lamentación de Dido," retell the stories of famous women of the ancient world--in this case the Old Testament rather than Greek mythology--from the perspectives of the women. In 1960 the collection Lívida luz (Livid Light) was published. The dedication of the book is "A la memoria de mi hija" (To the memory of my daughter); the poems are Castellanos's endeavor to come to terms with the loss of her second unborn child. She told Carballo that she had written the poems "in a fevered state" and that she had deliberately sought to render them in a "cold" tone. Critic Mary Seale Vásquez comments that these poems "mark an evolution in the direction of engagement with the human community, their deeply-felt humanity contrasting with the deliberate coldness of tone." The epigraph that gives the collection its title also suggests this collective consciousness; it is a quotation from the work of French writer and activist Simone Weil, whose search for spiritual meaning and commitment to social justice were among the most important influences on Castellanos's developing thought. The epigraph reads: "El amor no es consuelo. Es luz" (Love is not consolation. It is light).

Also in 1960 Castellanos published her first collection of short stories, Ciudad Real. The name is one of the former names of San Cristóbal de las Casas and refers to its time as capital of the Chiapas state, before the federal government decided to move the capital to the lowland city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which was considered more accessible. The ten stories of the collection offer a literary summary of the history and the twentieth-century reality of the highlands of Chiapas, highlighting both the grandeur of the ancient Maya civilization and the destructive impact of centuries of colonial oppression, racism, and violence. The book was awarded the Premio Xavier Villaurrutia in 1961.

During this same period, beginning in 1960, Castellanos wrote weekly essays for several newspapers and periodicals in Mexico City, a practice that she continued until her death. She began to collect and publish the pieces in monographic editions in the mid 1960s, and there are four such collections. The essays address her deepening and evolving concern with questions of race, gender, and injustice as well as her consideration of women's cultural production, the topic she first addressed in her master's thesis. The earliest of these articles, those published in the collections Juicios sumarios (Summary Judgments) in 1966 and El uso de la palabra in 1974, detail her concern with the condition of native communities in Mexico. Her years of living and working in Chiapas provided firsthand insight into the economic, social, and political marginalization of indigenous peoples, which she had also begun to address in her poetry. In her further reflections on these conditions she came to understand the importance of linguistic oppression as well. These concerns are evident in the essays "El idioma en San Cristóbal de las Casas" (Language in San Cristóbal de las Casas) from Juicios sumarios and "Teoría y práctica del indigenismo" (Theory and Practice of Indigenism), "Discriminación en los Estados Unidos y en Chiapas" (Discrimination in the United States and in Chiapas), and "El padre las Casas y la agonía del indio" (Father las Casas and the Agony of the Indian) from El uso de la palabra. Also in 1960 she wrote the prologue to Susana Francis's study of San Cristóbal, Habla y literatura popular en la antigua capital chiapaneca (Speech and Popular Literature in the Former Capital of Chiapas). Thus, there is a clear connection between her concern with social and political issues and her literary work. Her many essays, most of which have not been translated, offer insights into the fiction and poetry of what Joseph Sommers calls her "Chiapas Cycle" as well as her later writings that take women's issues as their primary concern.

In 1962 Castellanos published her second novel, Oficio de tinieblas, which continues her preoccupation with the problems of interethnic relations in Chiapas. The novel is a fictional account of an actual revolt by the native community in Chamula, and it was highly praised by critics. It won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz literary prize, one of the most prestigious awards in Mexican letters. In 1964 she published her second collection of short stories, Los convidados de agosto (Guests in August). This collection of four stories is set in the town of Comitán, where Castellanos spent her childhood, and the central concern is the situation of women in the provincial world of Chiapas. These stories highlight the connection she perceived between oppression based on gender and that based on race. With this volume she concludes her "Chiapas Cycle." Throughout this period, beginning in 1962, Castellanos worked and taught at UNAM in Mexico City. In 1966 she resigned from the university in protest and in solidarity with the rector, or president, who she felt had been treated unfairly. In 1967 she was visiting professor of Latin American literature at the universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Colorado.

Another book of poetry, Materia memorable (Memorable Matter), was published in 1969. These poems continue the preoccupation with issues of social justice that was evident in the poetry of Lívida luz and in her two novels and two collections of short stories. The poems of Materia memorable, notes Seale Vásquez, are "rendered often in the very personal terms of the self and 'el otro' (the other), the loved fellow human, tú. Between the two lies, in some of the poems, the impossible barrier, while in others they form together a promise of continuity." In the poem "Toma de conciencia" (Consciousness), for example, the poetic speaker, a modern woman, is reading the morning newspaper while drinking coffee when she happens upon a photograph of a Vietnamese man in a rice paddy, crouching and shivering from cold and in terror "de un enemigo que también se esconde / y que también tirita" (of an enemy who also hides / and who also shivers). The poem reveals Castellanos's understanding of the inexorable connection between victimizer and victimized, a topic she also addressed in various essays. Further, the poem indicates her comprehension of her own connection to the larger human circle: "y yo, que no los veo, / estamos juntos, somos uno solo / y en nosotros respira el universo" (and I, who cannot see them, / we come together, we are one being / and in us the universe breathes). There are also various poems that are tributes to women, personal friends and family members; one, "Metamorphosis de la hechicera" (The Sorceress's Metamorphosis), is an homage to the Surrealist painter Remedios Varo, who lived and worked in Mexico, although she was born in Spain, and in whose work women are often central figures. There are also poems that treat the familiar themes of love, loneliness, and death.

Castellanos published her third collection of short stories in 1971. Unlike her previous stories, Álbum de familia (Family Album) is set in Mexico City. The four stories have female protagonists, all of whom are comfortable, middle-class women; those of the title story are successful professionals, one an acclaimed writer. Yet, these women, too, are plagued with self-doubt and loneliness. Castellanos continues her questioning of women's roles and places in society and her criticism of oppression, but these stories also highlight her humor and wit. Although her thought developed greatly over the years, these stories from 1971 connect directly to her master's thesis, in which she argued that women's participation in cultural production is made difficult if not impossible by the masculine values that dominate the literary and artistic world.

Also in 1971, Castellanos received one of the greatest honors of her career when she was named Mexican ambassador to Israel. She and her son, Gabriel, lived in Tel Aviv, and she also taught Latin American literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During this time she continued to contribute articles to newspapers in Mexico City, and she published an anthology of her poetry. The most complete and most acclaimed collection of her poems, Poesía no eres tú , appeared in 1972. In addition to previously published works, the anthology includes many poems written after 1969, which are those Castellanos considered to be her most mature poetry. The title is a reference to a well-known poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the most notable Romantic poet of Spain. In Bécquer's poem the speaker addresses his beloved, answering the question "What is poetry?" with the famous line "Poesía, eres tú" (You are poetry). Castellanos's title poem, a short fifteen lines, is more than a witty reference to the poetic canon and a subversion of the traditional male poetic voice. Indeed, it can be seen as the synthesis of her years of literary and social development with its emphasis on the connection between self and other, between the personal and the collective, as the final lines indicate: "El otro. Con el otro / la humanidad, el diálogo, la poesía, comienzan" (The other. With the other / humanity, dialogue, poetry, begin). The anthology also includes her translations of works by poets who were particularly important to her own development as a writer of verse: Emily Dickinson, Paul Claudel, and Saint-John Perse.

During this time she also wrote a series of essays about women writers and women's issues that was published in 1973 with the title Mujer que sabe latín . . . (A Woman Who Knows Latin . . .). The title refers to a popular saying: "Mujer que sabe latín, ni tiene marido ni buen fin" (A woman who knows Latin will find neither a husband nor a happy ending). The implication is that women need not, indeed should not, know too much; rather, they should be happy to be subservient helpmates to their husbands. Drawing on her reading of such writers as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Weil, Castellanos argues convincingly for women's intellectual and cultural importance.

In 1974, at the age of forty-nine, Castellanos had achieved success as a writer and confidence in the value of her literary production. Although her difficult marriage had ended in divorce, she was devoted to her son and happy with their life together. She was internationally recognized for her literary and cultural contributions, and she was highly regarded for her diplomatic work in her position as ambassador. She had close friends in Israel, maintained her important relationships with many friends and colleagues in Mexico, wrote prolifically, and continued her teaching. By all accounts, her three years in Israel were among the happiest and most fulfilling of her life, but on 7 August 1974 she was accidentally electrocuted in her home in Tel Aviv. Her body was returned to Mexico City, where it lay in state at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) as memorial observances were held. Other commemorations took place in Chiapas, Israel, the United States, various countries in Europe and Central America, and Chile. She was buried in the Rotunda de Hombres Ilustres (Rotunda of Illustrious Men), one of only two women to be accorded this honor.

Shortly after her death her friend Pacheco wrote the prologue to El uso de la palabra. Another collection of essays that were written during her time in Israel appeared in 1975 with the title El mar y sus pescaditos (The Sea and Its Little Fish). These are critical reviews of the work of other twentieth-century writers. Her play El eterno femenino: Farsa (The Eternal Feminine: A Farce) was also published posthumously in 1975; it is a satire in which she addresses the myths and stereotypes that have defined famous Mexican women and, therefore, Mexican women in general. The setting of the play is a beauty parlor in Mexico City where the women appear and retell their own stories. Among them are Doña Marina, known generally and pejoratively as La Malinche, the native woman who translated for Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, and bore his child; and poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the nun who is regarded as the greatest literary figure of the colonial period in Latin America. The play was subsequently performed in Mexico City for a short run in 1976; critic Maureen Ahern proclaims it "one of the most radical plays ever staged in Mexico."

Another anthology of her poetry was published in 1985. The collection Meditación en el umbral: Antología poética (Meditation on the Threshold: Anthology of Poetry) was compiled by Julian Palley and includes his critical commentary as well as a foreword by Castellanos's friend Poniatowska. Castellanos's complete works were edited by Eduardo Mejía and published in two volumes, titled Obras, in 1989. A collection of her letters to her husband, Cartas a Ricardo, was published in 1994, and other works that she had written but never published have also appeared: Rito de iniciación (Rite of Initiation), a novel she had written in 1964, was published in 1997; and the story "Tres nudos en la red" (Three Knots in the Net) was translated by Ahern and included in her collection A Rosario Castellanos Reader: An Anthology of Her Poetry, Short Fiction, Essays, and Drama, published in 1988.

In the 1980s there was a tremendous interest in Rosario Castellanos's work, and many studies, collections, and translations appeared. Interest in her writing remains strong, and new critical studies were published through the 1990s and into the early years of the twenty-first century. A good portion of her work remains to be translated, and her essays have received relatively little critical attention. The vast body of her literary work continues to be a rich source of study for its artistic quality as well as its contribution to feminist theory and cultural studies.


From: Clark, Barbara. "Rosario Castellanos." Modern Spanish American PoetsSecond Series, edited by Maria Antonia Salgado, Gale, 2004. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 290.


  • Further Reading
    • Cartas a Ricardo, edited by Juan Antonio Ascencio (Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994; revised and augmented, 1996)--letters to Ricardo Guerra.
    • Luis Adolfo Domínguez, "Entrevista con Rosario Castellanos," Revista de Bellas Artes (January-February 1969): 16-23.
    • Augustín Antonio Albarracín, "Imagen del 'México Nuevo' en la Colina de la Primavera," Universal (17 September 1971): 16.
    • Günter W. Lorenz, "Rosario Castellanos," in his Diálogo con Latinoamérica (Santiago, Chile: Pomaire, 1972), pp. 187-211.
    • Dolores Cárdenas, "Rosario Castellanos: La mujer mexicana, cómplice de su verdugo," Revista de Revistas, 22 (November 1972): 24-27.
    • Margarita García Flores, "Rosario Castellanos: La lucidez como forma de vida," Onda, supplement to Novedades (18 August 1974): 6-7.
    • Mary Lou Dabdoub, "Ultima charla con Rosario Castellanos," Revista de Revistas, 119 (September 1974): 44-46.
    • Oscar Bonifaz, Rosario (Mexico City: Presencia Latinoamericana, 1984).
    • Marjorie Agosin, "Rosario Castellanos ante el espejo," Cuadernos Americanos, 43 (March-April 1984): 219-226.
    • Maureen Ahern and Mary Sealy Vásquez, eds., Homenaje a Rosario Castellanos (Valencia, Spain: Albatros Hispanofilia, 1980).
    • Helene M. Anderson, "Rosario Castellanos and the Structures of Power," in Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America, edited by Doris Meyer and Margarite Fernández Olmos (Brooklyn: Brooklyn College Press, 1983), pp. 22-32.
    • Mario Benedetti, "Rosario Castellanos y la incomunicación racial," in his Letras del continente mestizo (Montevideo: Arca, 1967), pp. 130-135.
    • Julieta Campos, "La novela mexicana después de 1940," in her La imagen en el espejo (Mexico City: UNAM, 1965), pp. 141-157.
    • Emmanuel Carballo, "Rosario Castellanos: La historia de sus libros contada por ella misma," in his Diecinueve protagonistas de la literatura mexicana del siglo XX (Mexico City: Empresas, 1965), pp. 411-422.
    • Laura Lee Crumley de Pérez, "Balún-Canán y la construcción narrativa de una cosmovisión indígena," Revista Iberoamericana, 50 (April-June 1984): 491-503.
    • Frances R. Dorward, "The Function of Interiorization in Oficio de tinieblas," Neophilologus, 69 (July 1985): 374-385.
    • Rosa María Fiscal, "Identidad y lenguaje en los personajes femeninos de Rosario Castellanos," Chasqui, 14 (1985): 25-35.
    • Fiscal, La imagen de la mujer en la narrativa de Rosario Castellanos (Mexico City: UNAM, 1980).
    • María Estela Franco, Rosario Castellanos: Semblanza psicoanalítica; Otra forma de ser humano y libre (Mexico City: Plaza & Janes, 1984).
    • Donald H. Frischmann, "El sistema patriarcal y las relaciones heterosexuales en Balún-Canán, de Rosario Castellanos," Revista Iberoamericana, 51 (July-December 1985): 665-678.
    • Alfonso González, "Lenguaje y protesta en Oficio de tinieblas," Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, 9 (October 1975): 441-450.
    • Naomi Lindstrom, "Women's Expression and Narrative Technique in Rosario Castellanos's In Darkness," Modern Language Studies, 13 (Summer 1983): 71-80.
    • Almudena Mejías Alonso, "La narrativa de Rosario Castellanos y el indigenismo," Cuadernos Americanos, 44 (May-June 1985): 204-217.
    • Beth Miller, "Female Characterization and Contexts in Rosario Castellanos' Album de familia," American Hispanist, 32-33 (January-February 1979): 26-30.
    • Miller, "El feminismo mexicano de Rosario Castellanos," in her Mujeres en la literatura (Mexico City: Fleischer, 1978), pp. 9-19; and "Personajes y personas: Castellanos, Fuentes, Poniatowska y Sainz," pp. 65-75.
    • Miller, "Historia y ficción en Oficio de tinieblas," Texto Crítico, 10 (January-April 1984): 131-142.
    • Miller, "Rosario Castellanos' Guests in August: Critical Realism and the Provincial Middle Class," Latin American Literary Review, 7 (1979): 5-19.
    • Willy O. Muñoz, "Los convidados de agosto: Acercamiento a un texto posible," Letras Femeninas, 16 (1990): 51-58.
    • Muñoz, "Enmarcando la locura en Los convidados de agosto," Hispanófila, 101 (January 1991): 77-86.
    • Elena Poniatowska, "Rosario Castellanos: Rostro que ríe, rostro que llora," Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, 14 (1990): 495-509.
    • Poniatowska, "Rosario Castellanos: !Vida, nada te debo!," in her !Ay vida, no me mereces! Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos, Juan Rulfo: La literatura de la onda (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1985), pp. 43-132.
    • Marta Portal, "Oficio de tinieblas," in her Proceso narrativo de la revolución mexicana (Madrid: Cultura Hispánica, 1977), pp. 212-221.
    • Phyllis Rodriguez-Peralta, "Images of Women in Rosario Castellanos' Prose," Latin American Literary Review, 6 (Fall-Winter 1977): 68-80.
    • A Rosario Castellanos: Sus amigos (Mexico City: Año Internacional de la Mujer, 1975).
    • Stacey Schlau, "Conformity and Resistance to Enclosure: Female Voices in Rosario Castellanos' Oficio de tinieblas (The Dark Service)," Latin American Literary Review, 12 (Spring-Summer 1984): 45-57.
    • Perla Schwartz, Rosario Castellanos: Mujer que supo latín... (Mexico City: Katún, 1984).
    • Nina Scott, "Rosario Castellanos: Demythification Through Laughter," Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 2 (1989): 19-30.
    • Joseph Sommers, "Changing View of the Indian in Mexican Literature," Hispania, 47 (March 1964): 47-55.
    • Sommers, "El ciclo de Chiapas: Nueva corriente literaria," Cuadernos Americanos, 23 (March-April 1964): 246-261.
    • Sommers, "Forma e ideologia en Oficio de tinieblas de Rosario Castellanos," Revista de Crítica Latinoamericana, 4, nos. 7-8 (1978): 73-91.
    • Sommers, "The Indian-Oriented Novel in Latin America: New Spirit, New Forms, New Scope," Journal of Inter-American Studies, 6 (April 1964): 249-265.
    • Sommers, "Rosario Castellanos: Nuevo enfoque del indio mexicano," La Palabra y el Hombre, 29 (1964): 83-88.