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Gender and representation : the writings of Puerto Rican authors in the late nineteenth century (1870-1900) Saldivia-Berglund, Marcela

Abstract

This dissertation examines literary strategies for the representation of gender and its intersections with class and race in selected writings by four Puerto Rican authors, namely, Alejandro Tapia, Salvador Brau, Manuel Zeno Gandia, and Ana Roque. It focuses on the period between the 1870s and 1890s—before the 1898 United States military occupation— because of the crucial socio-political and economic changes that marked the threshold of a distinct Hispanic Creole literary tradition. I propose an interdisciplinary approach that combines social history, cultural studies, social feminism, and literary theory to provide historical depth and enable contextualization of the material conditions in which late nineteenth-century writings were produced. Moreover, there is a lack of literary analyses that examine and compare the narratives of both men and women writers from the late nineteenth century against the backdrop of the island's social history. This research pays attention to the interplay among different kinds of writings at this particular moment in the history of Puerto Rico where a specific discursive formation took shape. Through close readings I demonstrate how these four authors employed literary strategies to represent their respective political and sexual agendas. Liberal men wrote proposals for the moral reform of women of all classes as they believed it was the best way to control reproduction, adultery, concubinage and interracial sex, thus guaranteeing the "whitening" of society and of the labour force. The discourses about moral reforms for women show the gender ideologies prevalent at the time that were inscribed in the national narratives. Tapia's cosmopolitanism and supernatural topics represent the fragmented identity of the colonized subject striving for representation in Spain, and the gender crisis of the late nineteenth century. Brau and Zeno Gandia portray the peasantry as a sick body that represents the social stagnation in which the colony was mired. Roque's fiction proclaims her political ideas regarding the role of women in the cultural nation and attacks extramarital affairs, interracial relations, and women's financial vulnerability. The analysis of gender representation and its interrelations with colonialism, patriarchy, class, and race offers innovative perspectives to interpret the past, and to better understand the dynamics of gender power relations that persist to the present day.

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