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Title:Body, voice, memory: Modern Latin American women's testimonios
Author(s):Hutchinson, Carolyn G.
Director of Research:Palencia-Roth, Michael; Goldman, Dara E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Palencia-Roth, Michael
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Goldman, Dara E.; Deck, Alice; Tosta, Antonio L.
Department / Program:Comparative & World Literature
Discipline:Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Testimonial Literature
Latin America
Domitila Barrios de Chungara
"Si me permiten hablar..."
"Let Me Speak!"
Lúcia Murat
Que bom te ver viva
How Nice to See You Alive
Julia Alvarez
In the Time of the Butterflies
Dominican Republic
Flora Tristan
Abstract:A testimonio narrates, in the first person, an event or series of events experienced or witnessed by a protagonist or narrator whose actions and perspectives tend to place him or her in opposition to the status quo ante. Given the protean nature of the circumstances that give rise to the testimonial voice describing and sometimes denouncing them, and given the varied forms of expression available to that voice, the testimonio should not be categorized as a genre. It is perhaps more useful to think of it as a mode of consciousness, as a cultural form that responds to those circumstances. This dissertation concentrates on three modern female testimonios from Latin America, each one distinctive and even paradigmatic of its kind. Domitila Barrios de Chungara’s work, entitled “Si me permiten hablar…”: Testimonio de Domitila, una mujer de las minas de Bolivia (1977), gives voice to the tension between the individual and the collective as expressed through issues particularly experienced—sometimes painfully—by women: femininity, sexuality, motherhood, wifehood, and so on. Of the three examples explored in this dissertation, Barrios’ is the closest to the sense of testimonio as straightforward witnessing and therefore the most traditional in its rhetorical strategies. Lúcia Murat’s Que bom te ver viva (1989) is a cinematic exploration of women’s issues under and just after a dictatorship in Brazil—issues that resemble those faced by Barrios but also significantly differing from them. Focusing on eight former militants, it shows how long-lasting the scars left on female torture survivors can be. Murat’s filmic language is both documentary and creative in ways that relate it both to Domitila Barrios de Chungara and to Julia Alvarez. Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) casts testimonial consciousness as fiction. Her novel tells the story of the Mirabal sisters living under the repressive Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. Alvarez depends on such common women’s testimonial elements as sexuality and the place of women in a patriarchal society. In addition to including an interlocutor as a character and presenting the tension between the individual and the collective, Alvarez highlights the role of memory in a society dedicated to either revising it or erasing it. All of these testimonial elements and strategies are of course transformed by being subjected to the conventions of fiction itself. Finally, the parallels between twentieth-century testimonios and nineteenth-century essays suggest Latin American women’s proclivity for using personal narrative forms in times of national crisis in order to advance both their own political ideas and women’s rights at the same time. Twentieth-century testimonios, unlike the essays of the nineteenth century, however, helped to secure women’s place in the Latin American literary canon.
Issue Date:2011-01-14
Rights Information:© 2010 Carolyn Grace Hutchinson
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-01-14
Date Deposited:December 2

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