“That there is also freedom in captivity, only a prisoner can claim.1” This is shown in the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig. In captivity, two men are able to explore their emotions and place in life far more than they ever could in freedom, and liberate themselves from the confines of their society. It tells the story of Molina, a homosexual window dresser, and Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, who share a prison cell, and gradually begin to share more. Their isolated abode accentuates their differences, but also leads them to a tenuous understanding.
As they sit in their small cell, Molina tells Valentin “the glittering and fragile stories that he loves.” At first, Valentin listens reluctantly, rejecting them as feminine and trite, and berating Molina for his lack of political interest, but he becomes enthralled by the stories, as well as drawn to Molina. They begin to form a friendship, and they become connected to one another in ways expected by neither. However, Molina has been recruited by the prison authorities in order to solicit information from Valentin concerning his movement, since he had not been co-operative during interrogation. Molina’s growing connection to his cellmate causes him to have regrets about his decision. In this passage, Molina has just returned from a meeting with the warden, who is anxious for results.
Molina talks to Valentin about the state of their relationship, and about his life outside of prison. He tells him that “their relationship isn’t pressured by anyone,2” and that they could make anything out of it that they want, since it is not bound by the rules of society. He also talks about how his life before he was arrested was spent waiting for a good relationship, but how he was stuck because although he considered himself a woman looking for a man, all true men were looking for true women.
This contradiction illustrates the confines of Molina’s life, as well as illuminating in greater detail his personality. He had been persecuted because of his sexuality, and truly accepted only by his mother, who “takes him for what he his, and loves (him) that way.3” Despite his feminine character and soul, society rejected him as a perversion. Even those who were similar, such as his friends, don’t trust each other “because of the way (they) are.” His fantasies about the waiter also end in disappoint and regret, since the man never leaves his wife. This contrasts with his relationship with Valentin. In prison, he finds to a certain extent what had been missing in his life before: a loved one.
Among the main themes of the novel are sexuality and gender identity. This is illustrated in the character of Molina, who serves as a representative of homosexuals in Latin America at the time.
One of the most interesting features of this passage, and of Kiss of the Spider Woman in general, is its narrative technique. There is no conventional third-person or first-person narrator, where the events are explained and than analyzed. Rather, the novel uses several different techniques to tell the story. The most common one is a dialogue between the protagonists, from which the reader must pierce together the story.
Neither of the characters is named, so they are identified by their manner of speaking. Molina’s speech resembles his behavior in that he takes on what are normally feminine characteristics. His sentences are long and flowing, and are marked by dashes, commas, and pauses. He also rambles, and elaborates on all his ideas. In the details of his descriptions, such as when he talks about appearances, the reader is lead to believe that a woman is speaking. During the story, we struggle at times to separate the masculinity of his exterior with the femininity of his soul. That he also struggles with this contradiction is also shown in this passage.
This passage also illustrates that the author is concerned with the technical side of fiction, and with its effect on the novel. The wide variety of techniques used, such as dialogue, footnotes, and internal monologue present an unconventional way of writing. These techniques are also central to the effect of the novel because they show the differences between the objective and the subjective, and between what is said and what it thought. They also help advance the themes of the novel. The footnotes on homosexuality, such as those on page 205, are dry and often misguided, presenting theories and than dismissing them. This contrasts with the emotional, passionate Molina. It is also a departure from the traditional role of footnotes, which is to provide factual information or further points of reference in support of the same conclusion. These footnotes present arguments on homosexuality that are refuted and rejected.
Kiss of the Spider Woman presents an innovative approach to writing, and can be read only for its interesting literary qualities. It also contains a pertinent commentary on Latin America, though, and many of the issues raised are still relevant today.