By Zelda Elizondo
Using James Lawson’s theory of chronotope and Robyn Warhol’s Feminist Perspective, Caballero, by Jovita Gonzalez, was told in a heteroglot and polyphonic manner (Lawson 386). As a result of this it caused a centrifugal world where everyone had their own differing thoughts, ideas, dreams, and goals at a crucial time in Texas history – The Treaty of Hidalgo. In this destabilizing, chaotic chronotope multiple female characters were trying to reconcile their norm with the “new norm” that their lives in Texas would become. Even the female author had trouble publishing the novel due to the political, racial and sexist tensions in Texas. Warhol’s feminist perspective, and Lawson’s chronotope function as a catalyst in Caballero for both Jovita Gonzalez and her female character’s lives.
Susanita, Don Santiago’s youngest daughter, was caught in the web of the Spanish Patriarchy just as her mother before her; therefore, sentencing Susanita to follow its rules and protocols. Gonzalez showed how women were supposed to obey the men’s whims, and a woman’s job was only to be ‘an obedient, dutiful wife” (Gonzalez 26). Susanita was at a distinct disadvantage because she was not white or masculine. Despite the fact that she was Hidalgo upper-class, she wasn’t “white” upper- class (Warhol 9). Her only option was to follow the Spanish Patriarchy. At this point in history, money, position and the female gender didn’t matter if you were the wrong color and race. As a result, Spanish women had no alternative but to stay under the harsh protection of their Hidalgo men. This forced women to be pious, pure and submissive in order to be deemed worthy of a good husband (Larson). Women were held to a much higher standard, and to help them facilitate that expectation they were kept in a gilded cage that was closely scrutinized by a harsh male warden/society. In this regard, Gonzalez did what she was supposed to do. Gonzalez showed the “public life, professions, and power [of] men and [relegation of] women to domesticity, marriage, and submission” (Warhol 11). Gonzalez, using feminist narrative theory, exposed the Spanish Patriarchy “that might [have been] invisible in the mainstream canon” to an audience that potentially was not aware that it existed, or to the extremes it went to (Warhol 9).
Lawson cites Bakhtin when he discusses “the flux in Becoming” (Lawson 388). Susanita, the favorite daughter and one of the protagonists of the novel, was trying to become the best daughter for her father, Don Santiago, during a time of great upheaval (The Treaty of Hidalgo). From a feminist perspective, there were not many things that Susanita could do but to obey her father even though it went against her desires. This destabilization was the fabula of her story and caused the chaos in her life. She was pulled in two directions: following and upholding the Spanish Patriarchy or doing what she felt was right. She rode alone with a peon to save her brother’s life and was subsequently ruined by the rules of the Spanish Patriarchy she tried so hard to follow. In her world, custom made rumors into law and society would believe the worst about her before even considering the truth (Gonzalez 280). The chronotope and destabilization allowed for only one outcome. Only when Susanita was banished from her home and family was she able to embrace the centripetal part of her life – going against her culture and marrying an American man that she loved (Gonzalez 290). In this case, the chronotope caused a good change and ultimate stabilization for Susanita while inadvertently giving her a voice.
However, love was a concept that Susanita’s mother, Doña Petronilla, could not afford. In the centrifugal chaos that was Texas in 1845, Doña Petronilla was perhaps the most stabilized in terms of this chronotope, but it was only because she had been preconditioned to the Spanish Patriarchy passed down from previous generations. Doña Petronilla “shrunk under the lash of [Don Santiago’s] words. Such was the law according to her mother’s teachings and example” (Gonzalez 26). Doña Petronilla’s destabilization came about because her husband, Don Santiago, used the unyielding Spanish Patriarchy to punish her children. He caused Luis Gonzaba, their son, to run away. He let Alvaro, their oldest son, do what he wanted; ultimately, Alvaro’s behavior led to his murder in front of his father. He banished their youngest daughter against Doña Petronilla’s wishes. All this happened without Doña Petronilla’s consent. Going against her submissive upbringing, Doña Petronilla created what Lawson called a threshold chronotope for Susanita by telling her to go against the patriarchal protocol and to go find her “Roberto” (Gonzalez 285). “Through this, Doña Petronilla fought the patriarchy and was able to find her centripetal state despite her upbringing.
Even though the novel is centered on Don Santiago, Gonzalez’ utilization of feminist theory narration brought the unfair treatment of women to the forefront in the Spanish Patriarchy. Gonzales masterfully took a historical event and paired it with a probable feminist narrative to create the chronotopic bridge between “the real-world space-time and the literary form of texts” (Lawson 389).
In an ironic twist, Gonzalez’ life had a definite parallel to her novel. The chronotope in her life caused a destabilization for many of the same reasons as her characters. She was given a Rockefeller Grant to write about Texas history (Gonzalez XVIII). Instead of reaping its benefits, Gonzalez’ life was thrown into a centrifugal nexus where her book would not be published because she was a Mexican, a woman, and the state of Texas did not want to acknowledge what she had to say. Everything about Gonzalez was being suppressed: the historical sexist fiction she was writing was mirroring Gonzalez’ life. “Gonzalez wrote Caballero during a period when people of Mexican descent were once again viewed as homogenous and outside citizenship” (McMahon 233). Gonzalez wrote her story to show that “patriarchal privilege causes social harm”, but without an audience it became a moot point (Manriquez 173). Nearly a hundred years had passed since the Treaty of Hidalgo was signed when Gonzalez started writing the novel and nothing had changed. One hundred years later the unfairness she was trying to expose was the same patriarchal privilege that was causing her harm. So much harm that the novel wasn’t published until fifteen years after Gonzalez’ death. By bringing attention to racism, sexism, and class in a politically charged historical novel, Gonzalez put the public eye on feminist issues even if the spotlight wasn’t turned on until 1998 when the novel was finally published. Ironically, Gonzalez personally experienced suppression, gender discrimination, and sexism just like the women in her novel, creating a link between “real world space-time” and life. (Lawson 389).
The chronotope of Caballero had a destabilizing effect on all of the characters, but it was how Gonzalez let the chaos affect her characters that led to the feminist message she needed the world to hear. The patriarchy suppresses women. From a feminist perspective, Gonzalez insisted on opening a bridge of communication through her novel to prove that the road to equality and stabilization is more difficult for women who are being suppressed by a male dominated patriarchy.
Gonzalez, Jovita, et al. Caballero: a Historical Novel. Texas A & M Univ. Press, 2006.
Herman, David. Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates. Ohio State University Press, 2012.
Larson, Jennifer. “Converting Passive Womanhood to Active Sisterhood: Agency, Power, and Subversion in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Women’s Studies, vol. 35, no. 8, Dec. 2006, pp. 739–756. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00497870600945618.
Lawson, James. “Chronotope, Story, and Historical Geography: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Space‐Time of Narratives.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 10 Feb. 2011, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00853.x.
Manríquez, B. J. “Argument in Narrative: Tropology in Jovita González’s ‘Caballero.’” Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, vol. 25, no. 2, 2000, pp. 172–178. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25745702. Accessed 18 June 2021.
McMahon, Marci R. “Politicizing Spanish-Mexican Domesticity, Redefining Fronteras: Jovita Gonzalez’s Caballero and Cleofas Jaramillo’s Romance of a Little Village Girl.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 28, no. 1–2, Jan. 2007, p. 232. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.166811238&site=eds-live&scope=site.
I am a high school English teacher in San Antonio, Texas. I enjoy travelling and hope to someday teach at a university.