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Kiss Of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig

November 14, 2016

kotswI found the footnotes on Freud, Reich, Marcuse, Brown et al intensely annoying – in which order do you read them and the main text?

They tend to appear at moments of misunderstanding between Molina and Valentín.

They deal with “perversions” as threats to the “basic repressive principles fundamental to the organization of capitalism.” They point to the need for men to liberate women locked in the dungeons of their psyche and restructure their views of sexual normality. Molina, might be a revolutionary element in his own way.

It’s more like a piece of drama than a novel – then again, the author was a playwright.

The novel is an indictment of a disengaged aesthetic perspective in the context of a world where people have to take sides. Valentín, the Marxist protagonist, has risked his life and willingly endured torture for a political cause, and his example helps transform his cellmate into a citizen, someone who will enter the world. Likewise, Molina’s love of aesthetics and cultural life teaches Valentín that escapism can have a powerfully utopian purpose in life: escapism can be just as subversive and meaningful as overt political activity.

Other major themes include political psychology, film, love, and communism

The warden is how Manuel Puig defines masculinity because he is the only character in the book that truly holds power; power not only over the prison system but specifically on Molina because we can see how he is the one to tell Molina to “stop your trembling” and to “weigh your words”. That the warden is the opposite of Valentin’s definition of a man shows Valentin’s aversion toward the current power system in his country.

According to Matthew Teorey in Spinning a Bigendered Identity in Silko’s Ceremony and Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, the Spider Woman in Native American tradition is the ‘creator of the universe and an important source of cultural wisdom and social values’. However, in Western Culture, Spider Woman was named Arachne, who was a ‘master weaver of Greek mythology … her story [was] a morality tale’. The myth of Arachne is where she challenges the gods to a weaving competition, she loses and as a result of losing she is turned into a spider. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, Molina is the spinner/weaver of webs, tales and suspense as he retells the films and lies as he ‘in league’ with the warden of the prison.

Molina has a female name as he believes himself to be a woman, so when he talks about the beautiful women in the films he is in awe and jealous as he aspires to be like them. Reading Teorey’s Spinning a Bigendered Identity, he writes what each character has and what the other needs to change within them and links them with the other character, like a balancing act of the character’s characteristics: Valetin finds in himself embraced and empowered by a friendship that reintegrates the two halves of his selfhood: reason and emotion/sensuality. Molina…[is in] two halves: he has adopted a stereotypically submissive and domestic feminine identity and needs some of Valentin’s masculine rebelliousness and self-respect to be whole.

Sections in italics pp.125f repeat ‘a fellow’, ,a mother’, a girl’ and ‘ a classmate’.

I had to look  up ‘percale’ = a closely woven plain-weave fabric often used for bed covers


She has her legs crossed, her shoes are black, thick high heels, open toed, with dark-polished toenails sticking out. Her stockings glitter, that kind they turned inside out when the sheen went out of style, her legs look flushed and silky

“Your reality, isn’t restricted by this cell we live in. If you read something, if you study something, you transcend any cell you’re inside of”

“The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.”
“- But you have to reason it out then and convince yourself.
– Yes, but there are reasons of the heart that reason doesn’t encompass.”
“–And the good thing about feeling happy, you know, Valentin? …It’s that you think it’s forever, that one’s never ever going to feel unhappy again.”
“- And what’s so bad about being soft like a woman? Why is it men or whoever, some poor bastard, some queen, can’t be sensitive too, if he’s got a mind to?

– But if men acted like women there wouldn’t be anymore torturers.”
“Say it, like a woman, that’s what you were going to say”

“I think that I have to know more about you, that’s what, in order to understand you better. If we’re going to be in this cell together like this, we ought to understand one another better, and I know very little about people with your type of inclination”

“Valentin, I’m telling you. I don’t want to hear a word of it. Not where they are, not who they are, nothing!”

“Marta, how much I wish it with all my heart, let’s hope that he may have died happily”

“the only one who knows for sure is him, if he was sad or happy to die that way, sacrificing himself for a just cause, because he’s the only one who will ever have known”

Yes, and I don’t care if you laugh… makes people laugh to say it, but what’s got to happen more than anything…is change in the world.”

. and I fought, from the moment I possessed a little understanding of things . . . fought against the exploitation of my fellow man . . . And I’ve always cursed all religions, because they simply confuse people and prevent them from fighting for any kind of equality . . . but now I find myself thirsting for some kind of justice . . . divine justice. I’m asking that there be a God . . . Write it with a capital G, Molina, please . . .

. . . a God who sees me, and helps me, because I want to be able, someday, to walk down streets again, and I want that day to come soon, and I don’t want to die.

kotsw3Valentin on embroidering

“If you can embroider, why can’t I too?”

Molina on the cold/prison

“The cold wakes her up. Just like us”

Valentin’s Marxist-feminist view on Irena’s mother

“I see her as impeccably attired…she has that…little touch of coquetishness”

Molina on escapism/forgetting about the cell

“until you brought this up I was feeling fabulous, I’d forgotten about this filthy cell”

Molina’s post-modernist awareness on fiction/cliff-hangers

“you have to do it that way with the public otherwise they’re not satisfied. On the radio they always used to do that to you. And now on the TV soaps”

Valentin’s dedication to the political struggle

“there’s no way I can live for the moment, because my life is dedicated to the political struggle”

Molina on feminimity

“and what’s so bad about being soft like a woman?”

Warden’s enquiry about Valentin

“Have we softened him up a little?”

Valentin finally softening up a little

“I want you to…give me…some word of comfort”

Molina on the two roles switching in love-making scene

“Or like I wasn’t me anymore. As if now…I were you”

Molina on ebroidering

“well, to some extent I have to embroider a little”

Molina’s femininity in reference to he and his friends


Valentin’s masculinity

“Don’t call me Valentina, I’m no woman”

Molina’s highly romanticized description

“he caressed the lettuce leaves, and the tomatoes, but nothing softly about it- how can I put it? They were such powerful moment, and so elegant and soft, and masculine at the same time”

Valentin on Molina as the spider woman

“You, you’re the spider woman that traps men in her web”

Police document on Molina

“Of the wounded, Molina expired”

Valentin’s final thoughts

“This dream is short but this dream is happy”

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