Female Agency in “El baúl de Miss Florence: fragmentos para un novelón romántico,” Dreaming in Cuban, and ¡YO!

Open Access
Zylo Watkins, Valbona
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 21, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Laurence E Prescott, Dissertation Advisor
  • Laurence E Prescott, Committee Chair
  • Javier Escudero, Committee Member
  • Julia Cuervo Hewitt, Committee Member
  • John Andres Ochoa, Committee Member
  • Thomas Oliver Beebee, Committee Member
  • Rosalia Cornejo Parriego, Committee Member
  • female subjectivity
  • Spanish Caribbean Literature
  • Female agency
  • agency and narrative
This study of works of fiction by Hispanic women authors argues that the process of writing serves as a venue for the main female characters to enunciate authority and to voice agency. In Ana Lydia Vega’s “El baúl de Miss Florence: fragmentos para un novelón romántico” (in Falsas crónicas del sur), Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban; and Julia Álvarez’s ¡Yo,! the main female characters seek to claim agency through different narrative forms including personal diary, first-person narration, and letters. Each text is framed as a narrative by a woman who writes her story. These narrative techniques are used both to present stories that concern and prompt reflection on the Hispanic Caribbean and its Diasporas —Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican, respectively—and also to help us understand the unique position of the female subject in each text and each context. The first chapter begins with a discussion of the terms female character, female subjectivity and agency and their application to this study. Female character in this study does not denote personality trait, but rather the fictional representation of the female figures that populate the texts under examination. Further, I view subjectivity as constituted through discourse, and therefore I examine whether the female characters have the power to control discursive vehicles. In the same vein, agency is dependent upon the ability of the characters to act in spite of restrictions, to seize authorship and to counter the traditions to which they are expected to submit on a daily basis. This work is nourished by theories and research on subjectivity, feminism, and post-colonialism presented by Paul Smith, Debra Castillo, Adrienne Rich, Teresa de Lauretis, and Hommi Bhabha, among others. Their stance on subjectivity, agency, feminism and post-colonialism help inform this study’s examination of an array of issues, particularly those involving gender, race and ethnicity. Ultimately, this study traces a trajectory as the female characters claim agency through their own writing. This trajectory begins with a discussion of Vega’s text, where the protagonist uses the diary as a platform to voice, sway and resist her condition in a patriarchal society. I argue that in this work Vega awards the protagonist the narrative of the diary in order to give her a subject position from which to rewrite nineteenth century Puerto Rican history. Next, I continue with García’s text, where an array of female characters located in Cuba and in the United States attempt to seek agency, but only a few enjoy the ability for self-narration and self-reflection. I argue that García’s agenda is to award agency of first-person narration specifically to the younger generation of Cubans and Cuban-Americans, so that they can resist established beliefs handed down by previous generations. Lastly, this comparative study culminates with Álvarez’s text, where all female characters narrate in first-person recounting their stories. In Álvarez’s text, I perceive an urgency to seek agency, beginning with the novel’s title !Yo!, and continuing throughout the text in which all the female characters yearn for and take control of their first-person narration to negotiate agency and authority. Lastly, the conclusion examines differences and similarities within various communities of female figures discussed in the thesis and underscores the ways their recounting brings to light their marginal voices as they search for ways to cope with challenges and deal with their lives.