In Manuel Puig’s novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, Molina and Valentin use fantasy as a way of escapism. Firstly, Molina uses the films he tells in the cell to escape his unfavorable and lonely life by creating a preferred reality through the fantasy he creates in them. Secondly, the setting of the cell itself provides Molina with a sanctuary from the outside world, allowing him to escape from the gender roles in which he is confined in and fantasize about taking on the feminine role with Valentin through the isolation of jail.
Lastly, in Valentin’s morphine-induced fantasy at the end of the novel, he can escape from the socially accepted stereotypical male gender roles and express his true feelings about Molina. Firstly, Molina uses the fantasy presented in the films he reiterates as a way to escape from the harsh reality of the real world, creating his own, more favourable one. This perspective can be seen throughout the novel, particularly in association with the strong romantic and feminine aspects displayed in the films.
A film that allows Molina to escape the real world is told through his stream of consciousness in chapter five, which tells the love story between an unattractive maid and a young soldier, face scarred by the war. This film is very personal to Molina in two aspects. Firstly, it is told not aloud to Valentin, but inside his own head, and secondly, it features a protagonist who is an outcast to society who nonetheless finds love. It is told through the first person perspective of the maid, and the use of personal pronouns draw a connection between the characters of Molina and the maid.
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This parallel characterization is heightened through the maid’s casual and repeated reference to herself as an “ugly girl” (100), mimicking Molina’s expressions of self-deprecation through belittling diction. He is constantly using words like “revulsion” (260) and “disgust” (262) to describe himself with, and he even interjects the film to recount the judge’s description of him as “the worst, a revolting fag” (106). It is clear that Molina, a gay man living in a homophobic country of machismo men feels like an outsider with a lack of self worth.
In the chapter three, Molina relates the story of his unrequited love for the waiter Gabriel: a heterosexual man who does not return Molina’s feelings. Molina is escaping from the bitter truth of his own love-less life and living through the fantasies he presents in the form of films: an outlet that allows him to experience a preferred and utopian reality. Puig’s purpose in drawing a parallel between the maid and Molina is to express Molina’s intense desire to find love and acceptance and suggest the eventuality this lies in Molina’s future, as it did for the maid.
Through film, Molina can escape the bitter actuality of his own life into his own highly romantic and idealistic fantasies. Not only does Molina use fantasy in his stories as a way of escapism, through the isolation of their cell, Molina can escape from confining traditional gender roles and assume the feminine role with Valentin, a form of fantasy for him. Throughout the novel, it has been made clear that Molina identifies with women; even claiming “I want to be one” (19). Inside the cell Molina is able to escape from the prejudice experienced in his primarily homophobic country and don the feminine traits he associates himself with.
Molina cares for Valentin when the latter becomes ill, indulging in a fantasy in which he is sympathetic, caring and maternal. For example: “But you have to wait for that, until you feel okay, and you can be sure that you only get half of that…” (156). It is obvious that Molina enjoys being subservient to Valentin. In a sense, Molina is not so much homosexual as he merely believes himself a woman. Indeed, he firmly believes in the stereotypical and traditional roles of men and women: “But if a man is…my husband, he has to give the orders, so he will feel right. That’s the natural thing, because that makes him… the man of the house” (244).
Molina’s identification of himself as female is what makes him subject to prejudice, such as the kind he experienced with the judge. Towards the end of the novel, Molina comes to the realization that his situation outside the jail cell will never change, and that the fantasy he is experiencing with Valentin will not last: “No, they’ll never change…” (215). Puig creates the irony that it is within the confines of prison that Molina feels the most free, and it is outside where he feels imprisoned. Inside the jail cell, Molina is able to escape the bleak future in which he foresees himself never fully being able to embrace his gender identity.
The fantasy he is living with Valentin is an opportunity to live his life like a woman, free from prejudice and discrimination. Although it is mainly Molina who utilizes fantasy throughout the novel, in his stream of consciousness at the end of the novel, it is Valentin who escapes from the pain of real life and the confinement of the cell into a morphine-induced fantasy. In this dream-like state, Valentin, free from socially accepted gender roles, is able to express his true feelings and thoughts.
At the beginning of the novel, Valentin’s only addition to the films appeared in blunt interruptions, often times closer to criticism of the films than positive contribution: “I don’t really get it, it’s very confusing the way you tell it” (12). As the novel progressed, and Valentin and Molina grew closer together, the dialogue between them became of greater significance, as Valentin let down his emotional guard. This emotional development culminated in Valentin’s expressive and out of character dream, full of vivid imagery, in which he can escape from the expectations of his gender, and express his true feelings, specifically towards Molina.
The metaphor of Molina as the Spider Woman is epitomized in this chapter and through this image, Valentin can express his true feelings about him: “…so many threads that look like hairy like ropes and disgust me, even though if I were to touch them they might feel as smooth as who knows what, but it makes me queasy to touch them” (280). This represents Valentin’s initial unease about being intimate with Molina, but at the same time knowing that allowing someone into his personal life could potentially be gratifying.
Being part of a revolutionary group, Valentin has been accustomed to severing personal relations that interfere with the cause. At the same time, he has been associated with having very masculine traits, even proclaiming: “I’m no woman” (38). By Valentin admitting both that he had sex with Molina, and that he “enjoyed it” (280) shows an immense diversion from his characterization at the beginning of the novel. In this fantastical state, he can escape from the traditional gender roles in which is perceived with and admit to his true sentiments.
In conclusion, fantasy plays a very important role in terms of escapism for Molina and Valentin in the novel, both in terms of physical and physiological situations. Molina and Valentin experience three key escapist fantasies throughout the novel: Molina uses the fantasies in the films to escape his own disparaging life, Molina uses the setting of the cell itself as an escape for the gender roles he sees himself confined in in the outside world, and Valentin’s dream like fantasy allows him to express his true feelings and escape confining male gender roles.
The purpose of these fantasies in Kiss of the Spider Woman is to provide the characters with an environment in which they can escape from the confines of their life and express their true feelings. Indeed, it is these fantasies that provide illuminating characterization and allow the reader to truly discern the nature of the characters of Molina and Valentin.
Work Cited Puig, Manuel. Kiss of the Spider Woman. New York: Knopf, 1979. Print.
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