Bodies in Ruins: Gender and Violence in Contemporary Mexican Short Stories

Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Spanish & Portuguese

First Advisor

Leila G. Gómez

Second Advisor

Juan Pablo Dabove

Third Advisor

Ricardo Landeira


This dissertation focuses on the representation of gender and violence in Mexican short stories by Elena Garro, Cristina Pacheco, and Elena Poniatowska published from 1979 to 2003. The texts reflect unrest and volatility felt by the nation as a whole, as well as by individual bodies, which reveal rupture(s) in the homogeneous national discourse. In my analyses, many forms of violence are considered, not only physical violence, but also violence that is exacted symbolically. I recur to ghosts and ruins as tropes for interpreting violence inflicted on (or sometimes by) the narrated female bodies of the short stories. The tropes are suggestive for analysis because they are remnants of what was violently destroyed. Decay and degeneration become representative of violence. Ghosts and ruins juxtapose past and present as they are figures from the past that are continuously inserted into the present. My close readings of the ghostly and ruinous bodies in the texts reveal communities that are not nation-building imaginary communities. Instead, they form critical nationalisms that do not engage in establishing shared memories or in identity formation (Ranjana Khanna’s terminology). The narrated communities in these short stories, therefore, uncover a national imagination in ruins, in which the traumatic past is continually manifested in the present.

The first chapter on Garro focuses on reading the texts’ victimized female bodies through the lens of the ghostly figure of La Llorona, viewed in terms of a national haunting. Violence inflicted on the narrated bodies pushes them perilously close to the line between life and death--turning them into ghostly bodies. The second chapter dedicated to Pacheco’s short stories concentrates on the victims of sexualized violent crimes who are nearly cut out of the narrative. These victimized bodies, poor, uneducated young women and prostitutes, leave melancholic remnants that prevent their bodies from being erased and forgotten. The third chapter that examines Poniatowska’s short stories uses the mythical figure of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue to analyze dismembered female bodies that challenge the idealized notion of mother. The ruinous bodies in Poniatowska’s texts not only have fallen into ruin but also create ruin.

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