The literature in the Baroque period of the 1600s introduced many great and influential historical figures; one of them is Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Latin American colonial poet, writer, scholar, and a nun who was able to express knowledge of art and science, emotions, and the social protest through the poetry. Furthermore, Sor Juana remains the main contributor to the development of science, poetry, and recognition of the women’s rights in the seventeenth century. Her role holds immense importance, as she helped women to establish equal gender opportunities and promote their individuality.
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The aim of this essay is to examine and compare Sor Juana’s role and contribution to the Baroque Period by evaluating all positive and negative aspects of her personal identity depicted in Maria Luisa Bemberg’s movie I, the Worst of All and Sor Juana’s text Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz. Furthermore, the parallel between her ability to defend women’s rights for education and promotion a reformatory movement against injustices, which is now called ‘feminism’ has a tendency to exist. I claim that despite facing continuous confrontation and criticism, Sor Juana remains a head of the Baroque Era due to her ability to combine dissimilar social roles such as a nun and a writer and to form and protect her opinion about the women’s position in the society.
In order to compare the Bemberg’s movie I, the Worst of All and Sor Juana’s Response to Sor Filotea, I would like to begin my analysis by underlining the time period of both sources. For instance, Sor Juana wrote her book in 1691, but the film was created in 1990. The movie and book portray different features of Sor Juana’s life. According to the An Interview with Maria Luisa Bemberg by Zuzana Pick reveals Bemberg focuses on the gender differences in the society and confrontation of the church and the wealth (78). Consequently, Sor Juana faces the confrontation with the authorities and tends to protect her personal perception of women’s place in the movie. Moreover, it remains apparent that some of the statements do not comply with obedience and rules of the period. In turn, Bemberg portrays Sor Juana from the positive perspective, as she associates her actions with the current values (Pick 78).
In turn, the Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz emphasizes that Sor Juana was facing confrontation in her life, as she affirms that combining wisdom, erudition, and scientific knowledge help understand the God’s power of creation and remains inspired by her patronesses such as Maria Luise Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga and Codesa de Parecedes, Stavans discusses in Poems, Protest, and a Dream (xxvii). Both of these women favored Sor Juana’s development and helped her to promote the significance of the female’s education in the social hierarchy, as they inspired her with their potential discoveries. The inspiration and support assisted in Sor Juana’s poetic development and the ability to express her thoughts in a systematic way. The controversial nature of the Counter-Reformatory period contributed to Sor Juana’s development as being in support of the education and to her rise of the confrontation against the authorities. Sor Juana seeks for the equal opportunities for women and wants to persuade her readers to emphasize the significance of the “intellectual rights of the women” in her poems, Stavans claims (xii). This unique feature of her writing implies that the poetess considers herself as being smart, intelligent, and underlines this feature in her writing.
Moreover, in the Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz, Stavans states that Sor Juana covers “misguided men, who will chastise a woman when to blame is due” (xxxii). Consequently, in the response Sor Juana depicts the attitude towards women in the society and focuses on the fact that women should have more opportunities and rights for education. She actively promotes her position in the front of the authorities and her writings, as Stavans refers to one of the Sor Juana’s sayings such as “women feel that men surpass them, and I seem to place myself on a level with men” (xviii). These quotations clearly underline Sor Juana’s positions regarding the women’s opportunities towards the education and protects her perception about the position of the women in the society and defines the ways of future women’s movements.
Furthermore, I focus on the social roles that Sor Juana implements during her life. The roles such as writer, poet, woman, and a nun contributed to the understanding of the existence of different angles of Sor Juana’s identity. Her poem, Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz demonstrates her intelligence, knowledge, critical thinking, and emotional propaganda to the authorities and portrays her role writer’s and poet’s roles. In turn, George Thomas mentions in his book The Politics and Poetics of Sor Juana de La Cruz that Sor Juana’s text is very ambivalent, which demonstrates her intellect and knowledge, but at the same time uses it as the promotion of her propaganda and disapproval (40-49). The ability of Sor Juana to combine these characteristics contributes to the understanding of her ability to combine multiple roles in one personality and emphasize her intelligence. In this instance, the text was able to depict her bravery on fighting injustices, but also it emphasizes the importance of women’s rights and opportunities for education. In turn, Zuzana Pick reveals in An Interview with Maria Luisa Bemberg that Bemberg actively depicts Sor Juana’s obsession for knowledge with the propaganda of the women’s importance (78). The film also depicts Sor Juana as being brave and strong due to her ability to save her position by presenting it in poetry and while facing the severe confrontation.
Despite having an excessive devotion to the poetry and having questionable attitudes towards faith, Sor Juana joins the Santa Paula abbeys and acquires a new social status as being a nun. Nonetheless, I assume that she wanted to devote her life to the scientific studies, self-development, and contribute to the discoveries in the various subjects. However, another potential reason is to avoid the men’s power and marriage, as Sor Juana remains religiously arrogant and protects women’s rights and her position in from on the Catholic Authorities, claims Powell in the article Sor Juana’s Critique of Theological Arrogance (12). The inability to comply with the primary characteristics of the nun of the seventeenth such as purity, poverty and obedience contribute to the doubt of Sor Juana’s faith.
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One of the facts, which adds contradiction to her social role of a nun, is her wealthy lifestyle keeps the privileges of the Creole classes, as that Bemberg claims that the confrontation of the church and the wealth cannot be unnoticed and has always been present (Pick 80). In turn, Stavans emphasizes that Sor Juana holds many paintings with her portrayal in the expensive clothes and jewelry, Satavans claim in the Poems, Protest, and a Dream (xix-xxi). The presence of these controversies reflects Sor Juana’s ability to create her unique character, as the desire for education and knowledge help rearrange her life position and form the unique perception of living while combining being a nun and a poet at the same time. These contradictions underline her ability to form her individual opinion and attitude about the women’s position in the society concerning education.
Despite facing dramatic criticism and confrontation, I believe that Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz is the first woman in the Baroque Period, who formed the definite opinion about the position of women in the society and stayed strong enough to defend her perspectives in front of the authorities. The ability to be the product and a head of the Baroque era at the same time clarifies her response and demonstrates her unique opinion to the authorities. In my opinion, Sor Juana developed the ground for the future social reforms and established earlier roots of feminism in the modern American and European societies. The portrayal of Sor Juana in the movie I, the Worst of All by Bemberg and Response to the Most Illustrious Poetess Sor Filotea de la Cruz by Sor Juana revealed the ability of the poetess to combine different social roles and promote ‘women’s voices’ against injustices and gender inequalities, and completely distinguished their role and position in a better way.
I, the Worst of All. Ex. Prod. Maria Bemberg. Buenos Aires: First Run Features.2003. DVD.
Pick, Zuzana. “An Interview with Maria Luisa Bemberg.” Journal of Film and Video 44.3/4 (1992): 76-82. Print.
Powell, Lisa. “Sor Juana’s Critique of Theological Arrogance.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27.2 (2011): 11-30. Print.
Stavans, Ilan. “Introduction: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.” Poems, Protest, and a Dream. Ed. Ilan Stavans. London: Penguin Books, 1997. xi-xlv. Print.
Thomas, George. The Politics and Poetics of Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2012. Print.