We lived in a small, isolated town, far from the city. A town that was almost dead, or about to disappear. He was grim, sinister. With large yellowish eyes, unblinking and almost circular, that seemed to pierce through things and people.
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But much of the literary caliber of the story lies in the fact that it is indeed believable and appealing as realistic fiction. What is this creature to symbolize? Seymour Menton states, noting her due recognition for the fantastic elements in her narratives, which her realistic stories stand out also The narrative of terror commences with the introduction of the mysterious guest. Furthermore, more than a few readers insist that, from the beginning, originally and always, the beast described is really a human being.
Our first clue for identifying this unwanted guest is the reaction of the wife when her husband first brings it home. She is paralyzed by fear. At this early point in the story, lines are drawn. We realize that what is inconsequential to the husband is completely unexpected and little short of unbelievable for the wife. Besides siding with the wife at this point in the narration, the reader will almost unavoidably be prejudiced against the words and actions of the husband in the passages that follow, due to this synecdoche from the opening scene.
As mentioned, the author is careful to craft all descriptions so that they could conceivably apply to a human as well as a beast.
After noting the sheer physical fright of the wife upon seeing the guest, our attention is captured with the reference to yellowish eyes. This is not a normal description of human orbs. Either the narration is touching on a gothic description of the semi-dead, or the reference is to luminescent feline eyes 3. This beast really has yellowish eyes, so the chances are slim it is human.
When we examine the living conditions and habits of the guest, we build a stronger case for the antagonist as a bestial creature. Dogs are generally not known to be nocturnal creatures, although some are, such as the Great Pyrenees dogs and Dingos.
Furthermore, we recall the archetype of dogs and wolves from which all canines have descended howling at the moon and the intertext of the night terrors of the hound of Baskerville is also imbedded here. But cats, biologically and in the tropes of literature, are more nocturnal. Although this distinction is not an exclusive rule of behavior of these two types of animals, it is an understood pattern, and interpretation must commence with commonly accepted signifiers. There is no indication that the author is not using traditional symbols and emblems in this text.
What is distinct is that she has placed the behavior the terror provoked , the emblem the cat , and its implication the impending violence in a domestic setting. That is, while it is relatively unproblematic to accept that the oblique descriptions refer to a large cat, the innovation of the story lies in the suggestion that the cat is a nightmarish, unwanted house guest.
This guest invades the feminine spheres traditionally assigned by patriarchal custom: the kitchen and the bedroom. A curious characteristic of the guest is that, at night, it begins to position itself in the room outside the bedroom of the wife and directly in line with the door to the room. Logically terrified, the wife almost never leaves her room. This is not normal human behavior; it resembles a big cat pointedly observing and stalking its prey. Such actions cannot easily be rationalized as human.
To attempt to do so, one could only interpret them as highly unusual, socially unacceptable, and clearly intimidating. In other words, the actions of the guest become too obvious if it is human. But if seen as the actions of a wildcat, then the behavior is more logical, thus also sustaining the horror of the wife as reasonable. Here, given the confluence of feline characteristics revealed to this point, we have to rule out totally the possibility of the antagonist being human.
To seal the conclusion, the text presents a passage where the animal enters the room of the wife while she sleeps. Upon awakening to the site of the animal sitting beside her bed and staring at her, in an act of desperation and fear, she hurls a gasoline lamp at it, which breaks and sets the floor ablaze. The classic turning point in the narrative comes when the beast actually attacks.
Guadalupe, the maid, while gone to the store, leaves her infant son sleeping in another room. Since the scene describes is set during the day, there is no sense of danger. Under normal circumstances, they would not extend beyond the paw to scratch. The attack on the child is the breaking point for the wife and her maid. The suspense of the narrative increases even more as they do so and only decreases gradually as no sound emerges from the guest room in the days that follow.
Once the fundamental action of the plot is revealed and the story understood on the most basic level, we turn our attention to the equally intriguing level of symbolism and allegory. In the clearest and most plaintive manner possible, she expresses that the beast is a threat to their children and begs her spouse to take it away.
It is a sign without a signified, a symbol without an emblem. There is no such disease or condition as hysteria; it is only a convenient fabrication by the medical doctors of the late nineteenth century 4.
This statement is true, but its implications need to be plumbed. If we are going to argue that the beastly guest is metaphorically the husband in a different guise, it behooves us to examine the husband more by isolating the passages that define him.
Identifying his behavior is as important as the determination we have made about the nature of the guest. It is an imposition on the wife, a partisan act of power by the dominant male. We now know, intuitively, that the husband has caused and structured this unhappiness, and the text bears out our suspicion. It is to this domestic atmosphere of unhappiness and discomfort that the husband brings his guest.
Evidently, in the biased eyes of the husband, the problem is his wife, a typical conclusion of abusers. If she continues to be a problem, she can be removed.
Underscoring the unidirectional nature of this conversation, we realize there is no dialog; rather two distinct, polar positions without any expression of understanding or compromise. The only choice is what the husband espouses, so typical in patriarchal societies that bestow the right to decide and govern to the male. Compounding this narrative of terror, the text makes it clear that the big cat instills mortal fear in everyone in the house. Everyone except the husband. The fact that the husband is aware of the fears and worries of everyone in the household and can still enjoy the presence of the beast that causes this trepidation reveals his pathology.
A person who delights in the misery and fears of his family meets the primary definition of a sadist: someone who receives pleasure from inflicting pain on others. On the question of delights and pain, the husband has been encountering his own particular pleasures outside of the home, while inflicting pain on those at home.
He makes frequent trips and often works late—very late. This is an important implication, one consistent with the behavior of the abusive male. Disrespect and abuse of the spouse often begin because of a love affair. What the male cannot obtain at home in the conjugal bed and subsequently finds in another woman is a primary source of resentment and hatred of the wife who will not or cannot give him what he expects as integral to matrimony. The discontent of the husband, besides taking the route to an extra-marital affair, is commonly manifested in blaming the wife.
Traditionally, this act of assigning culpability comes hand-in-glove with acts of resentment and revenge directed toward the wife, in the form of psychological and physical abuse. How can a husband sit in his house and not be worried if it burns to the ground?
He can only do so if he has somewhere else to live—some place that holds more of his interest than the house of his wife and children. Questions regarding where and why it went awry, and who initiated the emotional separation that led to the abyss of non-communication, are moot at this point in the narrative.
What is most crucial to the plot, theme, and moral of the story is how the wife will react to the domestic violence of her husband, which is allegorized in the figure of the sinister, threatening beast. The text at this juncture presents actions and words that clearly symbolize a situation of women in an environment of violence. It has been shown to be historically certain that the abused spouse is almost always too paralyzed to act on her own.
Only solidarity with another person or agency has been shown to provide hope for confronting and resolving the situation. Per force, then, we have a story of male abuse of the spouse as allegorized through the actions of the big cat. Mazhar has composed an extensive list identifying behaviors typically manifested by batterers and abusive people, one that bears striking similarity to the actions described or known to have happened in the story.
Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing… Verbal abuse. Constant criticism, making humiliating remarks, not responding to what you are saying. Disrespect: Not listening or responding, telling you what to think and how to feel. Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming: Making light of your behavior and not taking your concerns seriously. Harassment: Following you, or stalking you, refusing to leave when asked. Abusing Trust: Lying, breaking promises, being unfaithful, not sharing domestic responsibilities.
Threats and Intimidation: Threatening to harm you, your children, keeping weapons and threatening to use them. Emotional Withholding or Neglect: Not expressing feelings, not taking your concerns seriously. The only thought we need keep in mind as we compare this list to the story is that there are two figures demonstrating the behavior on the list: the husband and the beast.
It is pointless and even incorrect to separate their actions, for they are one. The man, on a literal level, is abusing his wife; and the beast is abusing her on a psychological level. Both combine to reveal to the reader the intimate horrors of a violent home that are too often ignored. Faced with this domestic horror, the wife does what many abused women cannot do: fight back. Additionally, in a passage that is chillingly contemporary, the wife states:.
Those versed in the pathology of abuse recognize that these sentiments wife are the identical concerns of women today in the 21st century 5.
Although there are now shelters and refuges, programs to educate, and law-enforcement officers with heightened consciousness, the fact remains that women stay in abusive situations because they imagine that they need money to get out of the house, and they do not know who to contact for help nor where to go—just as the narrator describes herself.
Therefore, in the case at hand, the wife cannot flee to another house or refuge. Describing in professional and contemporary terms the environment and mindsets that brought the wife to such a closed situation, Pamela Chamberlain remarks:. The domestic domain has historically been considered private, with an assumption that open, public spaces were the main cause for concern when protecting women from violent predators.
As a result of the accepted criteria and thus the concomitant negation of domestic violence, the level of violence in the home has been for generations underestimated. Also, the fear of retribution, should a woman, in desperation, consider reporting her cohabiting attacker, dissuades many women from lodging a complaint, thus encouraging, and at times perpetuating the myth that domestic violence is on the ebb.
It is a repeated and tragic mistake of the abused to believe they can overcome the situation individually. Rarely can it be done. The immediate advice given by professionals is unequivocal: get out of the house and seek assistance. In our text, help is fortunately in the house in the person of the stalwart and physically strong maid, Guadalupe.
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El Huésped Amparo Dávila
She learned to love reading at an early age by spending time in her father's library. Her childhood was marked by fear, a theme that appeared in a number of her future works as an author. In she moved to Mexico City where she worked as Alfonso Reyes 's secretary. Davila is known for her use of themes of insanity, danger, and death, typically dealing with a female protagonist.