In the Name of Love: Depreciating Women in Plascencia’s The People of Paper

Nod to my classmate Jon Vela for his concise and effective dissection of male/female depictions in Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper. I would like to continue his discussion as I believe his blog brings up many good points and is worth some more dialogue.

Having spent the entire novel wondering why the author would use “Saturn” as his name, I went to the trusty and faithful source – ahem– of Wikipedia to learn a little more. The only interesting thing that came up was the association of Saturn with the Greek god: Chronus or Kronos. The father of Zeus, he was eventually overthrown by his son. Kronos himself castrated his own father, Uranus, with a sickle. Also in the good form of a paranoid despot, Kronos devoured his children to prevent them from causing his downfall. Zeus was hidden away from him and consequently saved. The short of it: He was a very powerful god who ultimately loses his power to his son in a long war.

So, my Wiki-revelation didn’t shed any light on the novel, except for seeing the recurrence of some themes like war and power struggles – unless, perhaps, the People of Paper are viewed as children of Saturn, or a kind of offspring of the Creator. Then their war and desire to overthrow him makes some sense. But it is actually Liz which “castrates” Saturn when she chooses a white man, therefore destroying the chance of producing a blood line faithful to Hispanic heritage. Jon mentions this in his blog, and discusses the turning away from roots/family/heritage in favor of fame and fortune (which may be, in Plascencia’s opinion, the only way to achieve those things in America). The important question Jon asks is whether Plascencia has done this himself.

That the woman is the castrator and the weaker sex who succumbed to the temptation of pale fruit, seems to run strongly throughout the novel. Is this simply because Liz turned away from Saturn? It is especially disturbing to see written repeatedly (in italics no less) the worst word that could ever be used in cursing a woman. Why is it that a woman breaks a man’s heart and is violently treated by his despair, and yet women who act out from that same pain are considered “crazy” and “psycho”? Is it because this man’s pain is somehow transformed into “art”? I don’t think Cameroon was convinced, nor Julieta, nor Rita, for that matter.

Granted Plascencia tries to even out the score by providing examples of women at the mercy of men, but the pervasive current is the injury of the little man standing on a stool. Where does this little man complex come from? Is it the thinly veiled representation of a little man-tool? Are we back to “size matters” and a pissing contest which takes over Europe in the wake of failed love…or wars against imaginary foes in the sky…or writes novels?

I have felt the dagger depths of failed love, and have raged at fate for my loss (as I am sure we all have). But maybe it is the “nature” of a woman to get over it. Maybe because as women, we don’t have any other choice. We fold, we flex, and we adapt in the shadow of men. We keep loving what is in front of us to love. That is our gift. I don’t see it as weakness – neither in Little Merced, or Cami, or Julieta. I see it as our greatest strength.

In the final analysis, I am afraid that Plascencia turns women into shiny hard Madonnas, lifted up on a pedestal and given a mysterious and unfortunate power. He bows down and worships, yet then goes on to smash the thing he worships. He thinks he loves, but he just idolizes. His sadness is a wounded narcissism which cannot accept that HE would be rejected. The real sadness is that he doesn’t have the eyes to see what is truly divine, even when it is sleeping beside him.

One thought on “In the Name of Love: Depreciating Women in Plascencia’s The People of Paper”

  1. Something to keep in mind, though, is which Salvador Plascencia you’re talking about? We shouldn’t mistake the one in the novel for the author himself, and I do think there’s a difference here. Maybe it’s only a difference of degrees, but it’s there. I’d argue that the Salvador in the novel is purposefully unlikable and guilty of everything you name here—and that Salvador-the-author made him that way on purpose. The real question is, why?

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