The Mexican Medea: Queer Chicana Representation in The Hungry Woman
“You murder them! In all Hellas there is not one woman
Who could have done it;”
Quote and Illustration from 1967 translation of
Euripides’ Medea (Euripides 1967, 51-52).
The original play, Medea was written by the Greek playwright Euripides in 431 BC. The character of Medea herself in the original and in adaptations is often characterized as a violent woman, uninhibited by her rage and emotion. After her lover Jason leaves her for a princess, Glauce, Medea poisons her as a first act of revenge. She then kills her own children as a final act of vengeance.
Medea’s wrath, passion, grief and control are all themes that Euripides builds on in his play. Euripides was certainly not a feminist by modern standards but Medea’s lines from the play reflect the lack of autonomy women experienced in the ancient world:
“Of all the living creatures with a soul
and mind, we women are the most pathetic.
First of all, we have to buy a husband:
spend vast amounts of money, just to get
a master for our body-to add insult
to injury. And the stakes could not be higher:
will you get a decent husband, or a bad one?
If we do well, and if our husbands bear
the yoke without discomfort or complaint,
our lives are admired. If not, it’s best to die”
(Euripides et al., 2008, l. 231-237, 244-246).
THE HUNGRY WOMAN (2001)
In her adaptation of the Medea character, Chicana activist and writer Cherrie Moraga builds on the struggles of not only being a woman, but being a queer Chicana woman exiled from her homeland because of her sexuality. In The Hungry Woman, Moraga uses the Medea storyline and integrates it with other myths foundational to Mexican culture that “shape the racial and ethnic landscape of latinidad, particularly in its relationship to gender and power” (Martin-Baron, 2018, p. 253). Moraga addresses issues of gender and power by blending elements of Euripides’ Medea with Chicana/o myths of La Malinche (the sexualized betrayer of the Aztec people), La Llorona (the folk tale of a woman who killed her children in an act of revenge) and the Aztec goddess of creation and destruction, Coatlicue.
Production poster from Arizona State University MainStage production of The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, directed by Dora Arreola, 2014 >>>
With La Llorona in particular, "by invoking Medea, Moraga expands her questioning of La Llorona's motivations to ask why the image of the child-killing mother is a central mythological archetype in both Western and Latina/o culture." (Martin-Baron, 2018, p. 252). Scholars and Moraga herself argue that these folk tales act as cautionary tales for women, illustrating the consequences for resisting patriarchal constructs.
The issues of male domination and control surface in both the original and the adaptation, especially when looking at Medea's justification of infanticide. The important differences between them, however, lie in whether that murder is based on sacrifice, vengeance or both.
For example, in Moraga’s version, Medea’s son Chac-Mool, wants to join his father in Aztlan, the region from which Medea has been exiled because she refuses to deny her queer identity. In order for Chac-Mool to join the society, he must perform a Sun Dance ritual, which Medea considers a distorted custom that now promotes misogyny and male domination. The resulting dispute leads Moraga’s Medea to kill her son, which she sees as sacrifice, a way to save him from becoming another member of “the misogynist male order” (Staile-Costa, 2017, p. 219).
Euripedes’ Medea explicitly refers to the murder of her sons as a sacrifice as well, yet her desire for vengeance against a cheating husband is clear. Although both versions have Medea “lose their mind” after their heinous acts, Euripedes’ version ends with Medea escaping punishment and somewhat triumphant. Moraga’s Medea ends with what Fernandez deems as a more “vaguely hopeful and cautious note”, with Medea placed in a psychiatric hospital, smiling as she sees visions of her son (Fernandez, 2007, p. 185).