Analysis of Ferré’s “The Bitches’ Colloquy”

 

In “The Bitches’ Colloquy”, Ferré plays off of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Colloquy of the Dogs”, a short story found as an extension of his larger story, “The Deceitful Wedding.” Rather than Berganza and Scipio, the two male dogs found in Cervantes’ story, Ferré employs two female dogs named Franca and Fina who enjoy each other’s company and mutual interest in literature. Rosario Ferré takes the traditional Spanish American essay and transforms it into a space to comment on issues of gender, and more specifically, criticize the exclusivity of the male-dominated literary canon and the misrepresentation of women in literature. She intertwines literary criticism with feminist rhetoric, joining the ranks of Latin American female writers such as Gabriela Mistral, Victoria Ocampo, and Rosario Castellanos.

“The Bitches’ Colloquy” represents a clear step forward in the development of feminist literary criticism. As Lindstrom writes in Twentieth Century Spanish American Literature, the dogs “bring an unbiased perspective to human issues, wittily [summing] up the central dilemmas of feminist criticism and the effort to identify a mode of writing distinctive to women.” In this text Ferré takes the traditional Spanish American essay in a new direction, away from the typical concerns of male essayists.

Throughout the essay, Ferré expresses her feminist point of views through Franca and Fina’s literary critiques after Fina finishes reading Don Miguel de Cervantes’ novella, “The Dog’s Colloquy.” In one critique, Franca remarks that she is concerned with the “misleading image of the female most male Latin American writers project in their novels today.” Fina chides Franca for being “obsessed with feminism” and remarks that her female identity does not influence her writing. Fina accuses both male and female writers of the Latin American literary Boom for not adequately representing the opposite sex, instead making “hollow characters.” She even wonders aloud “whether a dog can bark like a bitch and a bitch bark like a dog.” While the two dogs debate back and forth, and often disagree on the quality of certain works and authors, Franca and Fina both seem to agree on one of Franca’s concluding suggestions:

 

“Our purpose shouldn’t be to make literature a bone of contention, but a universal art. We should make sure that anthologies compiled by males, as well as those compiled by women, recognize and include artists of both genders. The parameters wielded by male literary critics up to now have not been congenial to female criteria, and our work has often been rejected in the past because it presented a completely different vision of the world from that of men.”

Here, Ferré addresses the issues of the male-dominated Latin American literary Boom of the 1960’s and 70’s, which fails to be inclusive and impartial to both sexes. It is worth noting that Franca later points out that some female writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, and Nadine Gordimer “are loath to identify themselves with feminism, and see themselves as genderless ‘writers’ as opposed to female writers” because the female condition forces them to tailor their writing to specific topics and subscribe to “dogmatic feminism”, which often thwarts their access to a more universal approach. These are issues in feminist criticism that presumably Ferré encounters herself and hopes to bring attention to and spur discussion about. Ferré makes a response through Fina by saying, “charity begins at home”, and adding that “we do ourselves wrong to extol the values of male writing, without first assuring ourselves our daily crumb.” In other words, Ferré calls on female authors to reflect on their own writing before criticizing other writers for not creating an inclusive space for female authors to inhabit.

As Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola writes in The Censorship Files: Latin American Writers and Franco’s Spain, “In hiding behind the critical voices of her bitches in order to present her own criticism of the Boom’s ‘exclusive’ male canon, Ferre is appropriating Cervantes’ position of carefully calculated ambiguity. Like him, she can be both a critic, and a mere observer of ‘dog talk’” (2012). In this short story, Ferre speaks from the mouths of her two canine characters, addressing the frustrations experienced by many female authors and offering her own critiques and suggestions for the gender issues that pervade modern literary society.