The Inhabited Woman

The novel, classified as a semi-biographical one, is the author’s first bestselling novel. It can be considered as a contemporary classic. In fact, Randall (2004) reiterated, “The Inhabited Woman grabs us from two unexpected directions: its consciousness of the centrality of woman in struggle, and its retrieval of the cycles of birth and rebirth which are such an important part of indigenous cosmology” (Forward, p. 6). On the one hand, throughout the novel, Lavinia (one of the main characters) struggles with being a business-minded woman in an architectural industry composed primary of men.

The plight a woman’s struggle first took shape in Chapter One when a battle was referred to as the roots of a tree of which the writer entered into through its circulatory system (Belli, 2004, p. 7). As with any circulatory system, there must be a constant blood flow that helps all the parts function properly. If the blood flow is interrupted, then problems begin to arise. Thus, the other hand, the roots of the tree must be healed in order to make the system work. Hence, the writer refers to time spent in Europe (Bologna) as a place where Lavinia’s artistic nature was tame.

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However, she had left that place to have opportunities to showcase her innovative side (Belli, 2004). The parallelism between the protagonist, Lavinia, and the author is striking and obvious. Both women are well-educated members of the upper class who were raised in a world of political turmoil. Significantly, they have a choice of not paying attention to the glass ceiling that these politics entail or allowing it to be their ruin. Both women choose a life far from the one of limited opportunities and poverty.
Instead, the women pursue a life of luxury, education, and continuous learning. In order to acquire a true reflection of how Gioconda and Lavinia were alike, their lives must be examined. Gioconda lived a comfortable, protected and sheltered life. She was educated in the best of schools as well as given a sheltered life away from bullets and bombs. Gioconda was also loved and nurtured by her parents. Later on, Gioconda joined the Sandinista movement. Sadly, this took her away from luxurious living and eventually forced her to be exiled in Mexico in 1975 (Wikipedia, 2008).
Lavinia, similar to Gioconda, lived a sheltered life until she joined the revolution and fell in love with a war hero. Over the years, countries around the world have been in constant struggle to gain a free government; a democratic government free from dictators and tyrants. Many books have been written about this topic. Few books have focused on the author’s feminist struggle for freedom and democracy, and in the process, a struggle for self identity and self worth. As Lavinia’s journey through a life of opportunities begins, she goes to a job interview.
It is a typical interview symbolic of a male’s ego and testosterone. Julian sees Lavinia as a woman that can explain architecture blueprints in simple terms but as a sex symbol, all the same (Belli, 2004, pp. 13-17). Lavinia’s goal was to prove she had a great deal of knowledge of architecture and could succeed on her own merits. Thus, although she thought of men and sex throughout the book, Lavinia predetermined that marriage, for her, would be placing limitations on one’s self—unless, of course, the right man came along (Belli, 2004, p.
22). Nevertheless, the fact remains that the novel was full of sexual context. One example is an office romance that was present in the early stages of the book. A man and a woman were having sex openly, as if they were wild animals. Belli (2004) wrote, “I know only that they make love to each other like healthy animals, without garments or inhabitants. ’ ‘That is how our people loved before the strange god of the Spaniards forbade them the pleasures of loving’” (p. 41).
Despite being forbidden of this fruit by a god, as in the holy bible when Adam and Eve were forbidden of eating from the tree of good and evil by the Lord (Genesis, King James Version), one can say that Lavinia’s people had disobeyed a god. As a result of this disobedience, (Adam and Eve) they were forced to go forth out of their comfort zone and learn how to live on their own (Genesis, KJV). Thus, just as Adam and Eve had to learn (as children do from their parents), so were many lessons taught in the novel.
In one incidence, while Lavinia was watching one of her sex partner’s named Felipe sleep peacefully, she referred to him as a child (Belli, 2004, p. 42). This is important because Lavinia thought of her seeds as the seeds of oranges that are capable of falling on good soil and bearing fruit (children). She also considered the Earth as an orange because it is round and flat. Yet, symbolism used to compare child bearing to orange trees blossoming is of extreme value because Lavinia mentioned Ute, the woman who taught Felipe to love.
In fact, Lavinia indicated that Felipe considered Ute as the “Mother and lover in one woman…” (Belli, 2004, p. 47). Thus, just as an orange tree must bear forth fruit that produces a continuous cycle of orange trees, so must women bear forth children who will, in turn, grow up to replenish the Earth. Another reason why much symbolism exists in the novel is because of the realism. Lavinia read a book that “…said that Jules Verne had never left France, and yet he had still managed to reach the moon with his imagination and predict many of humanity’s deeds and discoveries” (Belli, 2004, p. 55).
This is what Lavinia desired out of life. Consequently, the mind (or imagination) can open up doors to endless opportunities and countless lessons. Unlike the body which comes to a closure upon death, due to the mind, legacies can live on. Lavinia’s grandfather tapped into this concept as he gave Lavinia some final words that included “…Now that I am nearing Omega, I leave you this legacy: nothing that is done in the name of universal culture is ever a waste…” (Belli, 2004, p. 56). Thus, through these words Lavinia was taught that no matter what the struggle or the triumph, a lesson is available to be learned.
Yet, the reader can learn from the symbolisms that exist in the novel. One such lesson came as Lavinia’s grandfather died on New Year’s Eve by sneezing to death (Belli, 2004, p. 56). Just as her grandfather had talked about Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end), the lesson here is that just as one year comes to an end, another one begins. Although Lavinia’s grandfather died out, history still lived on through his granddaughter. That history included Lavinia coming in contact with members of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) that showed up at her door one day, wounded.
It is a history that also includes Lavinia referring to her admiration of Che Guevara of Italy, her grandfather’s fascination with Fidel Castro and the ideal of revolution, and even the NLM members’ being referenced to tropical Quixotes by Lavinia (Belli, 2004, p. 71). Yet, the reality of all lessons is that there are often harsh ones to be learned. Lavinia had to witness the same people she had helped (two men and one young woman) bodies being shown as bloody and dead in the paper when she returned to work.
Just to not be discovered as a helper to these individuals, Lavinia had to tell a lie to a co-worker in regards to which of the men was Fermin (Belli, 2004). Just before the book takes a turn where Lavinia changes from that lively woman with endless opportunities to do anything or be anything in life, she manages to sum of what the reader considers as the main theme of the book: Man with his deeds can change features, appearances: he can sow or cut down trees, change the course of rivers, make those huge dark roads that trace snaking paths along the earth.
But he cannot move volcanoes, life up the canyons, interfere in the dome of the heavens, prevent the formation of the clouds, change the position of the sun or the moon. (Belli, 2004l, p. 85) This exert is symbolic of how since the beginning of time man-kind has altered things. In the bible when the City of Babel was being built were the people wanted to come together and build a tower to heaven, rather than use stones that were already made by God, man created bricks for building (Genesis 11:1-9, KJV).
Yet, man-kind had been told to fill the earth. Since they would not do it themselves, the Lord sent angels to scramble their languages and force them to do so (Genesis, KJV). Due to the fact man-kind sowed a bad seed, there are many languages today and the reason why there are many wars. In the bible, when the City of Babel was being built, God realized that man-kind would not think there was anything they could not do if they were to succeed at this.
So, God had to take action against it (Genesis 11:1-9, KJV). Throughout the novel, no matter what happened, Lavinia could always use her imagination to make things as she wanted to. However, no matter what, it did not change the fact she went from being the leader of her own life to being lead (by Sebastian and Lorenzo) and then to even turning to God for instruction. Due to these factors, one might consider Lavinia as putting profession first, politics second and religion last.
In this scenario, Lavinia encountered the struggle of woman to find their place in the world—a struggle that often finds woman having to pay the ultimate price of disobedience. References Belli, G. (2004). The Inhabited Woman. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Randall, M. (2004, Spring). The Inhabited Woman: Foreward. (Contributor). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Wikipedia. (2008, February 13). Gioconda Belli. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from website: http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Gioconda_Belli

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