A lot of text exists to tell a story. Whether it’s in a book, or a comic, or a video, or a song, many of them strive to make you understand certain events and hope that you take something from them. Sandra Cisneros does this, but manages to convey very specific emotion when she does it. She uses words and familiar language to convey the singular feeling of having a conversation with a stranger. Her short story “Los Boxers” gives the feeling of mundane loneliness to the reader and tells them about the character speaking by relating only their side of a conversation. The only voice visibly present on the page is the person speaking to what the reader infers to be a mexican mother and her daughter.
I say “they” because Cisneros doesn’t mention the gender of the speaker in “Los Boxers” at all. The speaker uses “I,” “my,” and “me” when referring to themself, and there is not dialogue from other characters to imply or openly state the gender of the speaker (Cisneros 130).
The assumption that most would make is that the speaker is a man because they talk about their wife. It’s a story whose characters, based on the usual location of most of the other stories in Woman Hollering Creek, are most likely in Texas. The speaker is also old enough to have a dead wife and to say things like, “But oh kids, they’s cute when they’re little, but by the time they start turning ugly, it’s too late, you already love them” (130). They also talk about learning about how to do laundry and tips they’ve picked up. These three things would usually denote that this is a man talking. Although I agree that this might very well be the case, this story painted a different picture for me.
The speaker in this story is, in my opinion, a woman. Gay people exist everywhere, and have existed for a long time, including the time when this book was written and published. Also, being bad at laundry because you never really had to do it yourself until you were on your own is a genderless problem.
My reason for assuming that the speaker is a woman is not a specifically set-up circumstance like one of those I’ve just mentioned, but how the story itself is written. Cisneros does a lot with vocabulary and rhythm to imply a lot about the person speaking. The way that the speaker comes across makes them sound and appear to be a woman when the story is read. Not literally, of course, but Cisneros writes in such a deliberate way that she paints pictures that the reader is meant to create in their mind’s eye. That’s how most writing should be, and Cisneros not only accomplishes this but puts a very specific feeling across, as well; the feeling of talking to or being talked to by a stranger. That she can write this way leads me to believe that she can imply gender without explicitly mentioning it with tone and what someone talks about. The first word, “Whoops!” along with how Cisneros uses eye dialect and what they talk about in the story made me think I was reading the words of an old, southern woman (ED).
Some might argue that this is because Sandra Cisneros is a woman, so any literary voice she has will sound feminine. This might be true; most or all of the stories in Woman Hollering Creek are from the perspective of a woman or a girl. She sticks to what she knows, I suppose, and what she knows is how to make really specific characters. For example, in the story “Eleven,” Cisneros tells the story of a little girl being bullied by her teacher in class. It’s a very interestingly written story that creates another range of very specific feelings: frustration with something you can’t control, losing control of your emotions, and longing to be far, far away. “I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny-tiny you have to close your eyes to see it” (9). Cisneros is excellent at creating voices. Her voices form a shared experience between the characters they belong to and the reader. The voice of the speaker in “Los Boxers” was meant to be the reader’s. The reader is supposed to sympathize with this person and identify with their problems and discoveries. They talk about their wife and learning how to do laundry, sharing tips with the mother they are talking to. “You know what else? When you wash, it ain’t enough to separate the clothes by temperature. You need to separate them by weight. Towels with towels. Jeans with jeans. Sheets with sheets. And always make sure you use plenty of water. That’s the secret. Even if it’s just a few things in the machine. Lot’s of water, got it? So’s the clothes all wash better and don’t take any wear and tear, see, and last longer. That’s another thing I picked up too” (131). They’re talking as if they haven’t talked to anyone in a while. They’re lonely and in a really mundane situation: doing laundry.
The picture I got from this story was of a lonely old gay lady doing her laundry. She’s talking to another person at the laundromat they’re in, a mother who is there with her daughter. The woman strikes up a conversation when the little girl drops a soda and grabs at that chance to talk to someone at once. She probably hasn’t had a real conversation with anyone in a long time. Her wife died a while ago, going by how she talks about it, and she seems to be comfortable reminiscing about the things she did when she was alive. When she first mentions her wife, she seems to talk very quickly at the beginning of her sentence, “When my wife died I used to go to a place over on Calaveras way bigger than this” (130). This implies that she’s anxious about revealing herself to someone who might not want to talk to her after they know that she had a wife and not a husband. Being openly gay in public isn’t really socially acceptable yet. The speaker seems to slip into a more comfortable and amiable way of speaking after saying this doesn’t make the mother back off, “My jeans could use more than thirty minutes, though. Thirty minutes ain’t enough, but I’d rather take them home damp and hang them on the windowsill before I drop in another fifty cents. It’s ‘cause I dry them on low, see. Before I used to dry them on high, and they’d always fit me tight later on. Lady at the K mart said, You gotta dry your jeans on low, otherwise they shrink on you. She’s right. I always set them on low now, see, even though it takes longer and they’re still damp after thirty minutes. Least they fit right. I learned that much” (131). She’s gone from wanting a conversation to actively enjoying it. I think this almost desperation to have a conversation about anything at all makes the loneliness come across very well. She also starts talking about something she probably hasn’t had the chance to vent about in a long time: how her wife used to keep stains out with ice cubes, and how she would keep everything in their house looking new even though it was old. She starts using spanish words like “mole” and “los” to describe things (132). That makes me think that either she wants to connect more with the person she’s talking to and starts to use the spanish she knows to communicate what she means, or that her wife was mexican and she picked up some spanish from her while they were married. I think talking about someone might make you revert to how they used to make you talk just because you listened to them a lot.
This story is written in both a flexible and specific way because it makes the reader identify with the speaker but also conveys a sense of loneliness at the same time. This flexibility allows me, a gay person, to see the speaker as a gay woman who misses her wife. Not only that, but I believe the tone and rhythm of the story suggests that it’s a woman speaking. Cisneros often writes from the perspective of a woman and usually goes into third person when she writes about boys or men (10). I feel that this story is more interesting this way and is also a contradiction to the pervasive belief that gay people are a world apart from everyone else.
Cisneros, Sandra. “Los Boxers.” Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Vintage Books, 1991, pp. 130-132.
“Eye Dialect.” Wikipedia, 4 July, 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_dialect.