Sor Juana: Biography of a Rebel

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is one of the most interesting figures in Latin America and the seventeenth century. Not only for his great work as a poet, but also for the values ​​of rebellion, disobedience and struggle for equality that he embodied in himself. A woman well ahead of her time, who did not fit into the molds that society tried to impose on her.

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The life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is truly fascinating, surprising. Those who know her will know what I mean and, if you still do not know her, surely, her story will catch you and surprise you. Literature, like the arts or any other type of knowledge, remained for a long time only within the reach of men; and not of all men, only of a few.

It takes something more than knowing how to write so that a literary work becomes something significant, something that lasts over time. And if we add to this that, for centuries, illiteracy reigned and very few women had access to education, we are faced with a literary production dominated by men. Although, as in everything, there are always exceptions. Exceptions that, in numerous occasions, have not interested the critic, the history, the education or whatever … and, as a consequence, we still have an educational system that continues to reward men.

With this I do not mean that there are no outstanding men in literature, on the contrary, we have many great male authors who deserve to be read and studied. But throughout our academic life, there are few women we have met and there are many who deserve a place in the history of literature. Sor Juana was not only a woman of letters, but her eagerness for knowledge led her to excel in innumerable skills. In addition, her life was anything but traditional, she broke the barriers that her time imposed on her by the simple fact of being a woman and she rose as a really intelligent woman.

“Foolish men you accuse
to the woman without reason,
without seeing that you are the occasion
of the same thing that you blame.”

-Sor Juana-

Sor Juana: early life

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was born in 1651 in the town of San Miguel de Nepantla (New Spain, now Mexico), was the daughter of a Spanish captain and a criolla. His mother, Isabel Ramírez, had six children of different relationships, she declared herself as a single woman, something more than atypical at the time. Sor Juana’s mother decided not to marry, which gives us a very meaningful clue as to its character.

Sor Juana’s interest in letters and studies appears early on; At the age of 8 he composed a Eucharistic praise and, a few years later, after discovering that there is a university in Mexico, he decided to study there. However, in the mid-seventeenth century in New Spain, women could not go to college, so Sor Juana comes up with the idea of ​​dressing as a man to study.

This idea, finally, will not be carried out and Sor Juana will become self-taught. Deeply united to her grandfather, she will begin studying on her own in her library. Sor Juana is spoken of as a brilliant young woman of prodigious intelligence; He learned Latin in just 20 lessons and came to do a test of wise men. Sor Juana was, in addition, a really demanding woman with herself; if he could not learn a lesson, he would cut a lock of his hair.

From a very young age, they begin to ask him to compose verses, most of his poetic production is by order. The fame of Sor Juana was increasing until it reached the ears of the Marquises of Mancera, who will become their patrons. Being in court, Sor Juana is in an environment that favors her desire for knowledge, she has books, she can study and learn.

“I do not esteem treasures or riches;
and so, it always makes me more happy
put riches in my thought
Not my thought in riches.”

-Sor Juana-

The progress of Sor Juana

In court, you will learn to play instruments and be interested in all kinds of knowledge. In addition, it owns an ample theater production composed, mainly, by: loas, comedies and autos sacramentales. Finally, in 1667, Sor Juana decides to change the court for the convent, becomes a nun.

We should not take the convent as a confinement, but Sor Juana wanted to live alone, have a space to study and, in the seventeenth century, the closest thing to that was a convent. Sor Juana had a space reserved for her library and to keep the gifts that the powerful people sent her, in turn, she could have instruments and she enjoyed a certain position inside the convent.

Life in the convent was not as quiet as one might expect. He received criticism from the other nuns because it was very different and, on one occasion, they came to prohibit him from studying. Sor Juana was not a nun to use, she wrote constantly and, sometimes, her own texts brought her problems. She defended her personal freedom and, ultimately, that of women; he claimed that they could have access to education and knowledge.

Talking about feminism in Sor Juana is somewhat contradictory, because this concept is after the seventeenth century. However, it is true that Sor Juana embodies in itself the values ​​of feminism: the struggle for equality, for access to knowledge, the freedom of women, etc. It breaks the schemes with its theatrical production, the feminine papers were associated to the beauty or the discretion; but Sor Juana adds to the discreet woman the value of understanding.

Criticizes the role of men, those men who, before the beauty of a woman, launch themselves to conquer it. Sor Juana saw that men seduced women and, when they got tired, abandoned them and disgraced them. He claimed equality between men and women; For example, in The Pawns of a House, a man dressed as a woman appears as a staging of the change of roles.

He also claimed the place of Indians and blacks in society. In his courteous poetry, he declared himself as a neutral being, love separates from the body and is of a spiritual nature. Neither are male bodies relevant, since they extol the feminine. His poetry is very philosophical, he reflects on his own portrait and, in love poetry, the main theme will be absence.

Last stage and silence

Sor Juana was a rebel, a woman who lived beyond the impositions of her time. She became a nun by rebellion, to be able to live alone and take a path towards knowledge. He was very critical of men and inequalities and dared to question the voice of the influential Portuguese Jesuit Antonio Vieira with his Carta Atenagórica.

This was a real scandal in his time. Later, he writes Response to Sister Philotea de la Cruz, a text in which the autobiographical component is present. Loaded with erudition, it is a text that claims the rights of women and the importance of access to education.

After its publication, Sor Juana is silent forever. What we do not know is whether this silence was by choice or was an imposition. There were certain clashes between the church and Sor Juana, who continued to demand her rights as a woman in the face of men’s denial. Finally, he dedicated himself to taking care of the nuns of the convent and died at the age of 43 years.

Octavio Paz himself went on to assure that Sor Juana “got into a nun to be able to think”. Sor Juana did not lack suitors, but like her mother, she did not want to get married and her eagerness to study led her to take the habits. Undoubtedly, a rebel in a world of men and women accomplices with the established order.

“To take a contrary view of Vieyra was in my audacity, and it was not in his Fatherhood to take it against the three Holy Fathers of the Church? My understanding as such, is not it as free as yours, because it comes from a lot?”

-Sor Juana-