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1. And a couple of days later, she let me know it would be fine by
her if I married her daughter—a girl as black and ugly as the devil himself,
quite the opposite of my taste, which has always run to pretty
Many critics believe that this passage, from Chapter 7, offers
evidence of Catalina’s sexual preference for women. However, the phrase
pretty faces does not necessarily refer to women, and
all the line really proves is that Catalina has a predilection for
attractive faces, whether they be men or women. Better evidence of
Catalina’s possible preference for women lies in the tone she uses to talk
about her relationships with women, which are much more playful and
flirtatious than her relationships with men. Otherwise, Catalina is
deliberately coy about her sexuality and erotic life. This reticence is not
surprising, given the time and place that her memoir was written, and the
line about pretty faces stands out because such an idea was
taboo. At the very least, this line is Catalina’s way of admitting that
despite how she portrays herself, she is not unaffected by desire.
This passage also reveals Catalina’s racism, but this, too, must be
understood within the context of her era. She describes the half-Indian
woman’s daughter as being “as black and ugly as the devil himself,” which
suggests that her skin color is as much an impediment to their marriage as
Catalina’s sex. Catalina’s descriptions of the Indians are no different from
her descriptions of her horses. She describes them in terms of whether they
serve her purposes or impede them, but she does not name them or give them
any human characteristics. Such attitudes were not unusually in
seventeenth-century Spain. The Spaniards who helped colonize South America
used a system of land distribution called encomiendas that
rendered the local Indians virtual slaves. In this context, Catalina’s view
of the Indians as little more than animals is not surprising.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lieutenant Nun!