Cisneros’s “Woman Hollering Creek” explores the struggles of a woman ensnared by the conventions of a patriarchal culture, whose eventual escape occurs only with the assistance of other women. In the story’s exposition, readers learn that Don Serafín, Cleófilas’s father, has allowed her to marry Juan Pedro. The marriage will take her far from her family, across the U.S.–Mexico border, into Texas. The border is not only physical, but metaphorical as well. It represents a dividing line between cultures, between Cleófilas’s past and future, between her Mexican family and her American family, between community and isolation, between safety and danger.

Don Serafín tells Cleófilas, “I am your father. I will never abandon you,” but she doesn’t listen because she is distracted with wedding plans. One day, looking back, she will recall his words. She will understand that marital love may spoil, but child-parent love never does. This scene foreshadows both Cleófilas's unhappy marriage and her escape from it.

Cleófilas starts the story as a naïve young woman. From a very young age, she has romanticized ideas of love and marriage, influenced by the movies, books, music, and telenovelas that she and her friends avidly consume. The telenovelas, or Mexican soap operas, especially portray lives of glamour in which love conquers all, enduring despite hardships. Cleófilas views her life in Mexico as dull with never-ending chores, while her life in Texas holds promises of money, new clothes, and a “lovely house.” Her romantic ideas set her up for her future disillusionment.

Cisneros hints that Cleófilas’s new life will be less than perfect. She and Juan Pedro get married right away, without a long engagement, because he says he cannot take much time off work. Cleófilas believes he has a very important job but cannot remember what he does. She believes that Juan Pedro owns his new pickup truck and house. In fact, he still makes payments on his truck and rents a tiny, shabby house. Either Juan Pedro has lied about his circumstances or Cleófilas’s dreams have clouded her expectations. His mental and emotional manipulation of Cleófilas will also help him maintain control over her in their marriage.

The story foreshadows Cleófilas’s dark future when the couple drives over Woman Hollering Creek. The creek symbolizes their crossing over into their new life together. Cleófilas thinks “Woman Hollering” is an odd name for a pretty creek and wonders “whether the woman had hollered from anger or pain.” As she crosses the creek, she crosses into her new life, one that will be filled with both anger and pain.

In the rising action of the story, Juan Pedro violently shatters Cleófilas’s illusions of “happily ever after” when he first beats her, revealing himself as the story’s antagonist. The naïve Cleófilas had thought that, like the heroines of her telenovelas, she would never tolerate abuse. The first time Pedro strikes her, rather than fight back, cry, or run, she is “speechless, motionless, numb.” After Juan Pedro cries “tears of repentance and shame,” Cleófilas consoles her abuser. Cleófilas, in a patriarchal dynamic, is expected not only to endure mistreatment from Juan Pedro but also to provide him emotional support, leaving no room for her own grievances in a toxic marriage that primarily benefits him.

As the plot progresses, Cleófilas becomes increasingly isolated and suspects Juan Pedro of infidelity. Her suspicions, like the ongoing abuse, leave her numb. She has a child, Juan Pedrito, but he brings her no relief from her increasing unhappiness. She sits with her son by the creek and thinks she hears La Llorona calling to her. In the legend, La Llorona discovers her husband’s infidelity and drowns herself and her children. Cleófilas hears tales of men who have killed their wives, daughters, sisters, and more, and shudders. She feels as if she is falling into a darkness from which death may be the only release.

At the story’s climax, Cleófilas goes to the clinic for a prenatal checkup. Graciela sees the physical effects of Juan Pedro’s abuse and arranges for her friend Felice to get Cleófilas away from her abuser and back to her family in Mexico. Juan Pedro’s masculine and aggressive pride impacts Cleófilas because he wants to hide the abuse, refuses to accept financial help or be seen as having any weakness. Graciela exhibits strength and kindness in enabling Cleófilas’s escape. Felice also displays strength in the form of independence, as she rebels against society’s expectations. She is an unwed, independent woman who drives her own truck. Both women show Cleófilas that she does not have to submit to a man or be his victim, that her future does not have to be dark.

In the story’s falling action, Cleófilas and Felice drive over Woman Hollering Creek, symbolizing again a new beginning. When Felice hollers joyfully, Cleófilas realizes that her life does not have to be filled with anger and pain. She can choose to be like Felice rather than La Llorona. In the story’s resolution, Cleófilas laughs, the first laugh readers hear from her since she last crossed the creek. Cleófilas is finally free.