Sexuality in Caramelo
Sandra Cisneros’ novel, Caramelo, grapples with the many societal and cultural rules imposed on the Reyes family. Most notable among these rules is sexuality. Each member of the Reyes family struggles with their sexuality in terms of what is deemed acceptable by standards of society. Premarital sex, children born out of wedlock, unrequited love, and voyeuristic family members places the Reyes family in culturally unacceptable situations. Also, while most family members find themselves in situations due to their sexuality, there is a clear gender divide as to how these situations are handled.
Soledad’s sexuality is the most complex. What could be read as a psychological problem due to her mother’s death, her abandonment by her father, and her leering uncle, she attaches herself to Narciso. Her need for love causes her to abandon societal expectations of female chastity and she becomes pregnant. Narciso ignores this fact while Soledad is tormented by her “heartsickness.” Narciso only marries her after prompting from his father. The two conform to the expectation that a pregnancy resulting from premarital sex is to be solved by marriage.
Narciso continues to step outside of convention when he has an affair with Exaltacion Henestrosa. Narciso’s love for Exaltacion is not mutual. The fact that she runs off with Panfila Palafox from the traveling circus can be read as a punishment for engaging in an extramarital affair. The addition of the fact that he is jilted for another woman exemplifies the expectation of heterosexuality in Mexican culture at this time.
Narciso and Soledad’s son, Inocencio, is not exempt form problems resulting from his sexuality. His affair results in the child, Candelaria. Soledad knows Candelaria’s paternity yet holds on to the information until it can be used to inflict the most damage on Inocencio’s wife. The gender divide is most prominent in this situation because Narciso carries on with his family while Candelaria and her mother become family servants.
Passing right down the familial line, Celaya finds herself outcast because of both her sexuality and her implied sexuality. Her interest in leaving her family to live on her own is met with resistance by her father. The expectation of a woman to remain at home until marriage causes Inocencio to respond that if his daughter left, she would be no better than a prostitute. When Celaya does run off with Ernie to Mexico City, her family is so stunned upon her return that they do not speak to her. In the meantime, her brother has gotten his girlfriend pregnant before marriage and it is not regarded with as much shame as what Celaya has brought on herself and her family.
While the double standards of sexuality are far from erased in current society, Cisneros uses the Reyes family to exemplify the expectations of family and society. Showing over and over how the men are not punished or held accountable for their actions but the women must suffer the consequences is a tool used by Cisneros to draw attention the societal standards at the time of the story and illuminating the double standards that still exist.