Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

‘In this town there was one means of escaping reality: movies… One single

theatre that gave a different picture every day. I went with mama at least

four times a week. Little by little, I changed the terms: that which was

reality changed into a class Z movie in which I had been stuck by mistake.

Reality was what happened in movies, not what happened in town…’

- Manuel Puig

Kiss of the Spider Woman Essay

Please choose one of the following two prompts to write about, in a minimum of two pages. Your essay needs to have introductory and concluding paragraphs for symmetrical structure, but there is no paragraph requirement -suggestion though of at least three body paragraphs.

Please write a thesis one one of the following two ideas. Make sure to prove your thesis with specifics and interpret those specifics to link them back to the thesis.

Essay Topics

Write about how Puig juxtaposes Molina and Valentin's sense of honor, or what it means to do right. How do their senses of honor differ. What is the effect of this in the story?


Write about the development of Molina or Valentin (choose one) over the course of the play. How does the character change. Conversely, you may trace the development of one character's perception of the other.

Today we begin our journey into darkness with Puig's recounting of the stories of two political prisoners. As we read this text, we will be practicing the following skills:

1. Analyzing Author's Argument

2. Analyzing a Character's Development

3. Visualizing What We Read

Today in our reading we developed questions in scenes 1-3 that would address Puig's argument and character development. What we noticed is the following:

Author's Argument - Gender Roles

There are clear ideas held by both Molina and Valentin about what it means to be a man and a woman. Despite the two characters different sexual orientations, they both have relatively conservative ideas about gender roles. Ideas of strength and control are associated with manhood, while words like softness are used in relationship to womanhood. Valentin discusses the need for women to be sexually available and submissive. The heroine in the movie, Irina, is not this way as Molina describes her, and therefore Valentin prefers the Architect girl (Cat People) who dotes on the hero. Men, meanwhile, should be independent and should present a front of strength with their feelings and passions being subsidiary or secondary. Molina ironically has very similar ideas about men and women which is why he sees himself more as a woman than a man. He sees himself in the role of caretaker, submissive, and helpmate to Valentin. Valentin is the domineering one who at times bosses and at other times protects Molina.

Within these rules of the gender game, we see both Molina and Valentin carefully negotiate their relationship of necessity. Valentin is both suspicious and repulsed by Molina's effeminacy and homosexuality. He abhors any idea that he might be infected with either of these things. However, he allows Molina to minister to him in his sickness and distract him with the stories. Molina therefore feels close to Valentin, serving as a surrogate wife/partner in their forced proximity. At the same time he feels threatened by Valentin's real life girlfriend who is attractive to Valentin in ways he never will be. Meanwhile, Valentin is willing to escape into Molina's movies and allow him to feed his emotional needs in this way. He also accepts his role as protector of Molina's feelings and to take care of him as the "man" in the relationship.

At the beginning of Act 2 we see some of these roles beginning to break down as their acceptance of their partnership means that Valentin allows Molina to play the role of the mother/wife, even as he resents it. We also see Valentin softening to Molina and appreciating his playing this role.

As we continue the story we will see how this plays out and what the final argument the author might be making about this.

Author's Argument - Loyalty and Honor

As we continue, it is apparent that everything is not as it seems. At the end of Act 1 we learn that Molina is informing on Molina. With the introduction of the a third voice in the prison warden - introduced in the last scene of the first act - we realize that there is an outside world. Up to now, the only relationship we've seen is the two men's relationship with each other. Their proximity has engendered a solidarity and solidarity has created between the two a sense of loyalty. But as this relationship butts up against the harsh realities of the world outside the cell, we are faced with questions going into the second act.

How strong is the loyalty Molina feels for Valentin? What does this loyalty mean? How does it manifest itself?

How strong is the loyalty Valentin feels for Molina? What does this loyalty mean? How does it manifest itself?

What does Molina see as honorable behavior?

What does Valentin see as honorable behavior?

Where will these ideas of honor clash?

Where will the realities of their loyalty lead?

Visualizing As You Read

Reading this text, we become conscious of the fact that the words on the play are just one part of the general spectacle that is Kiss of the Spider Woman, the play. Reading the stage directions and the inference in the lines, we try to bring to life what the actual scene of these people in prison would look like.

We can infer from the text things that we might use our sense to describe. From the stage directions and dialogue what do we see? What do we hear? What do we smell? What do we feel? How can we use our imaginative sense to put ourselves in the middle of this prison cell with Molina and Valantin, or in the audience watching the spectacle of the play.

An example of this is the play's final scene.

Puig's play has been realistic up until this scene, but in the final scene we have a break from reality. Molina appears as a sort of "ghost" to Valentin, and together they have a conversation regarding their individual outcomes. They also have an opportunity to say farewell. This conversation is best understood in the context of the visuals that Puig designs around their conversation.

He uses the broad sweeping and tragically romantic Bolero music that Molina loves so much to underscore their interraction.

He uses the movement of the characters as they separate to signifying the fact that the jail cell no longer holds them.

He also describes the character's action in dramatic terms, in that they are openly expressing their heartbreak - in contrast to their reserve in prior scenes.

Finally, the entire scene is pantomimed, with the voices being recorded and played back over the playhouse.

All of this, to my mind creates a very cinematic effect, which breaks the reality of the play and brings to life the melodramatic nature of Molina's end.

Visualizing all of this helps us understand the content of the scene in its surreality.

Character's Development

As you finish the play please complete the character development worksheets for both Molina and Valentin. As the worksheet indicates, consider how their characters change over the course of the play, and how specific information (background, details of story, how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived) will inform our understanding of their character. Once you've completed these, we will discuss them on Thursday.

Molina- TBD

Valentin - TBD

If you'd like to learn more about the Broadway Production of Kiss of the Spider Woman The Musical, please see the below link for a video of "Working in the Theater" Interview about Broadway Production

Student Guide for a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman

Here is a link to a preview of the 1983 film based on the script for the play. William Hurt plays Molina, and Raul Julia played Valantin in this film version, with Hurt being nominated for and winning the Cannes Film Festival award for his performance. Kiss of Spider Woman Preview

Kiss of the Spider Woman Ikiss-of-the-spider-woman.jpgntroduction from ENotes

Kiss of the Spider Woman is Manuel Puig's fourth and best-known novel. It was first published in Spanish in 1976 as El beso de la mujer arana, then translated and published in English in 1979. Puig became most popularly known to the English-speaking public for the critically acclaimed 1985 screen adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman , starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Braga.

Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on the theme of the conflict between personal emotions, relationships, and desires vs. political idealism and activism. Valentin begins as a revolutionary who disregards pleasure and romance, while Molina begins as a man obsessed with the escapist fantasies provided by movies. As a result of their interactions, however, the two men transform one another, Valentin eventually succumbing to his emotional and physical desire for Molina, and Molina agreeing to sacrifice himself for Valentin's political cause. Puig's novel also employs experimental narrative techniques in its use of dialogue and fragmentary information, such as letters and prison reports, as well as in the extensive use of footnotes, which present a discussion of the psychological literature on homosexuality throughout the novel. Kiss of the Spider Woman is also characteristic of Puig's fiction in its extensive reference to classic cinema and its profound effect on the lives of his characters as a means of escapist fantasy.

The Prisoner's Dilemna

We didn't get a chance to go over this in class, but I thought I'd leave it up here in case you were interested. This study determines the likely-hood of two people in prison together being able to remain loyal to each other when the option of betraying their partner for a lesser sentence is presented.

The Prisoner's Dilemna from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Summary from...How to Build Cooperation by Digital Tonto

The basic narrative should be familiar to anyone who’s watched a cop show. Two suspects are brought in and interrogated separately.

If they effectively cooperate with each other they will get off on a lesser charge and serve only two years. If one defects, he will only get one year in prison while his friend gets a harsh five year sentence. If they both defect, they will each get 3 years. What’s interesting is that together they are definitely better off cooperating, but if each is following his own self interest the optimal strategy is to rat, which leads to the worst possible outcome: 3 years in prison each. (FYI: numbers vary in different versions).



No More Cliches by Octavio Paz

Author's Argument

We looked briefly at this poem to stand in contrast to the idea of gender roles presented in Puig's play.
As we discussed in class (mostly articulated by Sarah) the argument of the poem seems to be to encourage women to embrace their true selves, and to see their character, intellect, ambition, and power, as their beauty instead of the cliched images presented them by the media. I particularly like the fact that Paz, as a male narrator, takes responsibility for his part in needing to affirm this for women. He commits to finding beauty in the true character and essence of a woman instead of the "fabricated looks" he views in magazines.

No More Cliches
Beautiful face
That like a daisy opens its petals to the sun
So do you
Open your face to me as I turn the page.

Enchanting smile
Any man would be under your spell,
Oh, beauty of a magazine.

How many poems have been written to you?
How many Dantes have written to you, Beatrice?
To your obsessive illusion
To you manufacture fantasy.

But today I won't make one more Cliché
And write this poem to you.
No, no more clichés.

This poem is dedicated to those women
Whose beauty is in their charm,
In their intelligence,
In their character,
Not on their fabricated looks.

This poem is to you women,
That like a Shahrazade wake up
Everyday with a new story to tell,
A story that sings for change
That hopes for battles:
Battles for the love of the united flesh
Battles for passions aroused by a new day
Battle for the neglected rights
Or just battles to survive one more night.

Yes, to you women in a world of pain
To you, bright star in this ever-spending universe
To you, fighter of a thousand-and-one fights
To you, friend of my heart.

From now on, my head won't look down to a mazagine
Rather, it will contemplate the night
And its bright stars,
And so, no more clichés.