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Double Negatives, Present Absences and Other No-Nos: Dialogic Community Action in Ana Castillo’s So Far From God


Ana Castillo's So Far From God works to reconcile a multiplicity of civic and cultural institutions that compete for prominence in the American Southwest, a region marked by diverse social and linguistic practices. Amerindian and Chicano cultures, for example, confront their marginalization amidst mainstream economic orders, competing religious dogmas and models of civic government. The resulting intercultural synthesis—endemic to the physical and psychological regions Gloria Anzaldúa defines as “the Borderlands”—surfaces in the narrator’s language, which marks her as a non-native speaker of so-called Standard American English. Abundant double negatives and other quirks in her speech conform to conventional Spanish constructions; as such, they give voice to ambiguous, doubly-spoken utterances that can be instructively analyzed in terms of Mikhail Bakhtin’s account of dialogic discourse. As we will see, such linguistic complexity harbors an empowering capacity to engage lived experience by renaming it; wielded effectively, it may usefully contest and revise conventional patriarchal and socio-economic paradigms that would otherwise restrict human agency. Characters may employ dialogic discourse to speak new realities, in a sense. This reality-making—the naming of that which was formerly inexpressible—finds powerful activation in the narrator’s unique sensibility, the arrival, perhaps, of “a new mestiza consciousness” that Anzaldúa announces in her work (77). In So Far From God, mourning mother and activist Sofi follows the narrator’s model to rise as la mayor. In this role, her dialogically expressed mestiza consciousness uses cross-language complexity to subvert the powerful systems that have conditioned Tome’s poverty and dysfunction. Meanwhile, Sofi’s daughter, la Fe, fails to successfully voice such a challenge and finds herself relegated to a position of impotent exclusion.

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