The Goddess Coatlicue

Environmental Renewal and Femicide in Homero Aridjis’ La leyenda de los soles
Adela Ramos

The fifth Sun:
4-Movement is its sign.
It is called the Sun of Movement,
because it moves, it follows its path.
And as the old ones go about saying,
in it there will be movements of earth,
there will be hunger
and thus we will perish.
                    (Cuauhtitlan Annals)

Statue of Coatlicue in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo courtesy Adela Ramos.

The year is 2027. Mexico City, the erstwhile “city of lakes, rivers and liquid streets,” has run out of water “and [is] dying of thirst.”[1] In Chapultepec Forest or, as the narrator of La leyenda de los soles dubs it, “Chapultepec ex-Forest,” dead trees, like garbage, are thrown out every day and its iconic castle “[fades] into the fog of pollution like an architectural ghost” (29). Drought, deforestation, power outages, poisonous air, and hourly earthquakes announce what a faceless voice confirms over the radio: it is the end of the Fifth Sun, Sign 4-Movement (20). During the last day of the Fifth Sun, the novel’s protagonist, Juan de Góngora, attempts to capture the fading landscape in a painting that he will never complete. His lover, photographer Bernarda Ramírez, spends it searching for her daughter, Ana Violeta, who has in all likelihood been abducted by the “Daybreak Rapist.” Bernarda’s daughter is one in a long list of young women who “disappear” when dawn leads to day, only to be found dead hours or days later. Ana Violeta’s abduction—and inevitable rape—foregrounds the femicide that runs parallel to the city’s environmental destruction. But the novel ultimately concludes on a hopeful note: the Daybreak Rapist is eventually brought to justice; Ana Violeta escapes physical rape, although not psychological abuse; and as the beginning of the Sixth Sun dawns upon Mexico City and Juan and Bernarda head northwest to Michoacán. The continuation of the Nahuatl cosmogony, with its implicit promise of renewal, is heralded by “the azure figure of a woman whose open arms were extended onto the Sun, as if wanting to take from him the warmth and splendor of the morning” (198).

La leyenda de los soles (The Legend of the Suns), Homero Aridjis’ blend of environmental dystopia, Nahuatl cosmogony, satire, and romance draws its title from one of the two existing textual accounts of the Nahuatl cosmogony (Nicholson 1971, 398). According to the cosmogony, the world existed in suns or epochs, each ending once the sun reached a certain fluorescence, after which a cataclysmic event would mark the end of the era and the beginning of a new one (León-Portilla 100-1). The cosmogony’s temporal logic dictates that we are currently living the era of the Fifth Sun (Sun of Movement) and, for Aridjis, who follows Nahuatl and Western calendars—both in his novels and in his environmental activism—the apocalypse should not be conceived as an endpoint but as a means to re-imagine the future, as an opportunity for renewal. In his 1995 lecture, “Approaching the End of the Millenium,” delivered at the Cultural Center of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington D.C., Aridjis calls for his audience to do “[a]s in the past, on the occasion of previous destructions” and “place our hopes in the next sun not yet created which, like Heraclitus’ bird of the resurrection, is writhing in the ashes of suns now dead.” By pointing us to do “as in the past,” Aridjis is inviting a resistance to Western forms of temporality that conceive of the passage of time and of human history in terms of progress toward a future defined by industrialization, scientific exploration, and technological advancement, bound to end in an ecoapocalypse. Through this resistance, he attempts to counter the fatalism that characterizes some environmentalist visions of humanity, opting instead to place his hopes in a “sun not yet created” (8). In La leyenda , this project manifests primarily in two key tropes: renewal and the romantic plot that cuts across the dystopic Mexico City landscape. As Juan and Bernarda look forward to Michoacán in the conclusion, the narration intimates by way of the blue woman who holds in her hand “a golden bird of luminous feathers,” that theirs will be a future of environmental renewal where they will live out their love story (198).

The hopeful conclusion of the novel has been celebrated in Aridjian criticism as one of the many ways in which Aridjis’ work attempts to transform its readers’ environmental consciousness. For Miguel López, “[b]y using the idea of the Fifth Sun, Aridjis denounces how the modernizing discourse that is founded on the myth of unlimited progress subjugates both woman and nature to the interests of private corporate interests.”[2] He further argues that the possibility of this renewal is enacted by Aridjis’ female characters who are “[…] represented as active agents in the formation of a future world where human beings can live harmoniously alongside nature” (181). In La leyenda , such a character would be Natalia, chief of police Carlos Tezcatlipoca’s half-sister, who attempts to defy the inevitable ecoapocalypse that unfolds in the novel by breeding species on the brink of extinction. Through Natalia, the novel genders conservationist impulses as female, even providing her with a name that echoes the novel’s trope of renewal: Natalia, the Spanish equivalent of Nathalie, finds its etymological root in the Latin “to be born.” However, a redemptive reading of Natalia’s character necessarily overlooks two key defining aspects of the novel: first, that Natalia, and other women in the novel, are mercilessly mutilated at the hands of male characters; second, that the novel’s hero, Juan de Góngora, participates in this mutilation, albeit metaphorically, by way of his sexual desire for his lover, Bernarda. The Aridjian love story, according to James J. López, foregrounds love as “the only thing that can surmount the apocalyptic fatalism of his own millenary vision of history and the hereafter.” In fact, López argues, it is by way of love that Aridjis’ entire work “defies us to access a paradise that will be inhabited only by those who can see beyond the disastrous horizon of the turn of the [twenty-first] century” (155).

Such hopeful readings of the female characters and of the lovers, however, overlook how the conclusion relies for its hopeful vision of renewal on a feminization of nature that is complicit with the exploitation of both women’s bodies and the environment. While the novel at times successfully puts forth a critique of the human-nature divide where humans have an unassailable right to exploit nature, it is less successful in its attempt to counter a crucial aspect of the human-nature binary whereby the feminine—not the masculine—is embedded in nature and whereby women can be exploited at the service of masculine interests. In fact, a redemptive reading of the novel would necessarily overwrite the governing figure of renewal that underpins the Nahuatl cosmogony, the goddess Coatlicue (“Snakes-Her-Skirt”), and her relationship to her counterpart, Tezcatlipoca or “The Mirror’s Smoke.” The novel’s representation of these two creative deities betrays its allegiance to a kind of binary thinking in which the feminine and nature are at odds with the masculine. Ecofeminist philosopher, Val Plumwood, conceives of this binary as the “dualistic structure in western thought” according to which the binaries male and female and human and nature are “cultural expressions and justifications” of domination and accumulation (42). In particular, the novel’s juxtaposition of the Daybreak Rapist’s physical abuse of women’s bodies and Juan de Góngora’s visual fragmentation of his lover’s body effectively replicate the male and female and human and nature binary that justifies the exploitation of women’s bodies.

Coatlicue first makes her appearance when the narrator describes chief of police Carlos Tezcatlipoca’s monumental home. The chief of police presides over the apocalyptic Mexico City alongside president José Huitzilopochtli (God of the Sun and Coatlicue’s son in the Nahuatl cosmogony). While the president makes himself omnipresent in the billboards, posters, and advertisements that are strategically located throughout the megalopolis, it is Carlos Tezcatlipoca who really dominates the city, causing terror not only through his tyrannical management of the police, but also through the abduction and rape of myriad young women, whom he lures into his car as they walk to school in the early morning hours. And it is over his home that Coatlicue herself looms. The building is described as:

[…] the work of hallucination, its black slate roofs, tezontle walls; stone balconies that faced blocked walls, its doors and windows were inaccessible, its high arches rested on air with no support, holes were chiseled to the door making it possible to look out without being seen. And high, up above, the statue of the goddess Coatlicue. (106)

The details of his abode echo Tezcatlipoca’s meaning in the Natuatl cosmogony as “The Mirror’s Smoke”: his obsidian eyes, historian H.B. Nicholson explains, “provide a mirror in which the whole character of a culture is clearly reflected” (412). Aridjis follows this interpretation of the Mirror’s Smoke both in his declaration that “man’s conscience is like the obsidian mirror of the Aztecs, reflecting the living body of a corpse-like state” and in the description of Tezcatlipoca’s home (Approaching 4). The “stone balconies that faced blocked walls” and the inaccessible doors and windows are manifestations of the god’s impenetrability and of his function as a being who refers the spectator back to her self when she looks into his obsidian eyes. The building’s monumental size is a reminder of what Fray Bernardo de Sahagún identified as the omnipotent, omnipresent qualities which made him the “supreme god” of the late Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican pantheon (95). Coatlicue’s place at the zenith of his home is the irrefutable statement of his role as one of the three primal creative deities of the Nahuatl cosmogony—and of their twofold role in the creation of the earth.

Coatlicue is the main source of renewal without which no suns, and therefore no eras, would be possible. In some Mesoamerican cosmogonies more generally known as earth monster, in the Nahuatl cosmogony she is split apart by Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, who use her upper body to create the earth and lower body to create the heavens. Coatlicue’s dismemberment represents what Nicholson describes as the Nahuatl idea that “earth is at one and the same time the great womb and the tomb of all life” (422). That is, Coatlicue’s dismemberment symbolizes the inextricable relationship between death and renewal; the birth of the new Sun is contingent upon her dismemberment. In the fragmentation of female bodies and psyches—dismembered in acts of brutal crime, in earthquakes, and crucially, through the protagonist’s masculine gaze—La leyenda repeatedly quotes the Nahuatl cosmogony’s account of the beginning of the Fifth Sun.

The novel’s fragmented female bodies, especially those that are disinterred after the cataclysmic earthquake, are an allusion to Coatlicue’s own dismemberment and suggest that these fragmented bodies, however terrifying, also lead to renewal. However, chief Tezcatlipoca’s desecration of female bodies is far from echoing the deity’s twofold relationship of destruction and renewal whereby Tezcatlipoca must dismember Coatlicue in order to create life. Rather, the chief’s treatment of female characters replicates a male-female binary that merely serves the purpose of bolstering his omnipotence. Drawing from Tezcatlipoca’s meaning as the supreme god of the pantheon, the novel represents the deity as both the leader of a corrupt police force and as the Daybreak Rapist, thus placing him in an antagonistic relationship with women, which is mediated by acts of extreme violence. This antagonism is depicted with particular force in his relationship with Natalia, his half-sister. Tezcatlipoca accounts for Natalia’s self-imposed role as a conservationist who “[w]ithout anybody’s support and no money” was able to breed “howling monkeys, jaguars, macaws, rabbits, quetzals, black vultures and chachalacas ” (69). While Tezcatlipoca declares that he has detested her from the moment he first saw her face, it is Natalia’s role as an ecoguerillera, as he calls her, that is specifically anathema to his alliance with the destruction of the environment. In a rampage that the narration describes in detail, he destroys her and her conservationist efforts, which he refers to as a “subversive labor” meant to build “a sanctuary out of the leftovers of paradise.” After shooting a howler monkey, a leatherback sea turtle, and a teporingo rabbit (volcano rabbit), Tezcatlipoca salvages only the jaguar—the animal that represents the Mirror’s Smoke in Nahuatl cosmogony—who he frees from his captivity. At the end of the scene, Natalia’s body, riddled by bullets, lies in the jaguar’s cage. Her lifeless body is simultaneously animalized and objectified as yet another “leftover,” representing the annihilation of a potential model for better interspecies relationships (72).

In this scene, Tezcatlipoca’s symbolism as “a mirror in which the whole character of a culture is clearly reflected” is particularly poignant. Tezcatlipoca’s annihilation of the conservationist dream offers up a critique not of human indifference toward non-human species, but of the willful destruction of other species in the name of human exceptionality. As the chief of police is about to murder the last living leatherback sea turtle, he turns to his sidekick, Santiago Chánoc, and declares: “You and I, Chánoc, belong to the last generation of humans that will see a living leatherback sea turtle, the greatest sea turtle known to mankind. I thought her species was extinct; I see there is one left. I will now execute her before your eyes” (70). Tezcatlipoca’s motivation to kill the last living turtle is fueled by his need to assert his omnipotence. But this omnipotence is only fully realized with Natalia’s execution, for she represents the conservationist impulse, the will to perpetuate life, and the promise of human stewardship for other animals. Yet in the gendering of conservationism as feminine something more complex, and somewhat perplexing, is at work: the narrative is at once rejecting the desecration of nature and endorsing the construct that aligns the feminine with nature against the masculine. To be sure, by positioning the reader against Tezcatlipoca, it is certainly rejecting the kind of masculinity that asserts itself through the domination of nature. However, in the broader context of the novel, masculine violence over women is condoned through Ana Violeta’s rescue and romanticized through the protagonists’ love story.

A critical manifestation of the end days is the rape and murder of young school girls, which develops throughout the narrative as a kind of detective plot and concludes with the accidental murder of Tezcatlipoca and the revelation that he is the Daybreak Rapist. Bernarda Ramírez’ daughter, Ana Violeta, is a proxy for the other anonymous victims, giving them a more tangible identity. Tezcatlipoca’s victims were either raped and left for dead, or raped and murdered and then thrown away in some desolate terrain. Ana Violeta escapes death; not sexual assault. She recounts her experience to the media explaining that she suffered no penetration, since she was able to fool “El Tláloc,” Tezcatlipoca’s minion, to “cum between her legs.” She points the reader to the real identity of the Daybreak Rapist before it is officially revealed when she declares that she was not abducted by El Tláloc, but by a man whose only distinctive characteristics “were his dark sunglasses and golden teeth.” While he never laid a hand on her, he would “visit her periodically and observe her in captivity” (178). Ana Violeta’s “captivity” conjures up the dead Natalia lying in the jaguar’s cage, both in different ways subjugated by Tezcatlipoca.

Ana Violeta’s rescue, in accordance with the novel’s dystopia, does not lead to redemption: after the press conference she is confined to her father’s home and ultimately leaves the country for “an undisclosed location” (178). But the means through which the narrative deflects redemption is Juan de Góngora’s response to her declaration. Rather than alerting Bernarda to the fact that her daughter has been rescued and sympathizing with Tezcatlipoca’s victim, Juan de Góngora “rancorously examines Ana Violeta’s facial features, which had caused her mother so much pain.” In scanning Ana Violeta’s face, de Góngora identifies her resemblance to her father, Anastasio Parrondo, whom we know is a womanizer and soon learn abandoned Bernarda, also refusing to give Ana Violeta his last name. Through an inexplicable outburst of rage against Ana Violeta for her physical resemblance to Bernarda’s ex-husband, de Góngora bars the possibility of sympathizing with the victim—participating in something similar to victim shaming—and decides that Bernarda will never know about her daughter’s true fate: “Bernarda has recovered her daughter without knowing it, and without knowing it she has lost her forever,” de Góngora declares through free indirect speech, thereby creating an uncomfortable complicity with the reader.

Bernarda will remain under the impression that her daughter was raped and murdered for the remainder of the novel. Close to its conclusion, she happens upon a sign that hangs from “the trunk of a dead elm” and reads: “Unidentified female body. Approximate age: 15 years. Skin color: brown. Clothing: white flowered dress. Hair: black. The body has been sent to the Forensic Medicine Service where it will remain for 4 hours and will then be cremated.” Upon reading the sign, Bernarda becomes agitated, “as if she had just received news about her daughter Ana Violeta” (189). The dramatic irony of this scene underscores the implications of de Góngora’s decision to define the limits of Bernarda’s knowledge. While it is arguably out of jealousy, de Góngora’s decision to hide the truth from Bernarda denies her the possibility of self-determination. But the conclusion of Ana Violeta’s and Bernarda’s ordeal only crystallizes what becomes apparent from the first moment de Góngora becomes privy to Ana Violeta’s abduction and possible rape when he remains only mildly concerned about the young girl’s fate. Instead, his attention is distracted by how the tragedy might bring Bernarda closer to her ex-husband, who obviously represents a threat to his own claim over his lover, and how a sudden reconciliation might foil his own desire to possess her.

When Bernarda first tells de Góngora about Ana Violeta’s abduction, his fatalistic attitude conveys the normalization of femicide. De Góngora’s fatalism is partly informed by his knowledge that the police are unable, and probably unwilling, to find the Daybreak Rapist. But compared to his reaction to the environmental devastation of Mexico City, his reaction to Ana Violeta’s abduction and rescue seems strangely out of character. The narration constantly turns to de Góngora’s unrelenting sadness over the destruction of the Mexico City landscape, describing how he “could not get used to a geography of dead lakes and rivers, devastated jungles and forests, of silenced animals heavy like death—he could not get used to this vast geography, a place of biological extinction” (123). Focalized through de Góngora’s gaze, the narration depicts the devastation of megalopolis’ landscape and repeatedly looks backward, in a kind of pastoral leap, to the old Tenochtitlan in search of its lost beauty. When describing the landscape, de Góngora waxes poetic and contemplates the role of the artist in the face of environmental destruction:

A river used to travel down that avenue, how am I now supposed to paint its absence, its channeled body, the backwaters it carries? How am I supposed to depict the disappearance of a river, the silent scream of an agonizing Nature? He asked himself standing before his painting. How am I supposed to paint the loneliness of the last teporingo rabbit as he becomes extinct at the edge of a volcano? (164)

In this passage, de Góngora demonstrates his profound capacity to feel for the landscape, for non-human animals, and nature in both its watery and earthy manifestations. His lament is already an elegy for “that abolished Venice which once was Mexico Tenochtitlan” (94). In the context of his unfeeling response to Ana Violeta’s abduction, his awareness of “the silent scream of an agonizing Nature” becomes particularly perplexing. While in English, to feminize nature requires the use of feminine pronouns, “nature” is a feminine noun in Spanish: gender is implicit already in the articulation of the word. For de Góngora, nature’s agonizing scream is akin to a woman’s scream; for her, he feels deeply. But he appears unable to feel for the young victims of femicide. When Bernarda seeks his commiseration, he instead turns his attention to her ex-husband, suggesting that they invest their energies not in finding Ana Violeta, but in imprisoning her unfaithful husband so that he can marry her. But his lack of sympathy is not the result of indifference. Rather, it is a symptom of de Góngora’s inability to conceive of women’s bodies as anything other than objects of desire—even when they are mutilated.

When one of the final major earthquakes hits the city, threatening to devastate it for once and for all, de Góngora witnesses the rescue of the mortal remains of Rosalba Montes, an associate of Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli’s enemies. In detailing how de Góngora observes her fractured body, the narration is less akin to a dystopia and more to a blazon. De Góngora admires how “[h]er sensual thighs and muddied breasts appeared under the light of a lamp used to illuminate her, her fine bloodless lips, the blind beauty of her black eyes.” In this inventory of Rosalba’s corpse, the narrative conjures up de Góngora’s own blazon of Bernarda’s body. Earlier in the novel, during one of Bernarda’s other uncomfortable attempts to elicit sympathy from him, speaking over the “videophone,” de Góngora stops listening to her complaints and instead becomes lost in his desire for her: “while Bernarda spoke [of her daughter’s abduction] he followed her moving lips, her facial gestures. At times, all he could see were parts of her breasts, her shoulders, her arms; he really enjoyed this visual contact with her blind eyes, this reading of her lips” (35-4). Rosalba’s “fine bloodless lips” might appear as the opposite of Bernarda’s “moving lips,” but they do not undermine de Góngora’s desire. In fact, these two moments of masculine desire share important similarities. Rosalba’s lifeless thighs and breasts appear as sensual as Bernarda’s breasts, shoulders, and arms. Crucially, de Góngora’s description portrays both women as having blind eyes: the “blind beauty” of Rosalba’s eyes attempts to convey how they remain beautiful even in death; by Bernarda’s “blind eyes,” though, de Góngora is referring to her “moving lips,” since he can only see half of her face through the videophone. This signals how Bernarda is at a complete disadvantage here, since she is unable to see Juan and desire him in return. Instead, de Góngora’s sexual appetite is only heightened by his vantage point over her parts, leaving her a fragmented object of desire deprived of the possibility of returning his gaze.

Crucially, Rosalba’s disinterment offers a telling parallel to the disinterment of the Coatlicue’s monolithic statue, an emblematic moment in Mexican history that tells the tale of the vexed relationship between the modern Mexican identity and its Mexica past. Aridjian criticism has largely minimized Coatlicue’s role in the narrative, reading her simply as a symbol of renewal.[3] Glossing over Coatlicue’s complex meanings is in itself a trope in Mexican historiography, as Jean Franco demonstrates in her summation of Coatlicue’s meaning from the moment the diety is disinterred in 1790 to Octavio Paz’s changing interpretations of her image throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Franco vividly explains how Coatlicue has been “an object of horror,” a “thing of beauty hidden from view,” “a masterpiece” and “the subject of endless speculation, far more than any other single pre-Columbian artifact” (205). To illustrate what Franco refers to as “an object of horror” and a “subject of endless speculation,” I turn to her own description of the Coatlicue Mayor , the original monolith that was disinterred in 1790 and which now stands in the Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City:

The statue is covered on the front, back, sides and underside (that is, on a part invisible to the viewer) with figures and codified allusions to death and resurrection. Crowned by two fanged serpent heads on a severed and bleeding torso, it has eagle claws for feet on which there are eyes, a skirt of serpents buckled by a human skull and an adornment of hearts. At the base and invisible to the viewer is a god squatting in the attitude of the earth monster and interpreted either as Mictlantecutli, the god of death, or as Tlaloc, the god of rain. Because this figure is invisible, it suggests that Coatlicue was not there to be contemplated but was an embodiment of forces and an esoteric text. (209)

Coatlicue perplexes in great part due to her association with human sacrifice, the adornment of hearts symbolizes the actual human sacrifice that Mexicas practiced at the Templo Mayor, and which, as Franco argues, was for long “an object of horror” that the Mexican and European intelligentsia would much rather bury in the past. Franco considers how Coatlicue was “unusable” for western ideas of the earth mother because her status as “mother of the gods”: her sons are all blood-thirsty warriors, chief among them is the warrior god, Huitzilipochti, to whom thousands of warriors were sacrificed. That is, Coatlicue defies environmentalist ideas of an uncorrupted Mother Earth through her association with blood rituals and human sacrifice. Furthermore, in her own composition as a hybrid of the human and animal that is both a whole and a composite of meaningful parts, Coatlicue defies binary thinking. Indeed, as Paz eloquently explains, Coatlicue’s power poses a challenge to anthropocentrism, since far from confirming the earth’s function as a source of nourishment for humanity, “[m]ankind is not placed at the center of the game but is the giver of blood, the precious substance that moves the world and due to which the sun rises and corn grows” (84). The blood of humans is what sustains the earth and all its living beings, not vice versa.

Crucially, the limbs and organs that make up Coatlicue’s sculptural text, as Franco argues, “do not add up to a discrete willful unity, to the whole person that we have long deified.” Rather, “the image of the dispersed and fragmented body” is alien to humanist thinking. In Mexica belief, Coatlicue’s parts are not conceived as pieces of a whole, but as “variable functions,” vested of their own energy, which after death take a life of their own. For Franco, our contemporary inability to reconcile the “object of horror” with “the thing of beauty” is in large part a result of the unity of each of these parts, which is anathema to the “whole person” of humanism. But she wonders why interest in Coatlicue is reignited in the so-called post-humanist age. Franco concludes her analysis of Coatlicue pondering how “the image of the dispersed and fragmented body that is alien to humanist thinking may now represent a reality that in an era of global trafficking in body parts and organ transplants becomes eerily relevant” (217). In Aridjis’ dystopic vision of 2027 Mexico City, the Zona Rosa neighborhood houses the “largest human slaughterhouse in the country,” competing with “the border cities and their varied flesh products.” The narrator declares that both the city’s and the border’s slaughterhouses are part of “a new slave trade” of female prostitutes (77). The fictional human slaughterhouse, however, has an actual parallel in the Juárez unresolved femicides occurring in the border since 1993, the year of the novel’s first publication. Franco’s reading of the Coatlicue in light of the post-humanist move is thus particularly relevant for Aridjis’ La leyenda de los soles . Coatlicue’s affront to anthropocentrism ostensibly parallels Aridjis’ own project to engage a “biosophic” line of thought whereby humans no longer think of themselves in opposition to nature but find a more harmonious way of engaging with non-human beings and the environment. However, through Tezcatlipoca’s violent mastery over women and nature, and Juan de Góngora’s fragmenting gaze, the novel undermines the environmental renewal it aims to espouse through its creation of a paradox: while through the anti-hero, Tezcatlipoca, it rejects the subjugation of women and non-human life, through the protagonist’s male gaze, it condones an environmentalist consciousness that dehumanizes women in the name of sexual desire.

Rather than symbolizing environmental renewal, Rosalba’s mutilated corpse becomes a troubling example of post-humanism gone wrong: it is possible to hear Nature’s agonizing scream and to feel for her, but woman’s agony is silenced. Furthermore, the novel’s era of renewal is dependent on Juan and Bernarda’s ability to drive away, to look forward—not back—to a new epoch and to leave behind them the death-ridden landscape, and even Bernarda’s need to understand the fate of her disappeared daughter. The conclusion of the novel places the responsibility of renewal in a heterosexual couple that will recreate a better world away from the destructive industrialization of Mexico City in an unchartered if geographically located paradise. The Sixth Sun seems thus to move away from the Nahuatl cosmogony and toward a Judeo Christian worldview where Juan and Bernarda moonlight as an Adam and Eve of the new millennium. And aside from suggesting that a new era of environmental renewal can exist, the novel does little to imagine what such a future might entail. Instead, it invests its energies in describing an awful present, one from which the protagonists quite easily drive away.


  • Aridjis, Homero. Approaching the End of the Millenium. Washington DC: IDB Cultural Center, 1995.
  • -------. La Leyenda de Los Soles. 3rd ed. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003.
  • Bernardino, Thelma D Sullivan, and H. B Nicholson. Primeros Memoriales. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
  • Franco, Jean. “The Return of Coatlicue: Mexican Nationalism and the Aztec Past.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies (13569325) 13, no. 2 (2004).
  • León Portilla, Miguel, and José Jorge Klor de Alva. The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to Nahua Culture. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992.
  • López, James. “Aridjis Milenario: Unidad Temática y Estética de Su Obra Narrativa.” In “La Luz Queda En El Aire”: Estudios Internacionales En Torno a Homero Aridjis. Frankfurt am Main; [Madrid]: Vervuert; [Iberoamericana], 2005.
  • López, Miguel. “Pensar La Nación Mexicana a Través Del Apocalipsis Ecológico En Dos Novelas Distópicas de Homero Aridjis.” In “La Luz Queda En El Aire”: Estudios Internacionales En Torno a Homero Aridjis. Frankfurt am Main; [Madrid]: Vervuert; [Iberoamericana], 2005.
  • Nicholson, H. B. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001.
  • Paz, Octavio. “El Arte de México: Materia Y Sentido.” In Obras Completas, Los Privilegios de La Vista II: Arte de México, 3rd ed. Vol. 7. Círculo de Lectores. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003.
  • Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London; New York: Routledge, 1993.


  1. All translations of La leyenda de los soles are mine. From this moment on, all passages are from Homero Aridjis, La leyenda de los soles. México D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003.  // back
  2. All translations of Aridjian criticism are mine. See Miguel López, “Pensar La Nación Mexicana a Través Del Apocalipsis Ecológico en Dos Novelas Distópicas de Homero Aridjis,” in “La Luz Queda En El Aire”: Estudios Internacionales En Torno a Homero Aridjis (Frankfurt am Main; [Madrid]: Vervuert; [Iberoamericana], 2005), 173-85.  // back
  3. I am thinking particularly of Miguel López’s ecofeminist reading of the novel where Coatlicue is relegated to a footnote and described as a goddess associated with renewal, purity and social reorganization. See, 184.  // back

ADELA RAMOS is an Assistant Professor of English at Pacific Lutheran University. She was born in Mexico City, where she received her B.A. with honors in Modern Languages and Literatures from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a Diploma in Translation Studies from El Colegio de México. She completed her PhD in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and was a Whiting Foundation Fellow (2009–10). Her scholarship has an emphasis on eighteenth-century British Literature and human-animal studies. Her forthcoming publications include "Species Thinking: Animals, Women, and Literary Form in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Spring 2018) and "The Hunting of the Hare: Anthropomorphism and the Marriage Plot in Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones (forthcoming Routledge, 2017).