The Kiss of the Spider Woman is a 1976 novel by the Argentine writer Manuel Puig. It represents the daily conversations between two cellmates in an Argentine prison, Molina and Valentín, and the intimate bond they form in the process. It is generally considered Puig’s most successful work.
Summary and Synopsis
In the novel The Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig, Luis Alberto Molina, a hairdresser, and Valentin Arregui Paz, a Marxist revolutionary, are cellmates in a prison in Buenos Aires from September to October 1975. Without use From a narrative voice, Puig uses dialogues, prison reports, and streams of consciousness to tell the story. Most of the novel is written in dialogue.
Molina, who is eight years old for “corruption of minors”, is lively and sociable, unlike Valentin, a detainee, who is more reserved and spends his free time studying philosophy and preparing to meet with his comrades when he is released. It is clear, from the beginning, that Molina and Valentín have contrasting points of view and disagree on many things.
To pass the time and fall asleep, Molina tells Valentin detailed and often embellished movie plots as they lie side by side. The first film is about a girl whose fear of becoming a panther woman comes true when she suspects that her husband is having an affair with her assistant. Valentin listens and interrupts to comment, ask questions, and make critical comments, which irritates Molina.
He then shares a Nazi propaganda plot, which Molina loves for his romance. Then she tells one about a South American son who wants to participate in a political movement, which is related to Valentin. Valentin begins to talk to Molina about his participation in the movement, but also about his feelings for Marta, an ex-girlfriend.
It turns out that Molina is a spy, on behalf of the warden, and is supposed to soften Valentin into revealing the secrets of the movements of Valentin’s political group. Puig weaves into the stream of consciousness, which is used to represent Valentine’s dreams as well as his inner thoughts and Molina’s, revealing his motivations.
Although they initially don’t seem to like each other, Molina and Valentin slowly become friends, opening up to each other and eventually sharing physical intimacy. Molina shares a zombie movie at Valentine’s request for something supernatural. The plots of the film are parallel to the situations of the characters, and each represents a tense relationship and a portrait of manipulation.
Molina lies to the director and tells him that he has learned nothing about Valentin’s political group, because his relationship with Valentin is strengthening. Molina wants to be released and return to his mother, but he doesn’t want to leave Valentine either.
When Molina is released on parole, the mayor constantly follows him. Molina agrees to pass a message for Valentin to the political group, but dies in the process. In the end, Valentin is tortured and interrogated. They give him morphine and he lets himself go into a dreamy state where he reconnects with his old girlfriend, Marta.
The form of the novel is unusual in that there is no traditional narrative voice, one of the main features of fiction. It is largely written as dialogue, with no indication of who is speaking, except for a hyphen (-) to show a change of speaker.
There are also significant portions of the stream of consciousness writing. What is not written as dialogue or stream of consciousness is written as meta-fictional government documentation.
The conversations between the characters, when they are not focused on the moment, are stories from movies that Molina has seen, which act as a way to escape from their environment. Therefore, there is a main plot, several subplots, and five additional stories that comprise the novel.
- Molina: one of the protagonists and the main narrator. She is a transgender woman who has been imprisoned for “corrupting a minor”. Although no clear details are given of the incident he committed.
- Valentín: The other protagonist, and the main listener involved. He is a revolutionary, imprisoned for belonging to a left-wing organization that is trying to overthrow the government.
- The Guard: one of the antagonists of the novel; it configures Molina to spy on and retrieve information from Valentin, and receives periodic reports from him.
- Gabriel: The waiter with whom Molina befriends; he acts as Molina’s main love interest throughout the novel.
- Marta: Marta is the love interest of Valentin, whom she lost to maintain a serious commitment to her revolutionary organization. She only appears in memories and streams of consciousness in the novel.
As in many of Puig’s novels, The Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on the theme of escapism through fantasy. In particular, Molina uses her memories of classic movies as a means of escape. He is especially attracted to melodramatic films with a strong romantic theme, which is the central focus of his film count. On one level, Molina wants to escape the oppression and boredom of her cell. He retells the movies to Valentin as a means of entertaining them both during their long hours in prison.
For Molina, however, movies also function as a form of escapism from the social oppression he suffers as a homosexual. In addition, Molina identifies with the female characters in all her films; the films then represent for him an escape from his designated sex as a man, as he prefers to think of himself as a woman.
At first, Valentin despises Molina’s romantic obsessions; For Valentin, such fantasies are trivial and self-congratulating compared to his political idealism and activism. But Valentin is slowly drawn to the movies and, in the process, to a romantic relationship with Molina. In the end, Valentin completely succumbs to an escapist fantasy world.
After Molina is released from prison, Valentin is severely beaten. In the hospital ward, an assistant mercifully gives him a strong dose of morphine to ease him from physical pain. By accepting morphine, Valentin gives in to the escapism he has been resisting the entire time. The novel ends with the morphine-induced romance fantasy of Valentin in a paradise dream. This represents the defeat of Valentin’s political principles, which prison officials have effectively defeated.