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Kiss of the Spider Woman: Book Summary & Analysis

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Manuel Puig's 1976 novel ''Kiss of the Spider Woman'' combines dialogue and stream-of-consciousness writing to explore themes such as homosexuality, politics, and aesthetics.

A Groundbreaking Book

Kiss of the Spider Woman, the 1976 Spanish-language novel by Argentine writer Manuel Puig, is a landmark novel that has continued to remain significant. It was shocking when it was first published for both its content, which dealt with homosexuality and political revolution, and for its unique style. It has had a remarkable impact on culture in both South America and around the world, spawning an English-language play, a Broadway musical, and an Academy Award-winning film.

The novel uses an unusual structure and combination of writing techniques, including dialogue and stream of consciousness, to depict the prison conversations between Valentin, a Communist revolutionary, and Molina, a gay window dresser who has been imprisoned for corrupting a minor.

Manuel Puig
Manuel Puig

Structure

Before getting to the plot, it is important to talk about the novel's unusual structure. The novel does not contain a traditional narrator. Instead, the bulk of the book is comprised of dialogue, or spoken conversation, between the two main characters, Molina and Valentin. There is no indication given of who is speaking, with only a dash (-) to indicate when the speaker has changed.

Other parts of the book are written in the style of stream of consciousness. Stream of consciousness is used to represent the inner thoughts of a character. It is typically written in a disjointed, non-linear style, skipping from topic to topic with no transitions to imitate the inner workings of a person's mind.

Small portions of the book are presented in the form of government records, which give us the background on Molina and Valentin and how they ended up in prison.

Plot

The novel takes place between September 9 and October 8, 1975. Molina, a gay and effeminate window dresser, and Valentin, a Communist revolutionary, share a cell in a Buenos Aires prison. Despite being total opposites, the two form a deep bond through their long and deep conversations. Molina gives Valentin lengthy, detailed descriptions of films he has seen in order to distract from their situation. The pair's deep friendship eventually leads to a brief sexual relationship.

Halfway through the novel, it is revealed that Molina is a spy who has been sent to Valentin's cell to gather information about Valentin's anti-government revolutionary group. In exchange, Molina receives provisions from the Warden. He is eventually paroled as reward for his cooperation. On the day he leaves, Valentin asks him to take a message to his revolutionary group. Through written government surveillance reports, we learn that Molina does so but is subsequently killed by Valentin's group, who believe he might take information to the police.

The novel then ends with Valentin's stream-of-consciousness thoughts after he has been brutally tortured by the police. He dreams of sailing away with his lost love Marta.

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