Patriarchy, Gender, and Spirituality in “Pepita Jimenez” by Juan Valera

Subject: Gender Studies
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 16
Word count: 4125
Topics: Women Rights, Gender Inequality, Gender Roles


Originally performed in the 19th century, “Pepita Jimenez” by Juan Valera is a depiction of a patriarchal milieu whose comprehension is facilitated by the analysis of the role of the characters and narrators in relations to spirituality and gender. The primary characters, in this case, are Don Luis de Vargas, Don Pedro, Pepita, and Antonona. Although- at the time of the play- the society in Spain was unaware and unconcerned about the influence of patriarchy, it is evident from the opera that it ominously shaped the society as demonstrated by the character of Pepita Jimenez. To begin with, it is important to scrutinize Pepita as described by Don Luis. Based on Luis’ correspondences to his uncle, one can easily conclude that, though on a superficial level, that Luis dislikes her. Still, a close reading in between the lines and context of the letters reveal that Luis is gradually developing feelings for her. A description of Pepita is also provided through the opinion of other male characters in the society who rebuke her and are of the opinion that she exhibits masculine traits that are against the norm. Notably, it is evident from the works that Pepita does not have a main voice. However, there are some scenes in “Paralipomena” whereby, her thoughts, interests, and feelings are for the first time clearly articulated.

Another seemingly important character is Antonona and her perception of Pepita. Though she holds a lower societal rank to Pepita, she features as a “main” female character in the opera. With the aid of Antonona, viewers and readers can recognize Pepita’s true feelings towards Don Luis. Her description of Pepita is arguably believable as she is unbiased in her analysis and does not hold the stereotypical views presented by the male characters. It is equally important to analyze the courtship session of Pepita and Luis as it illuminates societal expectations of both genders. Though at first Luis desperately attempts to deny his true intentions and feelings towards Pepita, he eventually succumbs to his thoughts and feelings (Valera 48). By incorporating some sense of humor in her utterances, Luis finally grasps that Petita has likewise developed feelings for him. Regardless, it is obvious to conclude that Luis and Pepita played an equal role in the manifestation of their current predicament. In any case, readers discover that, at the end of the opera, Petita is, in fact, a very nice, kind, gorgeous, pure, and good woman. Men, however, have a contrary view of her persona with some even slandering her good name and reputation- an act that can be attributed to the patriarchal nature of their present society, era, and town. As such, this paper will seek to analyze the characteristics of such a society. 

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A recurrent theme in Pepita Jimenez is that of patriarchy and is evidenced by several ancillary themes include gender and the role of women. During that period, the society believed that it was a taboo for a woman to assume a role that was conventionally associated with men. This was in spite of the fact that some women defied the norm and proceeded to assume such responsibilities either by choice or life circumstances (Léonard 28). In Juan’s narrative, however, readers can conclude that such a quest would yield grave repercussions for the women who defied the odd as at the end of the tale, they were either punished or underwent a change of character. If the latter occurs, it is perceived that proper transformation has occurred. Such is the case of Pepita as a study of her character transformation throughout the text reveals. Apparently, the male characters held a low opinion of her affirming that she initially exhibited masculine traits. Still, as the narrative progresses, they attest to the positive transfiguration that has occurred as at the end of the play she assumes a more feminine role (Taylor 14). It is, however, imperative to consider that Pepita’s display of masculine traits is not by design rather it is promulgated by life circumstances. This is particularly true especially after the demise of her husband where she is necessitated to assume the leadership roles in managing the estate that he bequeathed her. 

Interestingly, Pepita’s transformation coincides with that of her soon to be husband and suitor, Don Luis. While Luis transforms to acquire a more masculine character, Pepita transitions to, and adopts, a feminine nature in preparation for their upcoming marriage and life after that. The two, though they hold a similar quest of attaining gender-specific behavior, are differently motivated and their change process is facilitated by several changes that occur in their individual lives. In Pepita’s case, the change was propagated by the death of her eighty-year-old husband as she comes to the contextual realization that she has a second chance at marriage by entering into a union with a person more of her age where initially, she had no choice in the matter. As for Luis, his change process is aided by his father who recognizes the affection that he holds for Petita and seeks to assist him by introducing him to an alternative religion and priesthood. Following their resolve to acquire ideal gender-like behavior, the text depicts a couple who are absurdly obsessed with the transition. Their firm steadfastness is an indication of a society that upholds gender-specific roles and is highly defined by the same. In this case, women were required to be submissive to their husbands bending to their wishes and needs while reserving their opinions on societal issues. Men, on their part, were tasked with leadership roles that included provision and management of family wealth. For instance, Pepita at the tender age of eighteen is betrothed to her aged uncle by her mother, and despite the age difference, she responds in the affirmative confirming her willingness to proceed with the marriage. This is an attestation of the self-sacrificing nature that is expected of women (Gómez 34). Furthermore, during the three years of marriage, she plays the role of a nurse to her husband and he, in turn, meets her material needs. 

In truth, it is necessary for Pepita to undergo a transformation as she will have to forsake and, at the same time, acquire attributes that are in alignment with her future role as the wife to a vicar. Arguably, Pepita’s transition can equally be attributed to her coming of age and awareness of self. Where before she was married out of duty, her second marriage will be founded on love, and hence, she feels the need to conform to the role of a loving wife to Don Luis. To this end, Juan seeks to reveal that it is requisite for both men and women to display gender like behavior to ensure progress and harmony in the society. Though subtly, Juan likewise reveals that the power of women to transform society by upholding feminine behavior. For example, Pepita’s most important role yet remains to be her ability to inspire the evolution of her soon to be husband to become a macho man through her devotion, hope, and modest and humble nature (Labanyi 43). Still, the impact of Pepita’s transfiguration is not limited to Don Luis as the society views her as a symbol of hope because of her ability to remain humble despite her ascend in status following the wealth bequeathed to her by her husband. This is further evidenced by her charitable acts towards the needy. This is a clear depiction of the multifaceted role of women in the society. Though they are highly undermined, they remain to be powerful forces of change.

At the time, men were obliged to take on leadership role in spiritual matters. Juan, nevertheless, shows that it women were likewise required to uphold a certain form of religiosity. In this regard, they were to establish the boundaries between religious fascism and moderate religiosity. Religious fascism was largely classified as a masculine trait whereby, men had an authoritarian view and conduct in matters religion (Stein 24). On the other hand, religiosity was allied with women. Pepita illustrated religiosity with her conduct, especially her charitable works as she endeavored to help the needy. The society believed that women of her nature would eventually make good mothers and wives. This was later established after her marriage to Don Luis.

Another important aspect in regards to gender and gender roles is the evidence of marginalization of women. This was in reference to the exclusion of women along power structures and distribution of resources. Juan’s support of marginalization is apparent whereby he gives voice to the male characters in the play while denying female characters the same. For example, while readers can easily recognize Luis’ feelings, thoughts, and beliefs through the correspondences he writes to his uncle, they can only learn about the character of Pepita from the description of the male characters especially, Don Luis. In essence, Juan attempts to show the control that men had over the society and restrictions that were placed on women. It is only in one instance where readers can clearly grasp Pepita’s true feelings, thoughts, and character from her own utterances. Likewise, unless it was necessary, women were not allowed to voice their opinions as they were viewed as objects and expected to submit to the will of their husbands or guardians (Soufas 52). Besides, women were deemed unfit to control their husbands’ estates or any financial matter.  Consequently, upon the demise of their spouses, the society required that they wed. This notion underrated their abilities in a society that believed that men were superior to women. 

With the passing of time, the society has seemingly deconstructed the premises of patriarchy as more and more women take on masculine roles and are even appointed in leadership roles that were exclusively dominated by men. Where they would have been harshly judged for such a stance, they are now applauded and supported by fellow women and men alike. Opponents of the viewpoint, yet, firmly state that the feminine show of strength is a form of feminism that is instigated by a society that has over empowered women. Similar to the 19th century, this is viewed as outright defiance of the constructs on which a functional society is founded on. Arguably, the society has positively benefited from women taking on leadership roles as they are not only seen to skillfully execute their duties, they have been able to achieve milestones by facilitating change and growth (Léonard 39). Juan likewise attempts in his text to show that if allowed, women can work singlehandedly and in conjunction with men to bring change to the society.  

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Spirituality was an imperative aspect of the society in the 19th-century society with men dominating monasteries and taking on the role of priesthood. As is the case in the play, every seminarian and member of the monastery is a man. Those called to the convent were required to behave in a certain manner that was a depiction of their faith.  For instance, they were forbidden from developing feelings for people of the opposite sex and were required to take a biblical approach to rid themselves of the feelings. In the case of Luis, for example, when he came to the realization of his growing attraction for Pepita, he began to emulate the behavior of literary, biblical, and religious figures who found themselves in the same predicament. In his letter, the reverend dean of the seminary, Luis’s uncle, cites the example of Saint John and Saint Teresa as well as Joseph, son of Jacob, who fled from temptation presented by the wife of Potiphar. In regards to the latter, Luis is of the opinion that Pepita is neither a sinful woman nor is he a worldly man as Joseph was. He, however, concedes that there were religious cases like that of Saint Jerome and Saint Paulina whereby the man waited till he became fully matured before pursuing a relationship with a woman. Evidently, Luis opted to take on this approach in regards to his relationship with Pepita. Becoming secularized was evidently a temptation meant to deviate one from the calling to priesthood and defilement to the relationship. Even in his correspondences to his uncle, Luis attempted to disguise his actual feeling by portraying his supposed displeasure for Pepita.

In his narrative, Juan Valera attempts to show the impact of spirituality in meeting the basic human needs using the primary character of the text, Don Luis de Vargas. Although the text is founded on conventional Catholicism, there is evidence of alternative religious paradigms that are a deviation from the Spanish Catholic conformist availed for the alternative priests. Don Luis seemingly converts from a mystical faith to a secularized form of faith as facilitated by his father, Don Pedro, who serves as the de facto confessor and priest. In a period where faith and spirituality were the foundation of morality and human society as a whole, conversion is evidence of the presence of alternative priesthood and Catholicism that is found in Catholic churches. This faith is, in fact, considered superior to the orthodox Catholic as it is a depiction of a changing society that is largely influenced by modernity, sociocultural forces, scientific and philosophical antipathy, and religious and political mayhem. 

At the time, people held a high regard of the faith and church following which Priesthood was considered an equally sacred calling. Aside from missionary work and conversion of souls to a mystical faith, much was expected of priests as they were likewise viewed as moral compasses of the society. In this regard, they were to remain pure from the secularized society and were to abstain from succumbing to human pleasures such as developing feelings for women or having any indecent contact with members of the opposite sex (Kaufman and Williams 20). An observation of these principles was viewed as an effort to retaining one’s purity. In addition, it seemingly distinguished one called to the faith from other men in the society. Regardless, the society held that for the common man, falling in love and becoming familiar with the secularized world was a rite of passage to attaining manhood. Following this analysis, there were several reactions to Luis’ transfiguration. Initially, there were those who were surprised by the news of his and Pepita’s changing relationship, whereas others skeptically ushered him to the secularized world. Those of the latter opinion felt that his transformation connected him to a world of reality where his previous faith had isolated him. Furthermore, he was rightfully considered to have completed the rite of passage to an existence that God has designed for human beings. 

The hybrid or elevated form of religion, in this case, appears in the form of a harmonious synchronization of a man who serves God and is in love with a woman. To achieve this synthesis, Don Luis sought the help of his father on confessing his intentions towards Petita. Whereas a life of priesthood would have confined him to the service of God, a synthesis of serving God and falling in love not only ushers him to an alternative form of faith and religion, but also transforms him into a macho man. Using personal views, Juan attempts to justify that indeed humankind was called to abide by the alternative form of priesthood and religion as one is able to have a hold of the two worlds both the mystical and secularized (Labanyi 37). This is likewise evident in present-day society whereby some men who ascribe to the Christian faith have shown that it is indeed possible for a man to serve God and still fall in love. This elevated form of faith seems to, however, be restricted to the Christian faith as men who are called to priesthood in other religions seem to subscribe to the conventional form of priesthood where priests were required to practice celibacy. This is particularly evident in the contemporary Catholic Church where the Pope, Catholic Fathers, and nuns still uphold celibacy. 

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In a patriarchal society, Juan attempts to show the conflict that arises between spirituality and patriarchy. At the time, it was believed that men who had successfully completed the rite of passage to manhood had to display certain traits. In this regard, they were required to conduct themselves in a particular manner and were to display specific traits that were evident in their macho nature. For instance, they showed familiarity with the secularized world and were expected to skillfully horseback ride, an activity that is identifiable with men who had come of age. The case of Don Luis, however, is conflicting. On the one hand, his dedication to monastery restricts him from certain activities that are viewed as defilement to his relationship with God. Still, there is much expected of him by his father who regards him as his heir following his father’s decision not to remarry. Spirituality dictates that Luis should live an exemplary life as inspired by previous saints such as Saint Chrysostom who was known for his works and sayings where he encouraged first-time seminaries to have clarity of purpose when entering the monastery. To achieve such, one was to rid himself of worldly desires and maintain a purely spiritual attitude towards life to lead a life that was distinct from the secularized world. For instance, instead of riding a spirited horse, those who aspired to the priesthood were expected to ride on placid mules. Arguably, this was a portrayal of a Christ-like character as Christ similarly used the mule in his missions. Likewise, where seminaries were not to associate in mortal pleasures such as duels and flirting with females, macho men were expected to be skilled swordsmen as men were protectors of the family (Pasture, Art and Buerman 48). Also, swordsmanship was a necessary skill for men who were often challenged to duels where they would defend their honor and that of their families. Lacking these two requisite skills, Luis was in the society’s eyes less of a macho man.

  It is only after his encounter with Pepita that he begins to question the faith that he has for so long held on to. He begins to question whether or not there could be an alternative or hybrid form of religion that could allow him to maintain his relationship with God and still become a macho man. Don Pedro is the first to note Luis’ predicament, and he laments to himself that though his son is an educated young man, he has little knowledge of life. As such, he decides to oversee Luis’ tutelage by personally instructing him in horsemanship and swordsmanship- skills that he believes are pertinent in converting him to a complete missionary. In support of his viewpoint, Don Pedro cites the example of Saint James whom he confirms that he was able to convert souls while riding on the back of a horse with the power of a sword. Later on in the text, Luis is able to put his swordsmanship to task as he challenges one Genazahar to a duel when he ill-speaks about Pepita who has turned down his proposal for marriage. Luis emerges the winner in the duel and is able to save both his and Pepita’s honor. Following his victory, Luis is now differently perceived by others in the society as men attest to his macho nature and the females begin to sworn after him.   


Featured as the most celebrated romance novels of the medieval age in Latin prose and poetry, the theme of romance and role of gender in courtship is pertinent in the comprehension of the role of women in such matters. Traditionally, the season of courtship was characterized by a male protagonist who, against a background of change, pursues a suitable female of age and successfully triumphs over difficulties to enter into marriage with his feminine counterpart. Following this conclusion, the society frowns upon women who take it upon themselves to pursue potential suitors where there is an inversion of roles with the woman taking on the role of a protagonist. This is in fact seen as an act that challenges the masculine role in the courtship as well as his future role in the household. In truth, women who openly flirted with male suitors were seen as lacking in morals, and proper and upright females were dissuaded from associating with such characters. Unfortunately for Pepita, she found herself in a similar predicament. This is particularly evident whereby after she is widowed, suitors present themselves to her but she declines their offers. However, the arrival of a seminarian evokes certain unfamiliar feelings that she recognizes later on as love. In the text, Juan depicts Pepita as the classical temptress who uses her charms and wit to win over Luis’ affection. A close analysis of the correspondences between Luis and his uncle reveal as much, where he purports to dislike her and adore her at the same time. He also refers to her as a religious woman and praises her for her deep affection for Jesus and his missionary work as well as her charitable acts. On the other hand, he condemns her as a seductress who is out to charm him and ensnare him in her love. As the narrative of their love progresses, however, there is an inversion of roles where Pepita transitions from mistress to slave and Luis transforms from slave to master. This is once again facilitated by their coming of age and awareness of self that allow both to take on their gender-specific roles. 

Ostensibly, the process of courtship was normally aided by an older male for the part of the male protagonist, whereas the female was guided by an older female or guardian who acted as a chaperon. This was normally done as both the man and woman were known to possess a certain kind of innocence that stemmed from a conservative society. As such, the older companions were required to provide guidance and regulate the pace of courtship. Furthermore, they were tasked with tutoring the aspiring couple in practices that were seen as rites of passage. For instance, Don Pedro tutored Luis in the art of card playing and horseback riding. Though Don Luis had already attained the right age, he was considered less macho as compared to his peers. His innocence, however, emanated from his seminarian training which he had undertaken for twelve years. On her part, Pepita was experienced in matters of love owing to her first marriage. Unlike Luis, her guardian was necessary to shield her from rebuke by the society. Whereas Luis was guided by his father, Don Pedro, Petita was chaperoned by her maid- Antonona- who played a significant role in uniting the two when they were on the verge of relinquishing their desire for marriage. 

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In summary, the narrative “Pepita Jimenez” by Juan Valera is a clear depiction of a patriarchal society whereby he portrays women as commodities and objects made for the pleasure of men. This is represented in the case of Pepita where she is betrothed to her aging uncle by her mother. Despite their age difference, her mother uses her as a tool of trade in a bid to alleviate her financial situation. The text is likewise characterized by content that evidences women are stereotyping, marginalization of women as well as their inability to overcome certain odds. It is arguable, following this depiction, that Valera supports a patriarchal control as some of the views might be interpreted as his personal assertions. In spite of the negative portrayal of women, Valera salvages the situation by affirming that women are agents of change if they subscribe to their gender-like roles as defined by the society. This is so in the case of Petita and Don Luis whereby her transformation results in a subsequent transformation in Luis who is inspired by her feminine nature to become a macho man. In fact, the inversion of the role in the case of Luis is compared to that of a slave to master, where he becomes the master of seduction and courtship, and Pepita transitions from mistress to slave where she fully submits to her soon to be husband, Luis. Aside from gender and gender-specific roles, Valera utilizes spirituality to show the patriarchal nature of the 19th-century society. In this context, the narrative is initially set against a background of orthodox Catholicism, but as the story progresses, he introduces an alternative form of religion and priesthood. This is relatable to the present day society where men can serve God and still fall in love with a woman of their choice. Though the constructs of patriarchy have been eroded gradually by the changing society, some of its paradigms are still applicable especially in societies where men are resistance to equality.

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