María Herrera-Sobek has studied the Mexican corrido, a popular folk ballad that originated in Spanish epics and romances. Her objective is to trace the formation of archetypal images of women in these folk songs. Image formation, the author contends, operates along the lines of language acquisition. “Human beings inherit the capacity to form images as they inherit the capacity to speak a language” (xvi). Myths, fairy tales, literary works, and songs like corridos, whose primary raw material is language, are deemed to be allegorical and composed of archetypal elaborations rather than of observed facts.
A redefinition of the concept of archetype has been suggested by feminists because it helps to reconstruct the role of women in society. A search for these “frozen” images of women will help scholars to trace the pattern of the conceptualization of women in a male-dominated society and thus reveal women’s concern about their identity problems. In studying the archetypal images of women in the Mexican corrido from a feminist perspective, Herrera-Sobek contributes to the reformulation of the concept as a whole while offering an appealing way of examining the portrayal of women in literature and popular culture. After a selection of the material, and a careful study of form and content, she classifies the corridos around four archetypal images of women; “the Good and the Terrible Mother, the Mother Goddess, the Lover, and the Soldier” (xix). Aspects relevant to the formation of those archetypal images, the author explains, are the patriarchal ideology of agriculturalist societies, the historical context that helped to develop a particular world view, and the cultural and literary traditions of the Mexican nation.
For each of the archetypes analyzed Herrera-Sobek tries to find a starting point and a pattern that demonstrates the presence of repetition of the same “recurrent images.” She moves easily from Greek and Roman mythologies to the cults of fertility in Mesopotamia and Egypt and similar mythical elaborations in Mesoamerican civilizations. In her analysis she takes into consideration the problem of the conquest and the process of syncretism that came out of the blending of the Old and the New Worlds. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 contributed significantly to the re-creation of corrido as an epic genre.
This book raises important ideological and esthetic questions about the interpretation of artistic and cultural manifestations in a given society. A key element of such an approach is the incorporation of economic, political, and social relationships that are not fully developed in this book due to space and time limitations. As the author explains, this is just the beginning of “a fruitful field of investigation (xix) for feminists and other scholars interested in the subject.