Places: Kiss of the Spider Woman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: El beso de la mujer araña, 1976 (English translation, 1979)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1975

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Argentina

*Argentina. Kiss of the Spider WomanSouth American country in which the prison cell holding Valentin and Molina is located. Argentina is a poor country swarming with crime and revolutionaries (like Valentin) who are trying to make the country a better place for all. Near the end of the novel, Molina and Valentin feel safer in the prison than in the outside world.

Tropical island

Tropical island. Valentin dreams of this unnamed island at the end of the novel. The island is an amalgam of the various film scenes that Molina has described. A woman appears to him in this dream, weaving webs out of her own body. This woman represents Molina and his storytelling abilities. His attraction toward this figure is emblematic of Molina and Valentin’s romantic feelings toward each other.


*France. Two films that Molina recalls take place in France. The first film, the apparently fictional Her Real Glory, is set in Paris in 1942. In the romantic setting of Paris, the two lovers of the film parallel Molina and Valentin. They too are opposites fighting against a common enemy–the Argentine prison system. Even though it is wartime, the scenes Molina describes are romanticized. The cabaret where Leni works, the German officer’s apartment, the final scene of the film in the German Pantheon–all are larger than life. The other film, about a race car driver, is more brutal, and Molina tells it because it reflects Valentin’s feelings for antigovernment forces.

*New York City

*New York City. The city that Molina describes in this film is taken from the original version of the horror film Cat People, which was made in 1942. While Molina does not describe the cityscape at all, the details he offers about other aspects of the city make it come alive for Valentin and the reader. New York City is worlds away from the small prison cell Molina and Valentin occupy both physically and culturally; Irene, a character in the film, is free to go to the zoo, the doctor, or anywhere else she pleases; Molina and Valentin are not. If Argentina is a damp prison with little hope, then New York City is the exact opposite: various, sensual, and alive.

Caribbean island

Caribbean island. Another film that Molina recollects, this time about zombies, takes place on a Caribbean island. The atmosphere of the island reflects the setting of the prison in its isolation.


*Mexico. Another film that Molina recounts is set on the coast of Mexico. Even though the film is described in romantic terms, the heroine feels like a prisoner, reflecting the fact that a person can feel like a prisoner where ever he or she is. The heroine, who wears a costume, reflects Molina; like the woman hiding behind the mask, Molina, being homosexual, appears to the world as a male while he feels like a woman.

BibliographyBoccia, Michael. “Versions (Con-, In-, and Per-) in Manuel Puig’s and Hector Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Novel and Film.” Modern Fiction Studies 32, no. 3 (1986): 417-426. Discusses Puig’s fascination with film and the history of the novel’s development as it went from book to screen. Notes how the plot turns on an inversion of the relationship of the two men.Echavarrén, Roberto. “Manuel Puig: Beyond Identity.” World Literature Today 65, no. 4 (1991): 581-585. Discusses the novel as Puig’s most radical effort at gay liberation. Surrounded by other fascinating articles celebrating the author’s life and works.Rice-Sayre, Laura. “Domination and Desire: A Feminist-Materialist Reading of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.” In Textual Analysis: Some Readers Reading, edited by Mary Ann Caws. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1986. Demonstrates how the novel explores the connections among emotion, politics, and sexuality. Notes how Puig condemns society as based upon aggression and humiliation, and proposes a respect for difference.Stavans, Ilan, ed. “Manuel Puig.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 11, no. 3 (1991): 159-259. This special edition of the journal, on the occasion of the novelist’s early death, contains interesting tributes from other writers and provocative articles that describe this novel as unique among prison literature.Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. New York: Twayne, 1993. Provides an excellent account of the writing of the novel, summarizes its plot, and discusses critical responses to it. Situates the book among the novelist’s other works and describes it as his most complete, addressing his principal issues in the most satisfying way.
Categories: Places