Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)


Nepantla de Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz


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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

"Pues ¿qué os pudiera contar, Señora, de los secretos naturales que he descubierto estando guisando?"

What could I tell you, dear Lady, from the natural secrets I have discovered while cooking?” (in De La Cruz)


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, 12 November 1648 – 17 April 1695), born in San Miguel Nepantla, when Mexico was still Spanish territory, was a self-taught scholar, philosopher, composer, and poet of the Baroque school. She is known as "The Tenth Muse", "The Phoenix of America", and the "Mexican Phoenix".

As a child, Juana spent most of her time in her grandfather’s Hacienda reading books, something forbidden to girls in her time. She knew how to read and write in Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl (Aztec language). At the age of 16, she was sent to live in Mexico City. Not being allowed to enter the university there, she continued her studies privately and then continued her scholarship as a nun where she remained cloistered for the rest of her life. Interested in science, mathematics and music Sor Juana used poetry to defend women’s rights and challenge the values of society. Sor Juana's most important plays included brave and clever women, and her famous poem, "Hombres necios" ("Foolish Men"), accuses men of behaving illogically by criticizing and condemning women. Her criticism of misogyny and the hypocrisy of men led to condemnation by the Bishop of Puebla, who under a pseudonym, wrote to the nun condemning her interest in secular knowledge over religion. In response to such criticism, Juana wrote the famous letter: “Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz” (Reply to Sister Philotea), where she illustrates with sarcastic humility how daily tasks assumed by women, such as cooking, can be a source of scientific knowledge.

Sor Juana cleverly used comedy to criticize gender inequality. She recognized that was no easy endeavour and would not be well received. Instead, she used the power of laughter to her advantage and was able to express her ideas without provoking disapproval.

There is a vast amount of scholarly literature on Sor Juana. Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz, among them. He considers her writings, as her life, an epitome of the individual’s struggle for creative fulfillment and self-expression. While Dr. Theresa Yugar claims that Sor Juana was ahead of her time and was able to intelligently critique the oppressive, patriarchal structures of the church and the society she lived in.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz used literature and science as a force against oppression, amidst an autocratic, theocratic, male-dominated society, in which the subjugation of women was absolute. She overcame the obstacles imposed on her and cleverly manipulated the system in her favour with the same majesty that she manipulated her pen. The power, beauty and artistry of her words still resonate today and are proof that art is a way of taking a stand against imposed paradigms.


Suggested reading

De La Cruz, Sor Juana Ines. ”Respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz”. Biblioteca Virtual Universal.

Johnson, Julie Greer. “Humor in Spain's American Colonies: The Case of Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz.” Studies in American Humor, no. 7, 2000, pp. 35–47. JSTOR,

Luciani, Frederick. “Octavio Paz on Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz: The Metaphor Incarnate.” Latin American Literary Review, vol. 15, no. 30, 1987, pp. 6–25. JSTOR,

Wikipedia. Juana Ines de la Cruz.


Contributed by: Monica Escobedo

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