Exploring alternate temporalities through storytelling, encourages audiences to imagine being a different version of themselves. This essay examines themes of surrealism and alternate temporalities to understand perspectives of optimism and self autonomy. Janel Pineda’s poem In Another Life, has imagery that supports her experience of living in a version of El Salvador where violence and war did not change the course of life. Along with Jacinta Escudos’ I, Crocodile, she finds empowerment in her shapeshifting abilities while other women choose to undergo a ritual that will forever alter them. I choose these poems to support the perspective of living in an alternate reality while exploring themes of surrealism.
Storytelling can be a vessel of transportation for audiences to explore other life experiences and time periods. It is the part of storytelling that allows people to discover the possibility of living as a different version of themselves or even in another shape. In Janel Pineda’s poem In Another Life, the audience follows her character living in a peaceful alternative life where violent events did not affect and shape El Salvador. She discusses how the people around her still exist in a form, the people of El Salvador are thriving because they never had to endure the hardships that shape the lives of many today. Pineda’s poem allows the audience to think in a different mentality that it is okay to imagine a better version of what one’s life could be. In comparison to Jacinta Escudos’ short story I, Crocodile is told from her perspective as a shapeshifter. She cantransform into a crocodile as a result of her avoiding a horrific and violent ritual. Escudos does not wish to be forced into the same lifestyle as all the women in her village, she is comfortable with her life and choice as a crocodile. By the end of these stories,readers are left with the optimistic and curious mindset of imagining living in a different temporality or alternative.
Both Pineda’s In Another Life and Escudos’ I Crocodile create a surreal alternate realm that showcases the possibility of hope and autonomy, this allows the reader to explore what living in living a difference in temporality could be.In Janel Pineda’s In Another Life, she tells a personal and upbeat account of an existence where the people in her environment did not experience the level of violence that has occured in El Salvador. “The war never happened but somehow you and I exist. Like obsidian, we know only the memory of lava and not the explosion that created us” (Pineda). The author confirms that she still exists even though the war in El Salvador did not occur. The memory of lava represents the land that forms as a result of a volcanic eruption but Pineda is unaware of how she was created.
This line helps set a bittersweet tone for the poem to help readers understand there is a form of despair in not knowing where one comes from. Pineda continues her poem by stating there are no borders or blood in reference to nationalism that is often defined by who lies within the borders. Borders allow for a distinct separation usually to separate countries but also to further separate regions within the country. The blood she references is the result of death and erasure of her people in significant historical events El Mozote and the Civil War that occurred in El Salvador. Pineda references these events because of how the violence that resulted has lasted and left an impression on her family but also the people of El Salvador. Pineda wants her character to escape and imagine an alternate life where none of her people lived through violence.
Pineda also uses metaphors of imagery to maintain the bittersweet and hopeful tones of her poem. The scenery of El Salvador as described by the author creates a vivid and optimistic perspective in imagining an alternate life. “...my arms overflowing with mamey and anonas, and together we wash them in river water. We watch the sunset fall over a land we call our own and do not fear its taking...” (Pineda). This line presents the imagery of a Pineda whose arms are overfilled with fruits and as someone goes to help her wash mamey and anonas in a river. Though this task is simple and can be transformative in bringing Pineda peace and a sense of normalcy, everyday tasks make people feel at home. The significance of the sunsets presents hopeful feelings as Pineda’s character feels safe on the land she knows people have suffered on. Additionally, Pineda’s use of nature imagery leaves readers with the impression that an alternate life is possible.
"Pineda’s poem allows the audience to think in a different mentality that it is okay to imagine a better version of what one’s life could be."
In Jacinta Escudos’ I, Crocodile, she tells a dreamlike story where the main character is a young woman avoiding a traditional invasive ritual performed on all women in her town. Escudos’ story begins with her main character awakening to her first transformation as a crocodile, after avoiding the ritual. “I have scales on my hands and a new long nose that extends from my mouth, full of sharp, pointy teeth.” (Escudos, 137). This image allows readers to imagine crocodile traits in place of human physical traits, as the character’s afternoon continues she does not question why she turned into this animal. Instead, she allows herself to explore what it feels like to be a crocodile by spending time with other crocodiles. She learns about the movement, spending time in the water, and hunting. This helps the audience understand what it feels to be an animal though we are aware the story is fictional. Escudos’ finds her time as a crocodile amusing, it is pleasant from her experiences being human where she was being forced to participate in a ritual. It can be inferred that Escudos finds some type of escape in her time as a crocodile no one can dictate what she does in her form. Furthermore, it can be said, she is taking back her power from her mom and all the women wishing for her to conform.
An additional theme in Escudos’ I, Crocodile is the autonomy of her main character. From the beginning of the story she is insistent that she does not want to participate in the ritual where they genitally mutilate the women. Her mother continuously tells her that if her daughter cannot conform and participate in the ritual nobody will pay to marry her. “They saw me as undeserving and I feared one day they would take me by force and do to me what they had done to others” (Escudos, 138). Escudos’ character was aware that this ritual was harmful and she knew her mom would ensure she went through with the ritual, as it was what every woman went through. Escudos’ main character goes on to describe this ritual as a violent event where the young women are squealing like animals before a midwife carves out a small piece from, “the place where water flows out” (Escudos 138). This part of the story could be compared the act of genital mutilation, a forceful removal from part of one’s genital region.
It is a violent act carried out amongst young women against their will in hopes they will be worthy enough for marriage. This is an example of trying to control and regulate a woman’s choices. Following her recollection of memory from seeing this ritual continuously occur there is a rage that fills the young woman, her mother tried to trick her into seeing the midwife. Not accepting that same fate as the women in her village she goes to find her crocodile friends, she leads them to the village where they tear apart any woman who is part of the horrific ritual. This is how Escudos’ character copes with her mom, midwife, and any woman who aided in the process of rituals being insensitive to their daughters and fellow women’s choice. They are trying to control the future of women so they can be married, therefore, the main character had to break the horrific cycle that was occurring. The attempt to control the main character’s autonomy in not wanting to go through the ritual is equally important in allowing her to exist in the form she is most comfortable.
"The memory of lava represents the land that forms as a result of a volcanic eruption but Pineda is unaware of how she was created. This line helps set a bittersweet tone for the poem to help readers understand there is a form of despair in not knowing where one comes from."
An additional theme these stories have is the recurring surrealism in the form of dreams, symbolism, and daydreams. In Pineda’s In Another Life, at the end of her poem, her alternate life allows her to feel at peace in her home. “We do not have to hide here. We do not have to hide anywhere. A torogoz flies past my face and I do not fear its flapping” (Pineda). The two characters are in a cave together and they feel serene within the space, Pineda did not display feelings of fear even when the small torogoz flies by. The symbol of the torogoz supports the serene and light tone of Pineda’s poem. In comparison to I, Crocodile Escudos’ main character has a symbolic dream. In this dream a one-eyed snake grows from her loin, it is the same color as her flesh, she puts it in her mouth after she is left with lots of feelings.
The main character is describing a vivid dream in which she is forced to do an action that leaves her uncomfortable, almost as if she was possessed. This could experience could feel surreal to someone who has endured some form of sexual violence, it could be possible for this main character to be having a surreal nightmare. Surrealism is a significant theme throughout both stories, the illusions of animals, imagining one's body with animalistic features allow readers to conceptualize thoughts of escaping realities. Within the context of surrealism exists temporalities and exploring different time periods such as emphasized in In Another Life. Pineda states “In this life” early on in her poem to set a time period where violence and massacres did not exist. She was able to change the time in which her alternate reality existed because it brought her character feelings of belonging and peace. In brief, both stories include themes of hopefulness and surrealism represented through dreams and alternate temporalities.
Surreal experiences and alternate temporalities can present hopeful and self-ruling themes as shown in short stories. In Janel Pineda’s poem, In Another Life, her everyday experiences were described as peaceful and serene in how she lived. Pineda did not fear violence because in her lifetime violence did not exist, everyone was able to thrive and live a nonviolent way. The themes of hopefulness are well rooted in her imagery of sunsets that evoke feelings of warmth. In Jacinta Escudos’ I, Crocodile she explores being a crocodile as she does not want to be submissive in going along with the violent ritual that harms women. She finds power in her form as a crocodile and she is content with her form. Both stories have allowed readers to consider finding themes of optimism and one’s self-autonomy within works of alternate temporalities. These works support the idea that it is possible to imagine living a different lifetime or time period.
Escudos, Jacinta.“I, Crocodile”. Puntos De Fuga: Prosa Salvadoreña contemporánea, Editorial Kalina, San Salvador, El Salvador, 2017, pp. 137–139.
Pineda, Janel. “In Another Life”. 2019. Real Wilderness, https://readwildness.com/18/pineda-life. Accessed 10 December 2021.