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The Extraordinary Tale Of Catalina De Erauso

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1387
  • Category: Adventure

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Lieutenant Nun details a story about a young Spanish female, Catalina de Erauso, and her extraordinary life and adventures in Spain and the New World. As a child she is put in a Dominican Covenant where she trains to become a nun until the age of fifteen, this is not the life she envisions for herself, thus she runs away from the covenant in hopes of adventure. As she hopes for adventure and opportunities, she decides to make male clothes out of her clothes from the covenant and try to pass as a man. For a woman to do this in the seventeenth century, is very noteworthy, dressing and passing as a man is the only way she can be given privileges and be allowed to explore. As the story progresses, Catalina consistently goes back and talks about her clothing, even though it seems she does not mean to do this, she does. This gives an interesting perspective to the reader as it shows how important this is to her exploration. Throughout the story we constantly see the importance of clothing in all aspects of her life, through her travels and personal. It symbolizes one status in life, and in turn, one’s roles and privileges. Her initial transformation to a male was quick, and swift as she knew this was crucial in providing opportunities for herself, stating, “with the blue woolen bodice I had made a pair of breeches, and with the green petticoat I wore underneath, a doublet and hose- my nun’s habit was useless and I threw it away, I cut my hair and threw it away” (49).

Throughout this book we consistently see the idea of churches or cathedrals acting as institutions of power in Catalina’s life. Both in the sense that they restrict her life, but also offer her sanctuary. From the get go, Catalina felt the restrictions of the church in her life. Her family wanted her to become a nun and as a result, she was sent to a Covenant in the Dominican where she would train to do so. The reason for her parents doing this, is because it showed loyalty to the Catholic Church. Within the church she had very few freedoms, both civil and religiously. At the age of fifteen, she decides to run away from the covenant and pursue a new life. Even though in her “new life” she doesn’t seem particularly devout, she will often credit god for helping her whenever she’s in a tough situation, though, she only does this when she’s desperate and feels like she has no other option. In fact, whenever she does visit a church it’s only because she is running away from something or needs an escape. Her view of God is one of forgiveness, which is why she feels like she has to use him in order to be forgiven for her crimes, this is the same reason she goes to a church immediately after breaking the law. Although she never specifically writes about God unless she absolutely needs too, religion shines through in her character and values as a person. Her belief in forgiveness is what allows her to continue breaking the law free of any guilt.

The way Catalina transforms herself into a man is quick, swift, and almost seems irrational. Catalina, however, clearly thinks about it before she makes the decision to change her identity; she becomes masculine not just by wearing man’s clothes, but also by getting into fights and demanding respect from those around her. She lives undetected as a men for nearly twenty years, and she is able to do this because she only shows parts of her that emphasize masculinity. Her struggle to be a man tends to get her in trouble, one situation specifically is when a lieutenant insults her, calling her a “cuckhold” so she decides to kill him. This type of insult is specific to men, not women, and thus she thought of it as unacceptable and reacted fiercely. She adopts the idea of “protecting your honor” as a man and acts out because of this many times throughout the book. As she chronicles her time as a man she begins to learn how fighting and violence are, at the time, part of male culture. The longer she dresses as a man, the more she becomes one. There are almost no female characteristics left in her. The longer she lives in this sort of world, she begins to react more and more as a man would. She fights in the military, she kills people for what seems as very petty reasons, but in her mind, thinking as a man would, seem just.

During Catalina’s memoir, you see her deadly encounter’s with several men. One would think at first glance that she would be put in jail or sentenced to death. Yet, at the last second time after time a powerful individual steps in to save the day, rescuing Catalina from any sort of punishment. One specific incident is when was in Argentina, she charmed, then ran away from two possible fiancés so that she could slaughter more indigenous people, this time, she was put into jail. She then met with the bishop of Peru, during this meeting she confessed everything about who she was. A woman who almost became a nun but dresses and lived as a man. This confession to the bishop saved her life once again. He shipped her back to Spain, and even petitioned the king to help her due to her valiant acts as a solider. This seems peculiar that someone who, in such a high position would help her out so much, and what seems without much contest. This is due to how bold and brave she is by defying every norm of this time period. She blows past any expectations that someone may have put on her if they knew who she actually is. Whether a solider or a runaway nun, Catalina is sheltered by whatever identity those around her see her as. They see a driven, wanderlust person who seeks nothing but adventure and service for her country.

Catalina is no stranger to death. She has escaped it many times throughout her memoir, whether that is because of the native population or even other soldiers. With her back against the wall in La Plata, after another violent dispute, she decided to reveal her secret and tell everyone she is actually a woman. Much to her surprise, this decision saved her life. The bishop he told about this was not angry, nor did he punish her. He protected her and sent her back to Spain where she petitioned the king to reimburse her for her acts as a solider. Being sent back to Spain is a very significant for Catalina, this shows that the Bishop not only accepts her, knowing her true identity, but he is impressed by it. During Catalina’s admission, she reveals that she was once a nun, but had never taken vows. This is significant because it is also a huge reason in her being sent back to Spain. The Bishop in Peru believes that she has an obligation to the church but Catalina had never taken orders officially and says, “I told him I had no order nor religious obligation and I was simply trying to get back to my country” (69). This shows that although the bishop initially was comforting to her, he falls back on the fact that she once was in a covenant. As word spread, more and more people found out about her and eventually she had crowds following her like paparazzi in the streets. They were impressed with her bravery as a solider and ability to deceive those around her.

Catalina de Erauso deceived those around her for decades. From escaping a Covenant in the Dominican, to joining the military and going to war. She lived an incredible life and is celebrated by many for defying cultural norms and breaking gender norms. Each part of her life tells a different story of how she was able to sneak pass everyone, even her parents at some points, dressed as a man. This memoir gives us a peak into the life of someone who did not want to follow the statuesque, and thus lived a life full of adventure and heroism.


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