Foucault’s Panopticon in Gárcia Márquez

About a week ago, I was writing a paper for my Freshman Writing Seminar class about forced child prostitution in Gabriel Gárcia Márquez’s short stories. In one of the stories I discuss in the paper called “Innocent Erindera”, a young girl named Erindera is forced by her grandmother to work night and day. Carrying out household chores, cooking and cleaning, all while the grandmother lunges around – the girl’s life is little more than that of a glorified slave. Though the circumstances as to how Erindera came to be in such a position are unknown to the reader, it is understood that she is extremely unhappy and has no other family with whom she might seek refuge. In the paper, I draw a connection between the way Gárcia Márquez characterizes the grandmother with the kind of power present in Foucault’s panopticon.

In the story, Gárcia Márquez depicts the grandmother as being omnipotent. This is especially apparent in the passage where he says “she [the grandmother] had fallen asleep but she was still giving orders, for it was from her that the granddaughter had inherited the ability to be alive still while sleeping. Erendira left the room without making any noise and did the final chores of the night, still replying to the sleeping grandmother’s orders” (Gárcia Márquez, 287) Even while she is asleep, the grandmother commands her granddaughter to carry out tasks… terrifying! This characterization smacks of Foucault’s panopticon. Firstly, it shows how Erindera is never free from her grandmother’s watchful gaze, even at when she is asleep. This is similar to how the prisoners in the panopticon are under the impression that they are constantly being watched by the watchtower, even if no one is physically present. In both situations, the feeling of being under the surveillance of a kind of inescapable eye causes the “prisoner” to act in compliance because they never know if they are being watched. Both cases show how the prisoner can be turned into their own warden; a condition that wreaks havoc on self-worth and morale. I find it especially interesting that Gárcia Márquez describes both the grandmother and granddaughter as having the “ability to be alive still while sleeping”. This particular wording is what reminded me of Foucault in the first place while I was reading the story.

The story itself is a wonderful read-

Here, you may find the short story “Innocent Erindera” by Gabriel Gárcia Márquez.

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