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The following post has been written by Michael Malan, a student in Dr. Simone Muench’s Fun with Fiction course this fall. Dr. Muench assigned two stories for her class to read — My Parent’s Bedroom by Uwem Akpan and The Story of the Lizard who had the Habit of Dining on His Wives by Eduardo Galeano — and told them to write a review of the story they liked the best. The class then chose the best review of each story. Michael Malan’s review of The Story of the Lizard who had the Habit of Dining on His Wives was chosen as the best. You can read the previously posted story review at this link.
Men Love to Eat Women: Gender Relationships in The Story of the Lizard Who Had the Habit of Dining on His Wives
The dominant theme in Eduardo Galeano’s The Story of the Lizard Who Had the Habit of Dining on His Wives is consumption. The main character, Dulcidio, eats his wives after marrying them, always demanding more to feed his ravenous appetite. It is only when he meets a girl he cannot have and therefore desires does he lose his hunger, and it is this girl who ends up consuming him. Is this a case of “be careful what you wish for” or is there a deeper social commentary on gender relationships?
The Story of the Lizard Who Had the Habit of Dining on His Wives is both a fable and an allegory, one that paints men as predators and women as prey. Dulcidio is part lizard, and while most lizards are harmless, there is one exception: the Komodo dragon. This large and fearsome hunter feeds by tearing large chunks of flesh from its quarry, much like the gluttonous Dulcidio, who demands more and more wives to sate his endless cravings. He attacks his prey when they are most vulnerable (during their honeymoon) and doesn’t stop eating until there is nothing but bones. Dulcidio is also privileged, as he is the son of a powerful lord. He uses his status to attract women and impress them, as he tries to do with the woman with the glasses:
Dulcidio plays all his cards. He raises a horny claw and waves it toward the blue mountains on the horizon.
— Everything you see and don’t see, it’s all mine.
The heir presses on. Many lambs, many Indians, all his to command. He is lord of all that expanse of earth and water and air, and also of the small strip of sand she sits on.
— But you have my permission, he assures her.
Through this, he augments his role as a predator, using his status as a lure. The relationship between Dulcidio and his wives is symbolic of the relationship between husbands and wives, and men and women as a whole – the man is the aggressive, dominating force in marriage, and he “consumes” the woman by taking her identity. It is traditional for the woman to take her husband’s name after marriage, and it wasn’t too long ago that wives were referred to as “Mrs. John Smith” or something similar.
The woman with the glasses, in contrast to Dulcidio’s other wives, is representative of women empowered by feminism – she is independent and educated, and is not impressed with Dulcidio’s proclamations of wealth. Her indifference makes him pine for her, inverting the predator-prey relationship Dulcidio had with his other wives. She strips him (“With one tug, she unsheathes him like a sword, flings his skin on the floor”), leaving him naked and vulnerable, and then consumes him, thereby affirming her identity while exacting revenge for those Dulcidio consumed.
The Story of the Lizard Who Had the Habit of Dining on His Wives is a complex story for its length, and can be confusing on the first reading, but it has many layers and interpretations, depending on the reader. It is too bad that predators like Dulcidio aren’t as easy to recognize in the real world.
-- Michael Malan