The typical image or idea of a spanish conquistador is changed the moment Catalina de Erauso becomes one. Catalina de Erauso was born in 1585 in the town of San Sebastian inside the province of Guipuzcoa. As a sign of loyalty to the Catholic church, Catalina’s parents decided to put her in a Dominican convent, where they had hopes of her professing herself as a nun. But after 15 years, and after getting beaten by one of the sisters of the convent, Catalina runs away and soon takes on a male persona.
By abandoning her future as a nun, and then disguising herself as a whole new person, Catalina challenged the norms of a typical woman in society. As the chapters go on, and Catalina develops into a whole new person, a soldier, it is easy to witness how she slowly begins to conform to a soldier’s expectations. She becomes braver, yet more aggressive and violent.
She takes on an entirely different identity for each role she plays; whether it be working as “a page boy for the king’s secretary” or a “soldier for Spain… to the company of Captain Gonzalo.”(5, 17) Going through the memoir, there are many similarities and differences that can be easily seen between the two conquistadors of Catalina and Christopher Columbus. Catalina de Erauso was living during a depressing time in Spain where women did not have much freedom over their own life and they were seen as inferior to men. This inferiority is shown even from the beginning as her parents, Miguel de Erauso and Maria Perez de Galarraga had sent her to a convent for training to eventually become a nun. Even at just 4 years old, her life had already begun to be controlled by what society deemed was appropriate for women of that time. Living as a nun limited the kind of life she and all the other girls there would be living. In the beginning of chapter one, Catalina describes an incident where she “got in a quarrel with one of the sisters..
and was beaten.” (3) This encounter is presumably what sparked her initial interest to flee the convent. Once she does escape, she immediately “shook off her veil…cut off all her hair… and made a pair of breeches”. (5) The quick-thinking decisions that she made were done in order to survive; Catalina was clearly aware that being a woman on the streets was dangerous and she had a better chance of survival if she had the appearance of a man. She understands that males, although still constrained, had a lot more freedom in society.
Due to this, she disguises herself as one in attempt to pursue opportunities she otherwise would not have, and to make sure she would not be recognized by anyone she knew. If she were to be caught, there would be serious consequences as other women had attempted to do it before and never succeeded. It is easy for her act like a man due to her natural characteristics such as being aggressive and competitive. These natural characteristics gave her the ability to adapt to any circumstances, especially dangerous ones that involved fighting. This is evident in a specific situation where after wandering around trying to find a place to sleep, “some youths encircled her closer and closer, until finally she had picked up some stones and let them have it.” (6) Ignoring the part where Catalina is able to fight back, the incident proves that the men in society believed they were superior and could treat women however they felt. Fortunately, Catalina was able to prove them wrong and fought back and scared them off. Although they were the superior gender, men still were constrained due the strict Catholic religion.
Many men of that society did not want to be living in such a restrictive area. Like Columbus’s crew, the only hope for a fresh beginning and complete freedom would be to escape to the New World. Catalina impersonating herself as a man would allow her to have that same opportunity. This, to her, was a way better option than living the rest of her life as a nun trapped in a convent with really no control over her life. Catalina de Erauso was really fortunate to be able to experience life like no other woman during that time ever would. She fought as a soldier and had to learn to live up to the expectations of one. On one hand, it was positive because it allowed her to become braver, but on another hand, she became primarily known for her violence and greed.
Before she became an official soldier, Catalina started off as a ship’s boy on her uncle’s galleon. Readers can see that she is nervous as she writes in her journal that “the work was new to her and she had a hard time of it.” (8) After encountering enemy fleets, many of the men on that voyage had gotten killed. Being a new member to an expedition like this, and probably never seen anything like that before, Catalina was scared and is said to have jumped off to shore. She also never sees that crew again. After leaving the galleon, Catalina is able to quickly find new work for a man called Alonso Cerrato. There, she is in charge of organizing all the shipments that come in and out, and she had to unload all the merchandise. A difference here that can be spotted between Columbus and Catalina is that Catilina prioritized the work that needed to be done and followed instructions, whereas Columbus initially ignored the king and queen’s demands.
A similarity between the two conquistadors is that both used violence as a way to solve any problems that came their way. For instance, during her job with Alonso Cerrato, Catalina is faced with a store customer who is angry. At first she does not react, but after letting her anger build up, she confronts him and “gave him a slash worth 10 stitches.” (12) This encounter clearly demonstrates that she is beginning to conform to the stereotypical idea that the soldiers were violent and killed innocent people.
Another way she is similar to Christopher Columbus is how both were very money hungry. Catalina did not get her money through violence, unlike Columbus, but all throughout the chapters she is constantly saying how much money she is getting and it never does seem to be enough for her. On one account, she receives money, a fair amount of 200 pesos, during a job for her uncle who she then claims is “not generous… and the little he gave her was soon gone… she was now penniless.” (9) Perhaps maybe she was just bad at controlling her money usage, or she didn’t have a good sense of what a reasonable amount to be paid was. Another example of her selfishness is when she “begged him the King od Madrid to reward her for her many services.” Again, the fact that she continuously comments about money and is clearly discontent with what she has, adds on to the stereotype that the soldiers were greedy. Catalina’s experiences over her lifetime were greatly shaped by the discovery of the New World. For starters, the New World opened up a lot of doors for many.
For Catalina, she was able to find freedom and escape the oppressive life she had to live in Europe. She gained knowledge on how the world works; she gained this knowledge during the many jobs she acquired through the years. She went through many hard stages through her journey of becoming a whole new person. Many negative events occured, like nearly dying of sickness or killing her own brother, but ultimately she ended up succeeding in her plan and ended up not even having to serve a punishment for the actions she committed. In fact, at the end, she is rewarded by the King and Queen with “a pension of 800 crowns a year,” which of course she feels is still unsatisfactory as she also comments, “a little less than what I asked for.
” (74)Catalina de Erauso convincingly and successfully lived most of her life disguising herself as a whole different identity. She must have been extremely intelligent to be able to carry out and hide such a huge lie. To be able to completely adjust her personality and mindset is quite astonishing. She showed the world what she was capable as a woman; she proves that women were and are not inferior to men.