In both Kiss of the Spider Woman and Woman at point Zero the societies in which the stories are set have long established social conventions. Within these novels Manuel Puig and Nawal El Saadawi have created strong and courageous characters that rebel against the conventions of these societies. Such social conventions include the subservience of females and totalitarian ideals which represented constraints on the freedom of the protagonists. Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman describes the development of the unlikely bond between Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina, a homosexual window-dresser, during a 6 month term in an Argentinean prison cell and El Saadawi's novel, Woman at Point Zero, narrates the story of Firdaus, an Egyptian death row prisoner, and her journey from an abusive and neglected childhood, to her life as a prostitute. Both novels deal with characters who are ostracized and forced to exist on the margins of society. In Woman at Point Zero Firdaus' story is set in Egypt, a patriarchal Middle-Eastern culture whilst Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman is set in a South American authoritarian society.. Firdaus ultimately rebels against these social conventions by asserting control over her male clients as a prostitute and in her final act, by killing a man. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, Molina's openly feminine masculinity defied the traditional societal perceptions of masculinity whilst his homosexuality offended the conservative values of the Argentinean society. Both Firdaus and Molina in the end are killed as a result of their rebellion against their societies. Their deaths were used, by Puig and El Saadawi, as comments on the consequence of rebellion.
The settings of both Kiss of the Spider Woman and Woman at Point Zero are traditional societies with long established social conventions. Kiss of the Spiderwoman is set in an Argentinean prison under the rule of a military dictatorship, with fittingly conservative social conventions, such as a traditional machismo perception of masculinity. Thus the conventions include a condemnation of homosexuality. Molina as an open homosexuality is seen to be rebelling to the societal standards thus leading to his ultimate condemnation and vilification by society. "At the time of the military Junta the effeminate Molina confronts the society's binary attitudes toward masculinity." Imperative to Puig's construction of the oppressive Argentina is the imprisonment of Molina and Valentin. Both characters' freedom and rights are constrained within the unalterable reality of the cell, symbolic of the roles that the society's oppression has enforced on them and the seemingly inescapable fact of their ultimate powerlessness. El Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero in its middle-eastern setting shares the societal oppression so evident in Puig's Argentina. Firdaus' story is not just of the tale of the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society but also of, to quote El Saadawi, the "need to challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of their right to live, to love and to real freedom" a purpose which draws parallels to Molina in Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman. Molina tries to escape societal oppression by immersing himself in the fantasy world of his films. In this world he is able to live vicariously through the female heroines of his films. In the early stages of stages Firdaus' story, as stated by El Saadawi, her, "need to challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of their right to live, to love and to real freedom", is revealed. Firdaus' girlish imagination rejects the idea that she is to spend her life in squalid subservience. She is inquisitive, and is absorbed with the possibility of some alternative existence, she is constantly questioning her reality "Who was I? Who was my father? Was I going to spend my life sweeping the dung out from under the animals, carrying manure on my head, kneading dough, and baking bread?" p.15 It is the combination of a hyper-oppressive society and Firdaus' inquisitive nature which results in her rebellion. In the early stages of the novel her uncle allows her to be educated this is in direct conflict with the patriarchal values of the society. Females are expected to live in subservience once women are educated they begin to have free will and to express it. This fact is evident in Firdaus' escape from her uncle's home. In both Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Woman at Point Zero oppressive societies in addition to Molina and Firdaus' strength of character set up the need for their rebellion. They are confined to the conventions of their societies but their natures force them to rebel seeking the "right to live, to love and to real freedom." (El Saadawi, 1992) Both characters represent an oppressed minority in their societies though as individuals they are strong and strive to rid themselves of the oppressive hold.
The military, totalitarian Argentina and patriarchal Egypt are the stereotypical oppressive societies. Thus fittingly the protagonists, Firdaus and Molina, being trapped on the margins of society develop as strong willed characters and in the latter stages of both novels the need to overcome oppressive forces escalates thus they are forced to rebel. Valentin, though ideologically rebellious, shared, the military Junta's traditional perception of masculinity. Fittingly, in the early stages of the novel an argument ensues between the effeminate Molina and Valentin on the meaning of masculinity. The dialogue captures the disparity between Molina's masculinity and the traditional masculinity endorsed by Valentin. Molina argues that "the nicest thing about a man is to be marvellous-looking." p.61 whilst Valentin's, and the traditional society's, definition is a man is in "not taking crap...from anyone." p.63 Molina's opinions and own manner essentially personifies the ultra feminine marianismo conception whilst Valentin personifies the antagonist, the conventional hyper-masculine, machismo. The marianismo conception involves feminine passivity and consideration. This is ever exemplified in Molina's retelling of the Arabian film. The parallels between Molina, Valentin and the characters Scheherazade and Shariya are palpable. The power ostensibly rests with Valentin who, like the emperor, appears as a figure of menace and destruction. The actual reality in both the Arabian tale and Puig's novel is that the ostensible is reversed and the power lies with Scheherazade and the effeminate Molina. As the narrative voice, Molina commands the story into existence. Molina's dominance at this point is further emphasised as Valentin's voice is reduced to short questions and comments about the story. Ironically, this approach contrasts Molina's feminine voice with Valentin's direct questioning, thereby revealing Molina's powerful femininity. It was this femininity which characterized Molina's rebellion. Valentin shared the conservative perception of masculinity. The arguments which ensued between Valentin and Molina highlight the stark contrasts between the effeminate masculinity and the machismo brute conception.
Molina's rebellion was indirect Firdaus' however was completely contrary to this. Her rebellion is characterized by her thirst for some power in a patriarchal society. For the young Firdaus, the nature of power seems at first to be very simple: men have it and women do not. Her father knew "how to beat his wife and make her bite the dust each night" p.10. At school she discovered that men have a "never ending appetite for money, sex and unlimited power." p.27. Even men on the street have power over the women they pass, merely by objectifying them with their eyes. It isn't until Firdaus meets Sharifa that her ideas of power begin to change. Sharifa is a wealthy, independent woman. Rather than allowing men free use of her body, as married women do, Sharifa uses the power of the desires that men have for her to her advantage. Firdaus learns to command the power of her physical appearance. She learns that, "A man does not know a woman's value...She is the one who determines her value. The higher you price yourself, the more he will realize what you are really worth." p.58 Using this when she sets out on her own as a prostitute, Firdaus' realizes that she has something which other people desire. Thus she has attained some form of power. She learns that she can demand higher prices simply by depriving men of what they want, or, in other words, by exercising the power that she has over them. In the latter stages of the novel Firdaus' pimp tries to reinforce his power over her by telling her that she will always have something to loose and that he can be the one to take it away. In killing him Firdaus is finally and absolutely able to assert her power. Following this though she is incarcerated and condemned to death but she is no longer afraid of dying. She is free of the oppressive hold the patriarchal society has on her. She has power and has attained freedom. In a strict patriarchal society a woman exerting such power and taking the life of a man to do so is the ultimate rebellion.
Molina and Firdaus rebelled against their societies' conventions in the most conspicuous and blatant manners. It is only natural that the authorities in the societies would seek to punish them. Puig and El Saadawi have used the severity of these punishments as an ultimate comment on the consequence of rebellion. In Kiss of the Spiderwoman Molina is incarcerated for sexual 'perversion' which immediately shows the consequence of his rebellion as a homosexual in a conservative society. Like Molina, Firdaus is incarcerated in the latter stages of the novel after she has slapped an Arabian prince. El Saadawi's final comment on the consequence of rebellion seems to be that society will always defeat the rebellious outsider. However Firdaus' death also represents her liberation as shown on the eve of her execution when she says that sheÂ has "triumphed over both life and death because I no longer desire to live, nor do I any longer fear to die. I want nothing. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. Therefore I am free" p.110