Helena Viramontes' short story, "Miss Clairol," takes the reader through a day in the life of Arlene, a single Hispanic mother, and her daughter, Champ. They begin their day at K-Mart in search for just the right beauty products for Arlene because she is going on a date that evening. After leaving without paying, they spend the day at home. Arlene prepares for the date while Champ assists her, watches television, and fixes herself dinner. Once Arlene is sufficiently fixed, she leaves for the date, ignoring Champ as she yells goodbye. Although I had to read "Miss Clairol" all the way through several times in order to develop a full understanding of the story and its purpose, I needed no extra reading to understand Arlene and my feelings about her. From the beginning of the story, my gut reaction to Arlene was disgust, and as I continued to read, my distaste only enlarged. Although I do not feel that Viramontes' sole purpose was to disturb the reader by her characterization of this single mother, that was what kept my attention from the moment she was introduced.
My dislike for Arlene began with the mere description of her physical appearance . When Arlene is first presented, she is depicted wearing "bell bottom jeans two sizes too small" and "a pink strapless tube top" (78). Not only do her clothes fit improperly, but "her stomach spills over the hip hugger jeans" as well (78). I next realized Arlene is accompanied by her young daughter, Champ. I was caught off guard by her blatant use of profanity in front of Champ. For example, she responds to Champ's question about which Miss Clairol box to grab saying, "Shit, mija, I dunno," and after dropping a gum wrapper on the ground, the simple comment, "Fuck it," expresses her nonchalant attitude about leaving her trash for someone else to clean (78).
Having been dissuaded by Arlene's appearance as well as her use of language before even reaching the end of the first page, it was easy to be disturbed by Arlene's desperate need to obtain approval on her physical appearance from her daughter. Every time Arlene has to make a decision on anything, including hair style, eye shadow color, and hair color, she asks Champ her opinion on the decision, always expecting positive feedback. The majority of the dialogue between Arlene and Champ consists of questions such as, "Will this color go good with Pancha's blue dress?" and "Should I wear my hair up?" (79). She needs someone to tell her that she looks good so that she will feel good about herself, and she chooses Champ to do the job. Her obvious dependency on verbal reassurance is frustrating enough, but the fact that she lets her daughter fill that gap in her life is infuriating.
After painting this vivid picture of a classless mother, Viramontes goes so far as to classify Arlene as romantic (80). The romance that Arlene is associated with, however, is entirely based on sex. Directly following the comment "Arlene is romantic" is the glamorized version...