Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a self-taught scholar, writer, poetess, nun and a feminist philosopher belonging to a Mexico which was a part of the Spanish Empire. Born on 12 November 1651, Sor Juana was an exceptionally bright child, and had learned to read by the age of three and had written her first poem at the age of eight.
She was sent to live in the Mexico city at the age of sixteen, and this was where she started self-studying, after being denied education on account of being a girl. In the year 1667, she began her life as a nun, while continuing to study books on various matters. She also taught drama and music in the convent school.
Sor Juana stood at the brink of the Hispanic Baroque as its last great writer, and was at the entrance of the colonial Mexican literature. She read anything and everything, from satire, philosophy, to religion and mythology. She wrote various forms of poetry, including religious hymns, satire and love poems. She also wrote both religious and comical plays as her expertise ranged from deeply philosophical to popular comedy, something unusual for a nun at that time.
Sor Juana also had a strong grip on rationality. Even her religious poems are tightly logical. She was a strong feminist as she deeply felt the injustice towards women, especially in their right to education. She considered women not only as objects of passion, but of wisdom and knowledge. In her poem The Foolish Men, she charges men with the same irrational behavior with which they blame women. Her various love poems also mention of the burdens of love, the loneliness, sorrow and the illusion of love a woman encounters during her lifetime. She penned many dramas with strong feminist themes, in which the main characters are often capable, independent women, ready to change the world with their intellect.
In her most well-known poem, First Dream, Sor Juana expresses the thirst of the soul for knowledge. It is an autobiographical writing, and shows how a soul escapes the body during the night to gain knowledge of everything, but returns to the body in the morning with new hope of learning.
For her, philosophy was not a task but an unconscious action, as she famously said that one can philosophize whilst cooking dinner. For her, the study of social sciences was vital to understand God. She always defended the honorable cause of female literacy, and gave various examples of learned women from Christianity and the Bible to make her point to the masses and the authorities.
Because of the increasing pressure of society, Sor Juana left behind the world of knowledge and held back her intellectual pursuits in 1694. She stopped writing, and her personal book collection was sold for meager prices. On 17 April 1695, she passed away suffering from plague as she nursed the nuns during the epidemic.
Her wisdom, ideas and the constant hunger for knowledge has earned her the respect of many. She remains a national icon of the Mexican culture, and her picture is part of the Mexican currency. The rise of feminism in the 20th century has brought Sor Juana’s philosophy back to prominence. She is known as the first published feminist writer of the modern world.