Malinalli, a slave to Hernán Cortés, grew up in a Nahuatl village in the 1500s, though she was sold off to slavery at a young age. Throughout her life, she made some decisions that make people today call her “Malinche” with bitterness in their voices. Why? Malinalli is thought of as a traitor to her country due to choices she made, but we have to look past those choices. Malinalli is a victim and that fact is shown through her decisions about who she loves, her power, and her death
Malinalli was very young when she was sold as a slave. She witnessed her own mother give her up to someone else because her mother didn’t want anything to do with her. Though she had her grandmother to guide her in the early stages of her life, Malinalli didn’t experience the love and care she needed to live a normal life with normal relationships. When Cortés noticed Malinalli and seemed to fall in love with her, she didn’t know better than to think she was in love with him too since she hadn’t had a male role model in her life. Her grandfather was not around in her life, her father died when she was young, and her mother never held a healthy relationship to show Malinalli exactly what a healthy relationship looked like. Because of this, she described Cortés like a god, though she knew he was a terrible person. “She liked watching Cortés’s body, his build, his strength, his courage, his audacity, his gift as a leader.” (pg. 112) Stockholm syndrome also has to be taken into account when reviewing Malinalli’s decisions and relationships. Stockholm syndrome happens when a person who has been taken captive begins to think they are in love with their captor. They begin to trust their captor and view them as heroic, rather than an awful person who has captured them. She viewed Cortés as a wonderful person even after he committed genocide before her eyes. Malinalli morally understood that mass murder was a horrid concept, and yet she still supported Cortés, which shows there was something happening to her idea of a healthy relationship.
As a translator, Malinalli was put in the situation of choosing between her native civilization’s existence or her freedom. She ended up choosing her freedom. Even so, none of us have been put in that situation so we can’t completely understand what she felt like. All of her choices can be related back to her childhood; she was never set a good example and was never given any role models other than the gods she worshiped and her grandmother. Malinalli didn’t know what she was getting herself into, which was evident from when she was hiding in the corner throughout the first mass murder Cortés committed. “For over two hours, the Spaniards stabbed, beat, and murdered all the Indians who were gathered there. Malinalli ran to the corner to hide and with eyes filled with horror watched Cortés and his soldiers sever arms, ears, and heads.” (pg. 94) It is obvious in this quote that Malinalli didn’t understand anyone could be so hateful and inhumane. But even though she felt so horribly here, later on in her life she still viewed Cortés as a capable human being.
Malinalli’s death may seem selfish, but in reality, it shows that not everything in her life was fine, though on the outside it seemed to be. She had a nice husband and two kids. No one was after her; her life seemed to be pretty great at the time, but then she drowned herself. She felt a spiritual pull that it was her time to go. “Malinalli, like Quetzalcóatl before her, on facing her dark side, became aware of the light. Her will was to be one with the cosmos, and she forced the limits of her body to disappear.” (pg. 185) This quote proves that Malinalli saw the dark side of herself. She knew she could’ve made better decisions throughout her life. We may never know, but she probably felt that if she kept following the path she was on, she would continue to the dark side. She felt that she may never cross to the light so Malinalli took the only chance she had and died.
Overall, Malinalli shows all signs of being a victim. Her actions and decisions may come across as selfish, and yet they all relate back to how she grew up. A stressful childhood can affect the way one acts when they get older, the kinds of relationships one makes, and the types of decisions one decides on. The only way we can better understand Malinalli is not to hate her, but to try to put ourselves in her shoes, look at her whole story, and at what she might’ve experienced.