15 Jane the Virgin—Telenovelas, the drama of everyday life

1. Synopsis

Jane is a very religious young woman who has vowed to keep her virginity until she is married. Due to a medical error, Jane becomes pregnant. From that moment, the life that Jane had carefully planned changes completely. Not only does she have to cope with an unexpected pregnancy and take care of a baby, but she must also face decisions in her career (risk starting a literary career or continue teaching) and in matters of the heart (continue with her boyfriend or accept the unexpected feelings that the biological father of her child awakens). The plot and the life of the protagonist get even more complicated by family issues such as an unknown father who suddenly appears in her life, a grandmother in risk of being deported, and a mother pursuing artist dreams.

2. About the place. Geographical context

The show takes place in Miami, Florida. According to the Census Bureu, about 70% of the city’s population is Hispanic,[1] the majority of Cuban or Caribbean origin. Watch this video about Little Havana and Calle Ocho to get to know this area of Miami better. Answer the questions about the videos. Then, discuss your answers with your classmates.

2.1. How do you drink coffee in Calle Ocho?

2.2. What are some typical Cuban dishes that you can eat in Little Havana?

2.3. What is so special about Dominos Park?

2.4. What is the name of two celebrities who have their star on the Little Havana Walk of Fame?

2.5. What objects in the videos are reminiscent of Cuba?

3. About the topic. The telenovelas

In the Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico, Mexican author Blanca de Lizaur defines telenovelas as “serialized sentimental dramas transmitted by television” (743). These televised fictions, the author continues, are built around a central conflict that generates dramatic tension until it is resolved with a happy ending (743).

Although they are usually compared with American soap operas, Latin American telenovelas present fundamental differences with respect to the former. Telenovelas are broadcast daily in prime time and have a set duration. On the other hand, the episodes of the soap operas appear weekly in the morning and can extend over several years if the audience is maintained. With regard to the public, there are also differences between the two television products: while soap operas are designed for a predominantly female audience, telenovelas bring together a more diverse audience in front of the television, basically the whole family.

Besides that, telenovelas include references to the socio-historical context in which they take place, so that issues such as poverty, discrimination and social conflict appear in the episodes. On the contrary, soap operas ignore this context and they do not mention social or historical issues, but rather focus on personal and family issues.

Authors such as Lizaur, La Pastina and Martínez, point to a number of characteristics common to Latin American telenovelas. They are mostly romantic and suspense stories with exaggerated dramatic and sentimental touches that reveal the melodramatic roots of this genre. Although telenovelas address common issues of daily life such as love relationships, family conflicts or professional success, they also include elements that are far from common reality, such as an aristocratic family background that is revealed at the end, some exotic locations or an extraordinary event that sets the action in motion. The telenovela does not seek to reproduce reality but to sublimate it and, for this, the daily life themes are interweaved with dramatic, extraordinary, or unusual elements.

A key element for the success of telenovelas is to achieve the emotional identification with the viewer. As Lizaur points out, telenovelas offer symbolic representations of the values and institutions of a society that the audience recognizes and celebrates as their own (Concise 743). Moving away from those shared values carries the risk of rejection of the audience. Moreover, emotions function as a universal language through which telenovelas bring together a very diverse audience in front of the television. After all, suffering, passion, and envy are emotions recognizable to all human beings even if different cultures or social groups express those emotions in different ways.

Telenovelas have a classic narrative structure (with a beginning, a climax, and an ending) and the development of the plot is linear. A characteristic element of this genre is the happy and climatic ending. In other words, conflicts are resolved to the satisfaction of the viewer. Upon reaching the last episode, the viewer finds relief from the intense emotions and anxieties that he or she has experienced while following the characters’ adventures due to the identification mechanism.

Lizaur indicates that the language of telenovelas is standardized (Concise 744). In these cultural products, little attention is paid to the language diversity due to geographical origin, social class, education, or register. Similarly, telenovelas follow standard formats that have given rise to repetition of formulas and elements such as phrases, scenes or types of characters. Ultimately, the telenovela is a genre complacent with the viewers. After making them suffer for a certain number of episodes, it reaffirms the values and social institutions on which their world is based. Hence, repetition and familiarity are distinctive features of this television genre.

4. About the people. Biographies.

Gina Rodríguez is the actress who plays Jane Villanueva.[2] Read her biography and answer the questions.

4.1. Where is Gina from? And her family?

4.2. What is her artistic training?

4.3. In what shows has she participated? What kind of roles does she have?

4.4. What projects and organizations does she collaborate with?

4.5. What three adjectives would you use to describe Gina Rodríguez? Why?

5. On language

5.1. The following words are related to the genre of telenovelas. Knowing them will help you better understand what happens in this show.

Good girl An intelligent, hard-working, pretty and pleasant young woman. But also someone who seeks to please others, who follows the rules and who is afraid to take risks or make mistakes.
Culebrón Informal term in Spanish for a telenovela.
Maneater Seductive woman who changes partners very frequently.
Spark, chemistry Expression that refers to the attraction that two characters feel towards each other.
It was meant to be  Common expression in televonelas used to explain improbable events that end up happening.
Galan Attractive man, usually male protagonist in a story.
Heroine Female protagonist in a story who overcomes all obstacles and gets her reward at the end.
Playboy Seductive man who changes partners very frequently.
Betrayal Recurring element in a telenovela: action or behavior that breaks trust or loyalty.
Villain Evil character in telenovelas. He or she does everything possible to hinder the happiness of the protagonists.
Anagnorisis The moment when the true identify of a character is revealed.

5.2. Read the definition of parody. It will be useful to complete the rest of activities.

According to the Dictionary of literary terms by Ana María Platas Tasande, “[l]a parodia surge cuando se imitan con fines burlescos un texto, una situación, los rasgos de un escritor, las características de un personaje….” (“parody is the imitation with burlesque purposes of a text, a situation, an author´s style, the defining traits of a character… ”; 612). The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms offers us another definition of parody: “A mocking imitation of the style of a literary work or works, ridiculing the stylistic habits of an author or school by exaggerated mimicry (248).
6. Who says…?

Match the name of each character with one of the quotes from the show below.

Rogelio Jane Rafael Xiomara Gloria Narrator 

6.1. “Come to my gig tomorrow night, boo. Don´t you judge! The best way to get over a man is to get under a new man. Trust.” ___________________

6.2. “Entonces este es uno de esos momentos en que nuestra fe se pone a prueba. … Tienes que escucharme… No sabes esto… Cuando tu madre vino a casa a los dieciséis años y me dijo que estaba embarazada, yo le pedí que abortara. Y ella dijo que no, gracias a Dios. Pero cargo esa vergüenza en mi corazón cada día. Porque ahora, tú eres la parte más importante de mi vida y esto va a ser la parte más importante de tu vida también.” ___________________

6.3. “I know it is hard, Xiomara. And I was a screw-up years ago, but I have changed. I want my daughter to have the pleasure of knowing me. I want to be a part of her life.” ___________________

6.4. In novelas, this is known as an encuentro significativo or a “significant encounter.” It´s the moment when two people who are meant for each other have their first encounter. ___________________

6.5. We heard the heartbeat, mom. And I just started to think about it. I just didn´t want this to take over my life and change everything. … But it´s going to. ´Cause it´s not a stupid milkshake, it´s a baby, and I´m gonna get attached to it. I mean, how can I not? And then I have to give it to them. And that´s what I want to do. I do, but it´s gonna be so hard. I mean, it just is.” ___________________

6.6. “I´ve never felt this type of connection with anyone in my entire life. A-And we´re having a baby, you know? Look, Jane, this-this is crazy, I know. But I´ve never been the type of guy that believes in fate or destiny. What are the chances, huh? I mean, we kissed five years ago, and now we´re-wer´re- here. It sounds crazy but doesn´t this just all kind of feel meant to be? I know it´s a lot a-and you need to think but I just, I had to tell you.”            ___________________

7. Plot. What happened?

This show´s plot is a succession of obstacles that change the plans, wishes and expectations of the characters. Finish each sentence with the obstacles that prevent the characters’ plans. Discuss with your classmates the consequences these changes have in the rest of the story.

    1. Jane Gloriana Villanueva promised her grandmother than she would not have sex until marriage, BUT ….
    2. Rafael Solano did not plan to have a child, BUT ….
    3. Jane agrees to give the baby to Rafael and Petra, BUT ….
    4. Petra pretends that she loves Rafael and wants a child, BUT ….
    5. Jane and Michael plan their wedding, BUT ….
    6. Xiomara does not want to tell Jane who her father was, BUT ….
    7. Rogelio did not know he had a daughter, BUT now ….
    8. The nuns at the school where Jane works do not look favorably on a pregnant single woman, BUT ….
    9. Jane has always been responsible and has made sensible decisions, BUT ….
    10. The Marbella Hotel is a very expensive and respected hotel, BUT ….
8. Characters. Who are they?

Complete the following activities to learn more about the characters in the show and the relationships between them.

8.1. Your teacher will assign you one of the main characters: Jane, Xiomara, grandma Alba, Rafael, Michael, Rogelio or Petra. Complete the table with the name of the character and four characteristics of his/her personality, such as brave, sincere or religious. Describe one scene in which these characteristics can be seen.

Name Characteristic 1: In what scene is it shown?
Characteristic 2: In what scene is it shown?
Characteristic 3: In what scene is it shown?

8.2. Relationships between characters. Draw a “tree of characters”: connect with a line who each character is related to and add a word that describes what the relationship between them is like. Discuss with your classmates your “tree.” Complete the tree with the rest of characters: Rogelio, Rafael, Petra, Michael

8.3. ¿What character in Jane, the Virgin are you? Take the test to find out. Do you agree with the result of the quiz?

9. Scenes. A closer look.

Think about some scenes from the show and answer the questions.

9.1. Episode 1: The promise. Alba talks to her granddaughter Jane about virginity. Which characteristic of virginity is the most important, according to Jane´s grandmother? To explain it, doña Alba uses an object and an experiment: What does the experiment consist of? What happens to the object after the experiment? What does Jane think about what her grandmother explains to her? And Jane´s mother?

9.2. Episode 1: immaculate conception. Jane faints on the bus and her mother takes her to the clinic. What does the doctor tell her? How does Jane react? And her mother? After repeating the test, how does the women´s attitude change? What do they do?

9.3. Episode 2: the first ultrasound. How many people go to the ultrasound test? How is the encounter between the different characters? There isn´t room for that many people, so the nurse asks some of them to leave the room: Who stays? What is the criteria for choosing who stays in the room? In this scene, we observe two moments of approach: the first one, between Jane and Rafael, and the second, between Michael and Petra. What shared feeling brings Jane and Rafael closer? What goal do Michael and Petra share?

10. Analysis

Complete the following activities to delve into the themes of the show.

10.1. Maternity. In the series, it stands out the mother-daughter bonds in two different family groups: Alba-Xiomara-Jane, on the one hand, and Petra-Madga on the other. Answer the following questions about the mothers in these families:

Alba Xiomara Magda
Does she behave like a traditional mother?


What characteristics or behaviors bring her closer to or far away from the traditional mother role? Think of a scene that serves as an example.
How does the mother´s personality affect the life of her daughter? Think of a scene that serves as an example.
¿Does this mother change when it is clear that her personality or behavior hurts or harms her daughter?

Mothers-to-be. Jane and Petra are expecting to be mothers. What are the reasons behind their “motherhood”? How will they become mothers? Jane changes her attitude towards the child she is expecting: When and how does that change happen in the show? How does pregnancy impact Jane´s life?

Fathers. How do fathers behave in this show? Do they act according to the traditional fatherhood model? What impact do they have on the personality and the life of their children?

After you have analyzed the behaviors and characteristics of different mothers and fathers, can you tell what models are proposed by the show. In other words, what will Jane and Rafael have to be like if they want to be good parents, according to the show?

10.2. The body. What stands out in the physical appearance of these characters? What about the way they dress? Are there any ugly characters in this show? What traits do they show that make them unattractive? Are they ugly outside and inside (“moral ugliness”)? What different ethnicities or races appear in the show? Are they associated with certain behaviors or attitudes?

10.3. Latinity. What samples of Latino history or culture appear in the show? Are there references to specific groups of Latinos, for example, Cuban or Puerto Ricans? What characters understand and/or speak Spanish? What country does doña Alba come from? Why does she get anxious when they receive letters from court or any government office? Most of characters have Latino last names: do they fit the model of Latino man or woman that usually appears in the media? How are they alike and how are they different?

10.4. Luxury and glamor.

  1. Several characters live in the Hotel Marbella. How is this establishment? What type of client is staying there? What will Rafael and Petra´s domestic life be like at the hotel? As for Jane, the place where she and her family live is very different. What is her house like? What impression does it make? What activities do the three of them carry out together in this place? Which of the two dwellings gives the impression of being a home as well as a house?
  2. What means of transportation do the characters in this show use? With what social class is public transport associated? And sport cars (another occurrence in the show)?
  3. What professions appear in the show? How are these jobs considered by society? Are they professions usually associated with Latino last names in the media?
  4. What are the parties or romantic dates that take place in this show like? In what type of establishment do they occur? What is the setting or the atmosphere like? What kinds of drinks and food are served? What entertainments are offered? Is it easy to get into the party or is it restricted?

10.5. Religion. Jane´s pregnancy, her grandmother, and the school where Jane works refer to the Catholic religion. What dogma of the Catholic religion does Jane´s pregnancy refer to? What religious practices and values does the grandmother favor? How do the nuns receive Jane (a single pregnant woman) at the Catholic school? What other aspects of the Catholic religion appear in the show? Are there references to other religions?

10.6. Soap operas and Telenovelas. Read the section “About the topic.” How is Jane the Virgin a soap opera? ¿How is it like a Latin American telenovela? In which category (soap opera or telenovela) would you classify Jane the Virgin?

10.7. Identification and distance. Telenovelas include mechanisms that prompt the identification of the audience with the characters. That is, the public recognizes themselves in the experiences and emotions of the characters in the telenovela and they can say: “that has happened to me too,” “I feel that way many times.” What elements in Jane the Virgin help audiences identify with the characters in the show?

Jane the Virgin is peculiar because it also includes distancing mechanisms that disrupt or block the identification process. This distancing is achieved by including elements that highlight the fictional nature of the show. What elements in Jane the Virgin remind us that we are dealing with a fiction? This website can help you.

10.8. Character types. Telenovelas do not pay much attention to individualized character development. Rather, characters represent an idea, a moral value, or an institution. Traits, manner of speaking, or behavior of the characters are imposed by the literary tradition that has codified those characteristics in types that the public will quickly recognize, such as the evil stepmother or the bad boy. In the section “About the language” you have a list of character types common in telenovelas and, on this website, you can find out more about them. Who are those character types in Jane the Virgin? What characteristics do they show that classify them in a certain type? Do they follow the character type faithfully or do they move away from it?

10.9. Parody. Read this article on “common situations in telenovelas.” Which of those situations are in Jane the Virgin? With what tone does the narrator “tell” us those scenes? Here you have a list of narrative tones to search.

Read the definitions of parody in the section “About the language” again: Is Jane the Virgin a parody or not of Latin American telenovelas? Explain the reasons why you think that.

10.10. Worldview. What image of the world does this show offer us? In other words, what values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors does this show promote? Which ones does it reject? Think on the characters who are punished and who are rewarded: what actions do they carry out? What values and principles guide their actions?

11. Final assignment

In groups, write the script for a new episode of Jane the Virgin. Then, you will act it out in class. Note: in this episode, June, Jane´s evil twin sister, shows up at the door of the Villanueva´s home. In your script you can answer questions such as: where does June come from? Where has she been all these years? Why didn´t anyone know about her? Why is she back? Etc. Be sure to include the defining characteristics of the Jane the Virgin series that we discussed in the previous activities.

Title Jane the Virgin
Developed by Jennie Snyder Urman
Script Based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana, la virgen by Perla Frías.
Release October 2014 to July 2019
Country United States
Starring Gina Rodríguez (Jane Gloriana Villanueva)

Justin Baldoni (Rafael Solano)

Brett Dier (Michael Cordero)

Andrea Navedo (Xiomara Gloriana Villanueva)

Yael Grobglas (Petra Solano)

Ivonne Coll (Alba Gloriana Villanueva)

Jaime Camil (Rogelio de la Vega)

Yara Martínez (Dr. Luisa Alver)

Anthony Méndez (narrador)

Production Poppy Productions, RCTV International, Electus, Warner Bros. Television, CBS Television Studios
Distributor CBS Television Distribution, Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Music Gustavo Santaolalla
Awards America Film Institute Program of the Year Award (2014), Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Television Series Musical or Comedy to Gina Rodriguez (2014), People´s Choice Award to Favorite New TV Comedy (2014).
More information 5 seasons, 100 episodes. Available on Netflix.



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