Lieutenant Nun is a story of power structures, masculine identity politics, and the navigation of social norms in 16th century Spain, and the broader scope of the New World. Catalina is clever, resourceful, learned (at least in Latin), and an excellent navigator of the social sphere. The story begins with her removing her nun’s habit, her hair, and ultimately, the social repercussions of being a woman. She flees her place in society by wearing the clothes of a man, and effectively removes herself from any social confine she previously inhibited.
Catalina is interesting, because she occupies the space of an “anti-hero.” While she is the subject of her own story, it is very clear that she is violent, rash, quick to anger, manipulative, and a thief. She is unlike Laura Cereta, who strove for the abilities of women to be understood and known. Rather, Catalina chooses to emancipate only herself from her feminine position in society, and opts to climb the metaphorical social ladder for herself and her desires. In spite of the fact that she recognizes the limitations of being a woman in her society, she chooses to use these to her advantage, even building her own self identity off of her experiences as a colonizer and at the expense of marginalized communities and individuals around her.
In spite of her moral failures, Catalina’s story represents the idea of human beings housing unlimited potential. This is seen in her ability to occupy so many different spheres in the world around her. She is a nun, traveler, soldier, prisoner, fighter, and gambler who is able to slip away from any previous identity with a sense of ease, even characters like the Sheriff do not forget her.
When needed, she uses the church to her advantage, and returns to a convent when it is of the utmost convenience to her. However, she is clearly not pious. This is indicative of a change in defining factors in a person’s life during the Renaissance. She uses “God” as a tool, but it is not central to her identity. The same can be said about her relationship with her family, which she only uses for economic upward mobility through theft. Previously, as shown by texts like The Fat Woodworker, family and religion were quintessential aspects of a person’s identity. In the accounts of her travels however, Catalina makes it clear that these do not apply to her, and only exist to serve her as needed.