Garcia Girls Essay
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Discuss Yolanda's relationship to language. Why is she so sensitive to English and how does this quality affect her romantic relationships?
As a poet and the novel's primary narrator, Yolanda has the closest and most troubled relation to language. Because she learns English as a second language, Yolanda develops an ear sensitive to the musicality of the words. However, she also finds that her inability to use English casually or crudely contributes to stiffness in her interactions. She often speaks in rhyme or creates surreal images based on how words sound together, releasing an immense creative energy that her partners cannot seem to match. She seeks a romantic partner with a similar sensitivity to words, believing that reverence for language indicates respect for the thing spoken about (for instance, sex, and by extension, herself). The intensity of Yolanda's relation to language nurses an uneasy relativism in her, so that she resists the notion that the outside world is more "real" or meaningful than her surreal poetic visions.
Why is Carlos so morose during his 70th birthday party? What does his bitterness suggest about his relation to his daughters and wife, and about the conflict between Dominican and American cultural ideals?
Carlos's birthday is traditionally considered a special time during which the girls visit their father without their husbands, and he gives them stacks of cash with his name signed on the top bill. His emphasis on exerting masculine control over them and providing for them economically derives from his deeply held belief in the traditional Dominican family structure. At the party, he begins to realize that his daughters and even his wife are in no way materially dependent on him, as Dominican women are expected to be. They have pursued an ideal of American individuality and independence. However, he fails to recognize that he can still influence and enrich their emotional lives, even if they do not need his money.
The García girls undergo puberty while still adapting to life in the United States. In what ways does their displacement into a foreign language and culture affect or relate to their new sexual awareness?
Both Carla and Yolanda remark that they learn many sexual terms in English before knowing their Spanish equivalents. Their rude, frightening awakening into sexuality is thus linked with their sudden immersion in an uncomfortable language. Carla feels that both events brand her as an outsider. Yolanda similarly traces both her overly formal, cautious English and her initial wariness of sex back to her immigrant roots. Though all four girls undergo some form of the same experience, Sandra is apparently protected by her attractive, Caucasian looks, while Sofía has more time to grow into English and American culture than her sisters do.
Pick two or three of these central themes and explain how they intersect and influence each other in the novel: language, sexuality/gender, rebellion, family, and storytelling.
Answers will vary. Language and sexuality, for instance, are linked for Carla and Yolanda, who face an uneasy awakening into sexuality and an uncomfortable new language at the same time. Both sexual and political rebellions beset the García family: just as the family fled to the States for freedom from oppression, so the girls escape the tyranny of a patriarchal family by embracing the sexual revolution. Storytelling is a way of celebrating each girl's uniqueness while affirming the family's unity and shared values. Many other combinations are possible. It may help to focus on how two themes parallel each other and where they diverge.
Laura García is an inveterate storyteller who loves to relate tales about her daughters to family, friends, and strangers alike. What is the significance of her habit of storytelling? How does it reflect the family dynamic and her own relationship with her daughters?
Each of Laura's stories captures some idiosyncrasy that characterizes a person or a time period. While serving as markers of individuality, the stories also provide a communal history that unites the family despite sometimes conflicting convictions. The stories are also significant for what Laura chooses to emphasize or leave out. She sometimes sanitizes her stories by eliminating unpleasant parts, such as ignoring the battle between Sofía and her father when discussing Sofía's marriage. By altering the story to suit herself, Laura indicates her unwillingness to confront points of tension, such as her daughters' sexuality, disobedience, and nervous breakdowns. For this question, you may want to choose stories about a certain daughter, or stories that share a theme or set of characteristics.
Consider the novel's structure. What is the effect of subtitling each chapter with the name(s) of its central character(s)? Why does Alvarez choose to narrate some chapters in first person and others in third, some in future tense and others in the narrative present? How do these elements affect the reader's perception of the García family dynamic? You may focus on one chapter or choose to discuss multiple examples of a particular narrative technique.
This is a complicated question with many possible responses. Choosing two or three chapters at most is recommended. You may want to discuss, for instance, why some of Yolanda's chapters are narrated in first person and others in third, and how this difference relates to the themes or purpose of each chapter. In addition, you might consider why "A Regular Revolution" is written in the first person plural ("we") without any individual, designated narrator. In general, think about how Alvarez establishes the relationships among the characters using these narrative techniques.
Each girl, with the possible exception of Sofía, undergoes some traumatic event early in life. Consider one or more of the sisters and discuss how her/their personality or outlook was changed by a formative childhood event. How are these narratives constructed? You may also choose to discuss why Sofía's integration into American culture is largely skipped over and how her development differs from that of her sisters.
Carla encounters a pervert and a gang of racist boys on the playground; Sandra breaks her arm after taking fright at Don José, and becomes needy and dependent on external affirmation after months of isolation and pampering; Yolanda recounts having night terrors after stealing a kitten from its mother. The sisters either state or imply that these events shape their future lives: Carla becomes a child psychologist, Sandra an unsatisfied and unhappy woman, and Yolanda an imaginative, uneasy writer who narrates in order to understand unresolved emotions and failures. By beginning with the sisters as full-fledged adults and moving backwards, the novel traces their development retrospectively, which is the only way patterns can be drawn from the events that compose a life. Although these specific incidents may not have been solely responsible for the sisters' personalities, it is telling that the girls identify these events as worth recounting.
Sofía narrates only one chapter in the novel, yet much of the story revolves around her. Think about why Sofía is largely silent in the novel, and how her development reflects on that of her sisters. How does she both reject and conform to American and Dominican culture?
By dropping out of college and then eloping, Sofía rejects the ambition and materialistic aspects of American culture at the same time that she violates deeply rooted Dominican family values. Her fiercely independent spirit leaves her apparently the least successful of the sisters: she has no advanced degree and no real career. However, she is the only sister with no history of divorces, a healthy family life, and children. Her family-oriented life and the birth of her son bring her closer to filling the traditional Dominican female role than her sisters. Yet she seems uninterested in conforming to any model, and appears to act on a set of personal principles—though the reader is left to guess at what these are, being offered little firsthand insight into her decisions.
Discuss the tension between Dominican and American cultural ideals with which the García sisters must struggle. For instance, how are sexual morality and rebellion viewed differently in American and Dominican culture? Do Dominican family values conflict with the American emphasis on individuality and independence?
American society in the novel encourages each girl to nurture her strengths, pursue higher education and a meaningful career. This cultural milieu, informed by 1960s and 70s feminism, favors sexual exploration and teaches women to seek satisfaction outside the home and family. Even their mother Laura is affected, seizing the chance to take adult courses in business management and real estate. Such rebellion, as Yolanda discovers when reading Whitman, is considered the engine of American progress. However, this emphasis on individual achievement jeopardizes the family unity central to Dominican culture. Of the daughters, only Sofía, who has rejected the ambitious, upwardly mobile aspects of American culture, has children and a settled family life. Yet she too has broken the familial hierarchy of Dominican society by eloping. Each sister strikes an uneasy balance between the two cultures.
In the novel's last paragraph, Yolanda sketches out the story of her life so that it fits in the "hollow" of her story. What does this novel tell you about the relation between real life and storytelling? In what ways is storytelling helpful and/or inadequate to the task of understanding personal development? It may help you to think about how the novel is structured.
Stories provide an immersive experience that offers more emotional information than bare facts do. However, stories are not real life, but are composed of details selected by the teller to form a pattern. The attempt to understand a life requires drawing out such patterns in retrospect, and storytelling may help the teller recognize them. The reverse chronology of the novel allows the reader—like a storyteller—to examine the cause-and-effect operating in the sisters' lives. In her final paragraph, Yolanda admits that many characters in the chapter "The Drum" have little or no direct influence on her life. However, by focusing on seemingly trivial events in this final chapter, Yolanda reminds us that the events that shape a life are not always easy to identify.