Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez’s first novel, has an episodic plot covering a time span of thirty-three years, from 1956 to 1989, revolving around the García family—the parents and their four daughters, Carla, Sandi, Yolanda, and Sofia. Set against a backdrop of the political upheavals in the Dominican Republic and in the turbulent years of the 1960’s in the United States, the narrative focuses on the struggles of the García family to make sense of the practices and expectations in the New World and reconcile them with the traditions they brought with them.
Arranged in three sections, the events are arranged in reverse chronological order. Beginning with the present, section 1 covers the present, 1989-1972; section 2 focuses on the events of ten years (1970-1960) following the family’s arrival in the United States; and 3 on the period 1960-1956, prior to the family’s escape. The narrative point of view shifts between objective third person and first person. Collectively, these stories chronicle the life of the García family just before and a decade after their move to America.
The book begins and ends with Yolanda, the compiler of these memories. Also, her experiences reflect typical difficulties faced in the process of assimilation. In “Joe,” Yolanda is in a mental hospital recovering from a nervous breakdown after ending her latest relationship. As she reminisces, it becomes clear that her and her boyfriend’s difference in temperament had caused their problems: John was a pragmatist, while she was a romantic idealist. He dealt with dry facts; she wanted to savor words. However, John attributed their differences to her ethnic background.
Similarly, Rudy (“The Rudy Elmenhurst Story”), the first love of Yolanda’s life, expected her to be a passionate Latina. Circumscribed by her ethnicity in the States, she returns to the Dominican Republic to reclaim her heritage (“Antojos”). She observes at the outset that her mode of dressing, loving, and thinking is very different from that of the islanders. Finally, Yolanda’s encounter with two farmworkers brings her to the realization...
(The entire section is 885 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is Julia Alvarez’s account of the Americanization of an immigrant family. It traces the García family’s escape from Rafael Trujillo’s political dictatorship to their arrival in America and their assimilation into its culture. It is a story of what the family gains and loses in leaving their country for a new one. While the parents sacrifice money, social status, and family connections, the daughters must pay an even higher price. They lose a defining part of their identity: their country, their culture, and the extended family that could help them to know who they are. Yet they also gain the independence and self-determination that their female Dominican aunts and cousins will never realize.
The novel consists of fifteen loosely connected stories divided into three sections arranged in reverse chronological order. The story thus begins with the most recent past, when the “girls” are all adults in their twenties and thirties, confronting issues every young American woman faces—career, identity, romance, family. The opening chapter finds Yoyo back in the Dominican Republic visiting an extended family and a country that seem hardly familiar to her now. Remaining chapters in this section, dated “1989-1972,” provide a portrait of the four adult García girls, now thoroughly American, all of whom have had to determine how their Dominican past would shape their present. The second part, “1970-1960,: details the family’s political exile from their homeland to their settlement in America. Readers glimpse Laura’s imagination as she sketches new inventions to make American housewives’ lives more convenient and see the family awkwardly...
(The entire section is 699 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Set in New York City and the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez’s novel traces the lives of the four García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia—as they struggle to understand themselves and their cross-cultural identities. The novel is structured in three parts, focusing on the time spans of 1989-1972, 1970-1960, and 1960-1956. Throughout these years the García girls mature and face various cultural, familial, and individual crises. The sisters’ mother, Laura, comes from the well-known, wealthy de la Torres family, who live in the Dominican Republic. The third part of the novel narrates the Garcías’ flight from their homeland due to political problems within the country.
The Garcías emigrate to the United States, planning to stay only until the situation in their homeland improves. Once arriving in America, the sisters struggle to acclimate themselves to their new environment. The second part of the novel traces the sisters’ formative years in the United States. Included among the numerous stories told are Yolanda’s struggle to write an acceptable speech for a school event, Carla’s trial of attending a new public school where she is bombarded by racial slurs, and Sandra’s hatred of an American woman who flirts with her father during a family night out. In addition, part 2 narrates the García girls’ summer trips to the Dominican Republic—their parents’ way to keep them from becoming too Americanized. During these trips the...
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The García family, four sisters and their parents, struggle to adapt to life in the United States after they had fled from political turmoil in the Dominican Republic. Daughter Yolanda, or Yo, now an adult, is chronicling her recent return to the Dominican Republic to visit her relatives. She has a craving (an antojo) for guavas. She defies her family’s cautions against a woman traveling alone and drives into the countryside, where some boys help her find and gather guavas. Two men approach, and Yolanda feels intimidated. When she mentions her influential relatives, the men turn subservient.
Daughter Sofía organizes a lavish seventieth birthday party for Carlos, or Papi. She and her father have been estranged since the time she ran away from home and married a German chemist. Sofía hopes the party, along with the recent birth of her son, whom she has named for his grandfather, will heal old wounds. The celebrants drink excessively and play a game in which Papi, blindfolded, must guess who kisses him. Sofía, angry that her father never utters her name, kisses the old man in a sexual manner. He responds sexually and grows enraged, ending the game and the party.
Laura, or Mami, tells her favorite anecdotes about each daughter. In childhood, Carla had wanted red sneakers, but the family could not afford them. A neighbor gave her white sneakers, so Carla and her father had painted them with Mami’s red nail polish. Mami and Papi, discovering that they had mistakenly left Yo on a crowded New York City bus, had chased down the bus, only to find their daughter reciting poetry for the passengers. Mami tells no story about Sandra, or Sandi, because her second daughter’s mental breakdown and subsequent hospitalization trouble her. Mami then tells her version of how Sofía met her German husband while traveling in South America.
Yolanda, now in a mental hospital, reflects on her estrangement from her former husband, John, and falls in love with her psychotherapist, Dr. Payne. She is obsessed with words and language. She remembers her first love, Rudy, a wealthy, spoiled, devil-may-care college student who had wooed Yolanda with only one thought in mind: sex. The virgin Yolanda had longed for attention and affection, but Rudy had offered neither, so Yolanda threw him out of her apartment. Five years later, she encountered him again. His expectations had not changed, and neither had hers, so she rejected him again.
Continuing political turmoil in the Dominican Republic leads Papi and Mami to decide that the family should remain in the United States, despite their poverty and the bullying the girls endure at school. To ensure that their daughters will eventually find proper Hispanic husbands, the elder Garcías send the girls to Santo Domingo to spend summer vacations with relatives. One summer, Mami finds a bag of marijuana in Sofía’s New York room and travels to the island to investigate. As punishment, Sofía stays on the island for the following year. She falls in love with her cousin, Manuel Gustavo, and begins to dress and behave in...
(The entire section is 1264 words.)