Before We Were Free Questions and Answers
by Julia Alvarez

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What are the main characters, plot, themes, and setting in Before we were free by Julia Alvarez?

Before We Were Free is a coming of age story set in 1960 Dominican Republic, during a time of violent political struggle against the corrupt, brutal, US-backed Trujillo dictatorship. The story is seen through the eyes of a 12-year old English-speaking girl named Anita, who lives a comfortable life with her Papi, Mama, sister Lucinda and nanny at a walled compound along with her Tio Toni's family, the Garcias. The entire clan becomes quickly swept into life-altering and history-making events.

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The book's primary narrative perspective belongs to a twelve-year-old girl, Anita de la Torre, who lives with her well-to-do family in their secure compound. When we meet Anita, her comfortable world of privilege, like an American school and a walled estate, has sheltered her from awareness of her country’s simmering political unrest and from her Papi and Uncle Toni’s involvement in the opposition movement. Soon, though, author Alvarez raises the stakes for Anita so that she can no longer live at a removal from external events, as her whole family becomes implicated in the outcome of Papi and Toni’s plan to assassinate Trujillo.

Once older sister Lucinda catches Trujillo’s fancy, the family knows it is time to act on multiple fronts: first, Anita, Lucinda and Mama must flee to New York while Papi’s and Toni’s mission becomes as personal as it had been political. In this way, Alvarez makes the point that youth and moral innocence can’t protect anyone from the chaotic reach of the historical forces of change. Anita comes to understand that the mortal sacrifice of patriots like Papi and Tio Toni for the cause of human rights and democracy was justified by the eventual realization of their goals for new governmental reform and accountability.

Anita Alvarez knows that American students have always learned about their own country’s revolution against colonial tyranny, as well as similar stories in a list of other countries variously throughout history. What is far less well known are the more recent stories of the freedom struggles of other post-colonial nations in the Western Hemisphere, particularly among the smaller Latin America states like the Dominican Republic where are elections came at a bloody cost for many families.

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