Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367
Caramelo was partially inspired by author Sandra Cisneros's life growing up as a Latina in Chicago. This story is actually two stories in one: the first is the story of the narrator, Celaya. She begins the story by describing her large, dramatic family in Mexico City from a five-year-old's perspective, including everyone from the father she adores and the grandmother no one likes to Calendaria, the daughter of her grandmother's maid.
Later, when Celaya is a teenager, her father has a heart attack. It is then that Celaya is visited by the ghost of her "Awful Grandmother," who in life was so overly possessive of her son (Celaya's father), that she tried to destroy the family he made with Celaya's mother. This Awful Grandmother tells Celaya that if she doesn't want her to take her father away with her to the afterlife, she has to tell her story.
Celaya, of course, agrees, and so begins the second of the two stories. She tells the reader how her grandmother, Soledad, was abandoned, not just by her own parents, but by her husband as well. The latter only married her because she was pregnant with his child, Celaya's father, and he ignored her for most of their married life. Having no one else to love, Soledad channeled all of her devotion into loving her son, Inocencio.
She loved him so much and wanted so much to keep him to herself that she then officially became the Awful Grandmother, sabotaging his relationship with his wife and his family at every opporunity. This act of sabotage eventually culminated in her telling Celaya's mother, Zoila, that Calendaria, the daughter of her maid, is actually the product of an affair Inocencio had while they were married. She hopes that this will break up the family, so she can finally get her son back.
By having Celaya tell the tale of her treachery, Soledad feels she is finally able to ask for some sort of mercy or forgiveness.
Celaya's own life seems to follow this same pattern, as she eventually runs away to Mexico City with a boy named Ernesto, who ends up leaving her when he chooses his own overprotective mother over her.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
In the first part of Caramelo, Celaya Reyes remembers a summer trip from Chicago to visit her grandparents in Mexico City in about 1962. With rich imagery and humor and from the perspective of a five-year-old, Celaya introduces her extended family and the culture of Mexico City in the mid-twentieth century.
In the second part, with the ghost of her grandmother, Soledad, watching over her shoulder and commenting, an older Celaya recounts Soledad’s life. This is a story of suffering and hardening against the epic backdrop of twentieth century Mexican history. Celaya explains how Soledad—repeatedly abandoned by parents and her husband—turned into “the Awful Grandmother,” hated and feared by Celaya and her mother because of her fierce possessiveness toward her son, Celaya’s father, Inocencio.
In the final part, Celaya, from a teenager’s perspective, recounts Soledad’s final years, after her husband’s death, when she continued to sow discord in her son’s family. She returns from death to haunt Celaya and threaten Inocencio. In a struggle over Inocencio’s hospital bed after his heart attack, Celaya and the ghost strike a bargain. If Celaya will tell Soledad’s story—as she does in the second part—Soledad will not carry her father away to be with her. Soledad wants her story told because she is suffering alone; she cannot pass on to the next life until those she has hurt can understand her and forgive her.
Soledad’s cruelest act was telling the truth at a carefully chosen moment. Knowing that Inocencio had an illegitimate daughter with her laundress, Soledad brings both mother and child to work in her house while Celaya’s family is visiting. While on an outing, Soledad reveals the truth to Celaya’s mother, hoping that she will leave Inocencio. Celaya does not understand this treachery fully until after her father’s illness, and yet she still is willing to bargain with this “Awful Grandmother” for her father’s life.
In an interview with Ray Suarez of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network, Cisneros said that in a story, she has the opportunity to think deeply about her characters and to be more forgiving than people are normally. Caramelo is, in part, about forgiveness. Her characters often discuss truth and “healthy lies.” Soledad attempts to destroy Celaya’s family by telling the truth. Repeatedly Celaya and various characters find reasons to tell what they call “healthy lies,” usually the kinds of stories that help people to be kind to one another when closeness is more important than knowing the facts.
Caramelo also develops Cisneros’s typical theme of the young Latina struggling toward becoming an artist within a family and culture that frowns on women choosing nontraditional lives. Celaya’s aspirations are almost thwarted by the values Soledad seems to represent, but finally, they are affirmed when Soledad finds she needs Celaya’s storytelling abilities to free her own voice and ask for mercy.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist 98 (August, 2002): 1883.
Library Journal 127 (September 15, 2002): 88.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 29, 2002, p. 16.
The New York Times Book Review 107 (September 29, 2002): 24.
Publishers Weekly 249 (August 12, 2002): 275.
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