Julia Alvarez’s “Exile” consists of seventeen four-line stanzas that convey a sense of shared recollection between the poem’s persona and her father. As she reflects upon the family’s abrupt departure from their Dominican homeland and their subsequent cultural adjustment to New York City, she reveals that, as the poem’s title suggests, this uprooting creates a sense of exile: a lamentation for those places and things left behind and a confused uncertainty about the new. The chronological sequencing of events gives the poem an autobiographical tone, but, placed as it is in a chapter in The Other Side = El Otro Lado entitled “Making up the Past,” one must acknowledge that this exile narrative encompasses the universal experiences of many immigrants, powerfully demonstrated via the memories of the poem’s persona.
Because the poem relies on an innocent, almost childlike, voice, memories of the family’s departure and arrival are shrouded in a child’s observations and interpretation of the adult intrigue necessary for a clandestine flight from their homeland. Alvarez alludes to Papi’s “worried whispers,” uncle’s “phony chuckles,” and Mami’s consoling promise that “there was a better surprise” in store for the children at the end of their journey. The persona reveals that she was “young” at the time of the family’s flight and thus “didn’t think adult things could go wrong”; this sense of expectation versus...
(The entire section is 602 words.)