How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary

Julia Alvarez


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)