Near the beginning of the novel, Alvarez describes the pragmatic way Mami deals with her four daughters in their new American life. She assigns each of them their own color—pink, pastel blue, yellow, and white. She then buys the same outfit in the four designated colors, thereby treating each girl equally while acknowledging in a minimal way her individuality. Carla the psychologist would later write a paper on her mother’s system, claiming that “the color system had weakened the four girls’ identity differentiation abilities and made them forever unclear about personality boundaries.”
Carla’s diagnosis describes Alvarez’s characterization technique in the novel. While each of the four García daughters has a distinctive personality, each also shares a good deal with her sisters. To understand one, the reader must understand them all. Together, the girls represent the complexity of the immigrant girl’s experience in America. The Garcías’ story has multiple narrative perspectives, as stories shift from first-to third-person perspective. All the characters contribute to the narrative. Taken together, Alvarez has created characters embodying the individual, social, and political dimensions of becoming an American.
Being the oldest, Carla is shaped for the longest time by Dominican culture. In seventh grade when the family emigrates, she suffers from the blond Irish boys who call her names and mock her mispronunciation of English words. Adolescence and alienation make her bicultural status insufferable. For Carla’s sake and then the others’, their parents send the girls to a fashionable...
(The entire section is 667 words.)