The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Carlos García

Carlos García, or Papi, the overprotective Old World patriarch whose part in a failed coup against dictator Rafael Trujillo sends the family into exile. With the help of an intelligence agent and Dr. Fanning, an American colleague, he is able to set up his medical practice in New York City, providing a good life for his wife (Mami) and his four beloved daughters. The youngest of his father’s thirty-five children, he is rooted in the old Hispanic heritage and keeps strong control over his family. He establishes the tradition of celebrating his birthday at his house, with the daughters coming without their men. Even as adults, his daughters play the role of the father’s little girls.

Laura García

Laura García, or Mami, the energetic mother of the four girls. She is the most comfortable in the exile life because she had studied in America. Her knowledge of English and lack of a heavy accent, along with her temperament, make her the leader of and mediator for the family in the new land. She is ambitious and takes courses that may lead to a successful career. The girls resent her activities, which keep her away from their needs. She calls them each by the generic pet name “Cuquita.” Once settled in the United States, she refuses to go back to the island, where she would be considered to be a house slave, oppressed by a society that expects women to have sons. As a good “Mami,” she is always giving advice, constantly telling the girls to guard their virginity and avoid drugs. She rears them in an American style but expects them to live by Hispanic cultural values.

Carla García

Carla García, the oldest sister, who remembers Christmas in the native country, with decorations, many activities, and toys brought from New York City by the father. She also thinks of Victor Hubbard, the American consul who prepared the upper class for revolution, and the turmoil of the last day on the island, when the secret police stormed into the house...

(The entire section is 833 words.)