Julia Alvarez Julia Alvarez Long Fiction Analysis

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Julia Alvarez Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

If Julia Alvarez’s life were a novel, postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist critics, especially, would be interested in analyzing it. She has referred to herself as a “Dominican hyphen American,” adding, “As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen—the place where two worlds collide or blend together.” This is the place postcolonial writers call the liminal space, the “place between.” It is the place where Alvarez has lived her life, and it is the setting of her fiction.

Alvarez considers herself an American, but her writing is concerned with both Dominican and American culture and with the dilemma of immigrants trying to bridge the gaps. Because she is aware that most of her American readers, like her young American classmates from the past, will not be familiar with anything Dominican, she also patiently works to bridge this gap as well. It is understandable, given this focus, that some scholars consider her a Caribbean writer, connecting her to Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid, among others.

Alvarez’s sense of living in liminal space and having to deal with the collision of cultures is mirrored in the fragmented form of her novels, which some scholars consider short stories; in her fluid use of time; and in her use of multiple points of view. This style results in a confusion between reality and fiction. While Alvarez addresses general concerns of the postcolonial and postmodern, her novels focus primarily on how these issues affect women. Through her numerous female characters, she examines sexism in Latino culture, pressures faced by women living in dictatorships, and misogyny in both external and internalized forms. It is not coincidental that her most intriguing characters are women who rebel against the existence of repressive boundaries (for example, Yo in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and Miranda in The Time of the Butterflies).

Alvarez is not only interested in examining cultural, ethnic, and gender boundaries; another main concern in her work is language—its use to define and limit, especially immigrants and the lower classes, and its possibilities for a writer, especially a bilingual one. Her childhood experience in an oral culture, her own love of poetry, and her struggles to learn English and to maintain her fluency in Spanish all contribute to her thoughtful use of language in her writings.

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

Alvarez’s first novel is based on the experiences of her own family. The book is divided into three sections by time, which moves backward in this account. Each section is subdivided into five vignettes, stories focused on a single character or group of characters. To aid her readers, Alvarez provides a genealogical chart at the beginning of the book, tracing both the de la Torreses (Mami’s family) and the Garcías to the conquistadores. Readers also become aware of where the four García girls—Carla, Sandra (Sandi), Yolanda (Yo), and Sofia (Fifi)—fit in these two large and important families. Alvarez has noted that Yo’s name is a play on the Spanish word for self or “I”; indeed, Yo is the storyteller in this work.

The first section (1989-1972) details Yo’s return to the Dominican Republic after a five-year absence, looking for a home but not finding it. This section presents the aging of the parents and the marriages and struggles, including Sandi’s breakdown, of the adult “girls.” The second section (1970-1960, the ten years after the family’s exile) focuses on the parents’ struggle to adjust to American life, the father’s acceptance that conditions in his homeland mean staying in the United States, and the tensions between the parents and their daughters, who are having their own problems in the United States in the 1960’s. During this period, the parents decide that summers with the family on the island will help solve the problems, but the sisters have to “rescue” Fifi from...

(The entire section is 1,443 words.)