Old Heroines Themes
by Julia Alvarez

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the afterword to the 1996 edition of Homecoming, Alvarez, looking back on this collection a dozen years after its initial publication, claimsIn writing Homecoming, I can see now how fiercely I was claiming my woman’s voice. As I followed my mother cleaning house, washing and ironing clothes, rolling dough, I was using the material of my housebound girl life to claim my woman’s legacy.

The poet’s models in life were the domestic models of the women around her as she was growing up and the romantic models provided by the heroines she encountered in the novels she read. She was personally incapable of becoming what either of these models represented.

In this poem, Alvarez, as a modern woman and an emerging feminist, deals with the theme of women resisting prevailing sentiments about what women should be. The only men in the poem are the “he” in the first stanza, the old lover who “has broken things off,” and the husbands in whose arms the wives in the second stanza fall asleep. The women in the poem are passive creatures whose lives seemingly revolve around men.

The old heroine has had her day. She now rides in isolation toward some unstated end. She sees her face reflected in the train window, “a face still dramatic,/ pale and young in that afterward light.” Life has passed her by, as it does all old heroines, both those drawn from the pages of novels and those in real life.

There are, on the other hand, the real women, the wives, the mothers, the women who, although they treasure their dreams, are realistic enough to know that they will never fulfill them. They can, in their sleep, concoct for themselves other, more exciting lives, but in the end, they waken and turn on the lights “to make sure of their status.” This is perhaps the most controlling line in the poem because it suggests not only that...

(The entire section is 495 words.)