The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Old Heroines” and in the other poems in her first collection, published when she was thirty-four, Julia Alvarez tests, develops, and polishes the incipient feminist voice that emerged clearly in her subsequent novels, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), ¡Yo! (1997), and, most particularly, In the Name of Salome (2000). In her afterword to the 1996 edition of Homecoming, Alvarez claimed, “The only models I had been given by my mother and aunts and the heroines of novels were the homemaking model and the romantic model, both of which I had miserably failed at by age thirty-four.”

In “Lost Heroines,” Alvarez combines the homemaking model and the model provided by the romantic novels mentioned in her afterword. The poem begins with the simple question “Where do heroines go when their novels are over?” In the first ten-line stanza, Alvarez outlines the possibilities: Marry or board a train that will take the lost heroine to an old lover. These are the alternatives open to the heroines of novels. These were the two alternatives long available to women in a male-dominated society.

Alvarez’s heroine boards a train that races through a countryside, perhaps Russia, perhaps Iowa. Place does not matter. Women everywhere face the same kinds of problems. The old heroine “looks out the window, the dark fields rolling by,/ or maybe the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)