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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the first stanza of “Old Heroines,” Alvarez presents a generalized portrait of an old heroine, a woman who was the centerpiece of a novel that has run its course and that has probably been remaindered. In the second stanza the poet juxtaposes this portrait with that of more conventional women, farm wives whose lives are filled with domestic chores, women who dream briefly in the night that they are glamorous and lead exciting lives. They waken from their dreams jarred by the realities of their own mundane lives. As the old heroine looks from the train window to their lighted windows, however, it is she who is confined and isolated. The dichotomy of these two stanzas heightens the contrasts between the two types of women.

This poem has no consistent meter. It begins with iambs, many of them containing eleven or twelve syllables to the line. As the poem progresses, however, some of the lines, such as “though it’s clear from the ending he has broken things off,” are hypermetric and some deviate from iambic to anapestic lines. Only two of the poem’s twenty lines rhyme, and even then the rhyme is not sufficiently close to call it exact. Line 1 ends with the word “over” and line 3 with the word “lover,” which gives the suggestion of rhyme, although the o in each word is pronounced differently so that the rhyme is inexact.

Although Alvarez seldom depends upon such poetic devices as rhyme and alliteration—only...

(The entire section is 449 words.)