Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3109
“The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” begins with the narrator claiming to be a good person even though he admits to cheating on his girlfriend. “I’m not a bad guy,” he says. He rejects the stereotype of the philandering Dominican male as it applies to him. The narrator continues to rationalize his poor judgment, saying that everyone makes mistakes. He maintains his good character even after he reveals the presence of a letter that confirms his former girlfriend’s opinion of him.
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Looking back on his relationship with Magda, the narrator believes that their relationship had begun to improve once he began to express greater interest in her activities. “A nice rhythm we had going,” he says. By then the affair with Cassandra has been over for months, yet the narrator cannot ignore the devastating impact her letter has had on his relationship with Magda and her family. He is now treated as an outcast, whereas he was once regarded as a son. He compares the damage to a “five-train collision.”
The narrator continues to debate whether he should have admitted to the affair with Cassandra. His friends advise him to deny everything, but at the time he is too filled with remorse and too overwhelmed by the sight of Magda’s pain to ignore the truth. “You have to listen to me, Magda. Or you won’t understand,” he begs.
The narrator describes Magda’s physical appearance and personality. “She’s a forgiving soul,” one who attends Mass and asks nuns to pray for distant relatives. He is not the only one who has a high opinion of her, for “[s]he’s the nerd every librarian in town knows, a teacher whose students fall in love with her.” She is thoughtful and generous. “You couldn’t think of anybody worse to screw than Magda,” the narrator concludes.
The narrator then summarizes his attempts to win Magda back. Without shame, he recalls “[t]he begging, the crawling over glass, the crying” he did to convince her not to abandon their relationship. They discuss Cassandra, and the narrator placates Magda’s curiosity by saying that he would have told her about the affair eventually. In the end, the narrator’s love for Magda wins out over his sense of pride, yet that pride is not eliminated completely.
Nevertheless, the narrator senses that a profound change has occurred within Magda. “My Magda was turning into another Magda,” he says. The narrator discovers that his girlfriend is no longer as accommodating as she once was. Rather than view her change in attitude as a result of his infidelity, he blames this change on the influence of her girlfriends, whom he believes are “feeding her a bad line.” Even though he tries to ignore the fallout from the affair, every attempt he makes at reconciliation seems to confirm “something negative” about him. Magda’s changes in attitude become more visible as time passes, bringing about improvements in her physical appearance and wardrobe, improvements that, as the narrator says, “would have alarmed a paranoid nigger.”
The scene changes to summer, and the narrator describes plans for a vacation to Santo Domingo. The vacation is put into doubt because Magda feels pressured to make a commitment which she is unprepared to do. The narrator, on the other hand, believes that a vacation will end the ambiguity and uncertainty that has plagued their relationship since Magda learned of the affair the previous winter. “Me and her on the Island. What couldn’t this cure?” Once again, the narrator blames Magda’s reluctance on her friends’ influence.
The narrator momentarily forgets his worries as he reflects upon his hometown of Santo Domingo and the many things he has missed since he left the Dominican Republic for New York. With tenderness and affection, he recalls the hospitality of his fellow countrymen and the sense of camaraderie that binds them together. He remembers the affection they openly display toward one another.
However, the narrator cannot dwell for long on such memories because he must confront the harsh realities that forced him to leave Santo Domingo for a better life in the United States. “If this was another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea,” he says. He would like to wax poetic about the beautiful Dominican landscape, but he cannot because that landscape is populated by “[m]ore albinos, more cross-eyed niggers, more tígueres [street children who often resort to stealing and prostitution in order to survive] than you’ll ever see.” The narrator is quickly distracted by thoughts of lovely young Dominican women before he resumes telling the reader about Santo Domingo and the dilapidated vehicles that roam the city’s streets. He describes the shanties where a majority of Santo Domingo’s citizens live, including his grandfather who still does not have running water or a flush toilet. The narrator recalls the place of his birth—Calle XXI (21st Street)—and wonders whether it will remain forever backward or make the strides toward modernity that are long overdue. In the end, the narrator, as confounded as ever by the lack of development in his homeland, says, “Santo Domingo is Santo Domingo. Let’s pretend we all know what goes on there.”
The narrator, whose name is Yunior, continues to believe that his relationship with Magda will be restored to its former level of intimacy if they observe the practices, such as visiting his relatives, that once established them as a couple. This time, however, Magda is bored, and, in what Yunior perceives to be a complete change in character, she tells him so. Yunior makes every attempt to be a good host, pointing out improvements, such as restaurant franchises, that have occurred since his last trip and telling her about some of his nation’s history. Reluctantly, he admits that things are not going well, for Magda, who is normally very talkative, remains quiet throughout their bus trip from Santo Domingo to the country’s interior.
Magda and Yunior continue to express differing opinions about how they should spend their vacation. Magda wants to go to the beach, whereas Yunior would prefer to spend more time in the countryside. Once again, he blames Magda’s girlfriends for his difficulties, yet he manages to control his temper. Finally, he acquiesces and arranges for a bus to take them to the resort town of La Romana ahead of schedule.
Once they arrive in La Romana, the tables turn, as it is now Yunior who becomes bored. His thoughts turn to sex rather than watching HBO. Yunior complains about how infrequently he and Magda have sex and how much more trouble he has seducing her than he did before. Sexual relations between them have become perfunctory, with no spark of passion or romance.
Yunior complains about their accommodations. It is not that the hotel accommodations are inadequate; it is that they are ostentatious and secluded from everything that might detract from the illusion of beauty and splendor. Yunior feels “walled away from everybody else,” particularly the average citizens he has missed. He compares the resort to being in another country where “the only Island Dominicans you’re guaranteed to see are either caked up or changing your sheets.” They are served breakfast “by cheerful women in Aunt Jemima costumes.”
The couple continues to argue over how much time they should spend apart from each other while on vacation. Magda says that she needs some time for herself “maybe once a day,” but Yunior insists that they remain together. They compromise by taking a golf cart to the beach.
Yunior once again remarks upon the disparities between the resort and the rest of the country. “Casa de Campo has got beaches the way the rest of the island has got problems,” he says. Having cataloged the many joys of Dominican life that are absent from the resort, Yunior next focuses on the scores of white Europeans, the “budget Foucaults,” who have flocked to the beach to contemplate beauty, especially that of the local girls. Yunior describes each one of the tourists as looking “like some scary pale monster that the sea’s vomited up.”
When he sees Magda dressed in a new bikini that her girlfriends helped to pick out, Yunior immediately believes that they have planned to “torture” him. Magda’s beauty arouses Yunior’s insecurities rather than restores his confidence. He admits to feeling “vulnerable and uneasy.” The swagger and bravado associated with his sexual prowess now desert him, and Yunior finds himself begging Magda for a declaration of love. She refuses to be cajoled by him, ending the matter by calling him a “pestilence.”
Yunior’s insecurities worsen when he and Magda arrive at the beach. He fears that they do not look like a couple, and he becomes painfully aware that Magda, wearing her new bikini, has become the center of attention. Yunior, on the other hand, feels as though everyone regards him suspiciously.
An Assistant D.A. who, like Yunior, is a Dominican living in Quisqueya Heights, takes an interest in Magda and strikes up a conversation with her. Yunior becomes jealous and possessive, threatening the Assistant D.A. with physical violence. The Assistant D.A. espouses a profound empathy with his accused countrymen who come before him in a court of law. However, Yunior regards the Assistant D.A. as a traitor: “I’m thinking he sounds like the sort of nigger who in the old days used to lead bwana to the rest of us.” Yunior’s combative attitude toward the Assistant D.A. forces Magda to walk away in disgust. Yunior does not bother putting up an argument, for he already knows what Magda will say: “Time for you to do your thing and me to do mine.”
That night Yunior decides to hang out around the pool and the local bar, Club Cacique, where he meets Lucy, a “Dominicana from West New York” who resembles Magda physically except that she, Lucy, is Trigueña, a woman with wheat-colored skin. Yunior is tempted by Lucy’s beauty, but he resists temptation when he sees a “spiderweb of scars” covering her stomach. He then meets “two rich older dudes drinking cognac at the bar.” These two men are the Vice-President and Bárbaro, his bodyguard. According to Yunior, the Vice-President is “a young brother, in his late thirties, and pretty cool for a chupabarrio,” though there is some doubt as to whether this streetwise man acquired his wealth legally. “I must have the footprint of fresh disaster on my face,” thinks Yunior, for the Vice-President quickly orders shots of rum all around. Before long, the Vice-President and Bárbaro are giving Yunior advice about women, advice that is no different from that offered by Yunior’s friends in Quisqueya Heights.
Yunior wonders whether his inability to remain faithful is truly a part of his nature. Did he cheat on Magda because he is Dominican? According to Magda’s friends, “all us Dominican men are dogs.” Yunior refutes the notion that his infidelity can be attributed to something like genetics, citing other reasons, namely what he refers to as “[c]ausalities.” He attempts to assuage his wounded ego by saying that all relationships at one point or another experience “turbulence.”
Yunior then recalls the beginnings of his relationship with Magda. He recalls with the accuracy of an accountant conducting an audit the ways in which they truly resembled a couple after a year of dating. Even though Yunior is willing to make the compromises that establish a harmonious, if somewhat monotonous, relationship, his restless nature reveals itself when he puts that first year with Magda in perspective: “Our relationship wasn’t the sun, the moon, and the stars, but it wasn’t [b—— sh——t], either.”
Yunior’s thoughts turn to sex, and he rationalizes his eventual betrayal of Magda by citing the many opportunities for an affair which he has ignored previously. In other words, he is a victim of circumstance. He then reflects upon the origins of the affair with Cassandra. “First week of knowing her, I made the mistake of telling her that sex with Magda had never been topnotch,” he confides. Though he does not completely accept responsibility for his role in the affair, as if to imply, once again, that he is but a hapless bystander and that Cassandra’s strong sex drive is yet another “causality” that has led to the demise of his relationship with Magda, Yunior recalls how, even while in the throes of passion, he felt guilty for betraying the woman he loved.
Another day of vacation begins, and Magda and Yunior hardly speak to each other. The resort is throwing a party that night, and all guests are invited. As the couple dresses in front of the mirror, Yunior admires Magda’s appearance as he fondly recalls the first time he kissed her curls “shiny and as dark as night.” Yunior’s hope for a reconciliation returns, but it is dashed just as quickly when Magda informs him that tonight, of all nights, she wishes to be alone. A bitter argument ensues, with names called in anger. Finally, Yunior leaves, feeling sorry for himself, thinking, “I’m not a bad guy.”
Yunior returns to Club Cacique, looking for Lucy but finding the Vice-President and his bodyguard instead. They sit at the quiet end of the bar, drinking cognac and discussing how many Dominican ballplayers are in the major leagues. “This place is killing me,” says Yunior, and the Vice-President suggests that they take a drive. He wishes to show Yunior “the birthplace of our nation.” Having nothing better to do, Yunior decides to go along for the ride. Before leaving, however, he casts one last glance around the room, only to find Lucy slightly disheveled but still very much a temptation. Reluctantly, Yunior accompanies the men out of the club.
The three men drive in a black BMW sedan on dark roads, the air sweet with the smell of sugar cane as insects “swarm like a Biblical plague” in front of the car’s headlights. The Vice-President and Bárbaro talk at the same time as a bottle of cognac is passed around. Yunior wonders where they are going, but he dismisses any fears because, after all, he is with the Vice-President—and the Vice-President knows what he is doing or else he would not have become the Vice-President. Yunior has doubts about Bárbaro, however. The bodyguard’s hand shakes as he tells Yunior about his former dreams of becoming an engineer, and this makes Yunior think that Bárbaro is anything but a bodyguard. Yunior really does not pay too much attention to either man, for his thoughts have once again returned to Magda and how he’ll probably never have sex with her again.
Mosquitoes devour the men as they get out of the car and stumble up a slope covered with vegetation. Bárbaro carries a huge flashlight as the Vice- President tries to remember the way. Yunior reconsiders his opinion of the bodyguard when he sees him carrying a machine gun with authority, his hand as steady as ever.
Finally, the Vice-President locates the site, a hole in the red earth that Yunior identifies as bauxite. The hole is deep and “blacker than any of us,” says Yunior, staring down into the hole. The Vice- President announces that the hole is the Cave of the Jagua, “the birthplace of the Tainos.” He ignores Yunior’s attempts to correct his geography, saying that he is “speaking mythically,” for the Vice- President regards the site with reverence. Bárbaro’s flashlight barely penetrates the darkness as the three men continue to examine the hole.
When the Vice-President asks Yunior if he wants to see inside, Yunior cannot recall for sure what his answer was, though he realizes that he must have said yes, for he remembers Bárbaro handing him the flashlight before the men grabbed him by the ankles and lowered him into the hole. As he is lowered down, coins fly out of his pockets, “bendiciones,” or offerings, made to the spirits of his ancestors. Yunior cannot see much, “just some odd colors on the eroded walls” of the “cave” as he hears the Vice-President ask, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“This is the perfect place for insight, for a person to become somebody better,” Yunior thinks as he hangs upside down. He imagines that this is the place where the Vice-President first caught a glimpse of “his future self,” the person who would overcome poverty to become a successful businessman. Yunior also imagines Bárbaro, his dream of becoming a benefactor of the people not quite extinguished, buying a concrete home for his mother and showing her how to operate the air conditioner. Instead of looking at his future self, as he imagines the others must have done, Yunior looks toward the past, to the time he first met Magda during their college days at Rutgers. “And that’s when I know it’s over,” he realizes. “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.” Yunior starts to cry, forcing the men to pull him up. The Vice- President, seeing that Yunior has failed to make the most of this opportunity, chides Yunior for being less than a man.
Looking back on the events that took place on the night he visited the Cave of the Jagua, Yunior realizes that “some serious Island voodoo” must have been at work, for the ending he saw came true. He and Magda returned to the United States the very next day, cutting their vacation short.
Five months later, Yunior receives a letter from Magda saying that she is dating someone new, a “very nice guy.” “Dominican, like me,” observes Yunior. Even though Yunior has a new girlfriend, seeing Magda’s handwriting has a devastating effect on him. He realizes now that their relationship is finally over.
Yunior berates himself for being such a fool. He then narrates the sad demise of his relationship with Magda on a night that once promised joyous celebration. In a flashback, he describes how he returned to the bungalow, where he found Magda with her bags packed, her eyes red and swollen from crying. “I’m going home tomorrow,” she tells him. He sits down next to her and takes her hand, hopeful that she’ll give him one more chance. “This can work,” he says. “All we have to do is try.”
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