The Connections Between Magda and Gabriela
In Tessa Bridal’s The Tree of Red Stars, Magda, the protagonist of the story, grows up in the midst of many female characters. Those closest to her include Emilia, a young girl Magda’s age, whom the protagonist has known since elementary school. Emilia has a gentle soul that attracts Magda to her. It is through her that Magda learns to see people as creatures with emotions, people who need to be nurtured, whereas Magda had tended to view the people around her as mysterious puzzles or strange machines that she would like to take apart to better understand how they work. Emilia is a caretaker, whereas Magda is a scientist. Magda is also an adventurer, often including Emilia in her escapades, with Emilia usually giving in but reluctantly so.
Another childhood friend who influences Magda’s early life is Cora, whose exotic family culture lures both Magda and Emilia to want to get to know her. They are awed by Cora’s strong connection with her father, something neither Magda nor Emilia enjoys. They soon learn, however, that because of her father’s overprotection, Cora remains somewhat a prisoner in her home, denied the free rein that Magda and Emilia enjoy to casually play in the river or to pull childish pranks. It is from Cora that Magda learns a new form of defiance, as Cora slowly moves away from her father’s control, deceiving him in order to establish her own identity. Magda also celebrates Cora’s decision to elope with a young lover of her choice rather than to marry a man whom her parents have chosen for her.
These girls share Magda’s childhood with her on an almost daily basis. They live in her neighborhood, enjoying the same easy lifestyle of comfort afforded by wealth. That neighborhood is many miles away from the Cerro, the tallest hill in Uruguay, abandoned by all but a few soldiers who are stationed at the museum on the summit and “by the city’s poorest residents, who lived on the hillside in houses made from the city’s leftovers.” It is on this hill that Gabriela lives in a house made of cardboard and newspapers, a drastically different environment from that in which Magda lives. However, despite the disparate economics that influence their lives, there are strong similarities that drive Magda toward Gabriela, that make her want to get to know her.
Gabriela is introduced in the first chapter of the novel and is described first by the color of her hair, the only other “redheaded young woman” in the story besides Magda; and, next, there is mention of the fact that she is “driving a rather fine horse,” which stands in stark difference to the normally “tough and dusty” horses that other people from the Cerro drive, thus immediately setting Gabriela in a somewhat elevated position. Gabriela is also said to have physical features that “in a different time and place would have made her a movie star.” The fact that, immediately following her introduction, Magda devises a plan in which she and Emilia will hide in the back of the young woman’s wagon in order to go back to the Cerro to see where Gabriela lives makes the reader aware that this redheaded eighteen-year-old holds great significance.
Gabriela, although still a teen, brings a child with her when she visits Magda’s mother. The child is still a very young baby, and Bridal emphasizes that not only is Magda interested in Gabriela, she is also fascinated with the little baby boy that Gabriela carries. In many ways, Gabriela represents exactly the opposite of Magda’s potential. Gabriela is the mistress of a married man. She will give birth to several children over the course of the story. For Gabriela, being the mistress of a man of money and social standing might be the most that she can wish for. Her options in the Uruguayan society, during the time of the novel, are slight.
Magda, on the other hand, will fall in love with a neighborhood boy, with whom she will never have children. Her only other sexual relations will be protected, it is subtly suggested, as the issue of condoms is somewhat obliquely mentioned. Magda also not only has the option of going to college, but it is assumed from childhood that she will eventually attain a degree. Magda’s options are multiple, given to her because of her family’s connections and high standing in a society that at one time was considered one of the most successful welfare states in the world. It is therefore through a comparison of Magda and Gabriela that Bridal characterizes the political, social, and economic changes that...
(The entire section is 1851 words.)