Analysis of “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”
“How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez is a funny and bitter sketch of the way the family of emigrants assimilated in New York City in the middle of 1950s.
Julia Alvarez, the author of the book is originally from the Dominican Republic, and this makes the theme of the narration very personal and close to her. Julia Alvarez admits that this novel is semi-autobiographical as it partially describes her own experience after her family has moved to another country.
Julia immigrated to the United States when she was only 10 years old but she saved memoirs about her motherland during all her life and described them in her works. Julia Alvarez is the author of four novels and four books of poems. In addition she published several books for young readers.
“How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent” consists of fifteen interconnected short stories, which described the life of four sisters- Yolanda, Carla, Sandra and Sofia after their emigration to New Work city.
The novel does not follow a strict chronological order. It is written in the form of flashback. The story moves back in time as it starts with Yolanda’s story after she comes back to her motherland being a grown up woman. Then the narration describes events of the resent past and finally moves to the times, which preceded sisters’ emigration from the Dominican Republic. Such a structure of the book helps the readers to get a better understanding of the characters and different factors, which affected their lives. And finally, the structure of the book switches from one country to another. Such a composition helps the readers to compare two different countries and contrast them. This not only expands the knowledge of the readers about other countries, but also helps to get a better understanding of the inner drives of the main characters.
Yolanda is the main characters of the story. She has a lot of common features with the author. Same like Julia Alvarez, Yolanda turns to writing in order to come in terms with her own identity in the new country.
Cultural conflict, adapting to the new culture and inner transformation of the main characters are the main themes of the novel. In the novel the readers can see how the Latin culture, which is native to the main characters, clashes with the culture of their new motherland. This external conflict is not the only conflict of the novel. Internal conflict, which arises in the minds of the main characters is also in the focus of the author’s attention. This conflict appears from the desire to save native customs and traditions and to adapt to the new culture at the same time. This thing happens to all immigrants and Julia Alvarez perfectly illustrates this conflict. Right after the immigration all the members of the family feel very strong connection with the motherland they left. Gradually, they try to become “native” in the United States. They try to distance themselves from everything, which connects them with their past. Girls even try to change their appearance by ironing their hair and way of speaking by getting rid of Spanish accent in order to fit into the new life. All these attempts do not bring a desired result as they still are not able to distance away from their past and motherland. The readers can see all positive and negative sides of their position. From the one side they are trapped between two different worlds and can not find their place in each of them. From the other side they can benefit from both cultures and take the best things from them.
Carla, Sandra Yolanda and Sofia enjoyed a nice and peaceful leaving in the Dominican Republic till their father Carlos got in trouble because of his agitation against dictatorship. After this accident the family has to live the country and move to New York City. In the new place they have to experience much trouble while getting used to new way of life and new surrounding. Carlos soon gets medical fellowship and starts his own business. Carla experiences much trouble while adapting on the new place. She suffers because of prejudices of the schoolmates. On the example of small Carla the author shows how difficult it sometimes becomes for emigrants to join the American society and became an integral part of it. People, who arrive to America, hope to join multinational community and enjoy rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution but meet and invisible wall, which separate them from Anglos. They have to prove their right to live in this country and be treated like all the rest of the population. Finally emigrants come to the realization that despite they possess same rights as other citizens of the country; they still remain aliens, despite their legal status. Yolanda, another sister, becomes luckier and finds the way to carry on in the new place. She turns to writing and poetry. Finally, poetry helps her to express her inner thoughts and feelings and get a better understanding of herself and the world around her. Despite the protests of her father, she does not give up and finds her own way and expresses herself. Laura, her aunt, helpa her a lot and defends her from controlling father. Sofia soon gets in trouble because of the use of marijuana and is sent back to the Dominican Republic. This does not help, though and she gets into bigger trouble with her cousin Manuel.
Yolanda has problems with the opposite sex because of her origin. She can not get used to the attitude of American men to sex and relations. Her first love Rudy does not show deep understanding of her feelings and Yolanda is greatly hurt by his attitude. Later she gets married with the American man John but finally does controversies do not let them to be happy together. John can not understand Yolanda. He does not appreciate her culture and origin, does not respect her heritage and language. These relationships end with Yolanda’s breakdown and she spends some time in mental hospital before she finally recovers. What is notable, just before the breakdown she stops understanding American language and it starts sounding for her just like a combination of the sounds. Misunderstanding and strange surrounding finally blocks external culture like something hostile and dangerous. This shows one more time that all attempts of the girls to forget their motherland and their origin did not end up with a success. Sandra, another sister also had a mental breakdown. She is afraid she is loosing her human appearance. Sofia, the last sister marries a German man and has two nice children. She tries to show her new house and husband to all her relatives but finally comes to argument with her father during his birthday party organized in her house. Sandra is disappointed because of lack of affection her father has showed to her new way of life.
At the age of thirty nine Yolanda comes back to her motherland to join her relative and enjoy living in the motherland. Her family did not understand her decision to leave alone for the country side but this trip is necessary for Yolanda in order to come in terms with her inner thoughts and feelings.
The title of the novel is very symbolic. It has both, direct and metaphorical meaning. All four sisters try to loose their accent and speak good English in order to become undistinguishable from the native population of the United States. From the other side they try to change not only their language, but also their way of life and way of thinking. In the beginning their attempts seem to be successful but finally the readers see that living in between two cultures in not that simple. By the end of the book the readers see that despite the girls have lost their accent and speak perfect English, they did not manage to get rid of memories about their motherland and could not distance from their cultural heritage.
The author shows the feeling of people, who lost their motherland but were not accepted by the new country they arrive. Julia Alvarez knows very well what she is writing about she is descendant of Dominican family, who immigrated to America in the middle of the twentieth century. That is why she knows very well about the state of “border people”, who live in-between two cultures and two societies but belong to non of them. The novel illustrates the state of people, who are both – Americans and non-Americans at the same time. Deprived of their roots, they have to wander between two worlds, none of which feels like home. Alvarez gives us insight into the difficulties people meet when adapting to new culture and coming in terms with their cultural identities in the new place. Unfortunately, people very quickly reject those, who have left their native places. At the same time Americans are not very friendly to the newcomers, especially those, who differ from them. Here immigrants meet a kind of dilemma as they have to assimilate with the new way of life and save their identity at the same time.
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