Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 1, Chapter 3 : Ordinary Seductions (The House on Palmas Street) | Summary



In the spring of 1934, Celia del Pino had a brief, intense love affair with a Spaniard, Gustavo Sierra de Armas. When he left, heartbroken Celia stayed in bed for eight months. A santera (Santeria priestess) told Celia, "I see a wet landscape in your palm" and noted that Celia "will survive the hard flames." Though Celia married shortly thereafter, she wrote a monthly letter to Gustavo for the next 25 years.

Celia goes to the Villaverde house on Palmas Street in Havana, where Felicia Villaverde lives with her twin daughters, Luz and Milagro Villaverde, and son, Ivanito Villaverde. Felicia has suffered from "delusions" since her husband, merchant marine Hugo Villaverde, left in 1966. Celia lived in that same house, "which has brought only misfortune," after her marriage. In that house, Celia discovered she was pregnant for the first time. If it was a boy, she determined, she would leave for a life of passion with Gustavo in Spain. If it was a girl, Celia would stay and "train her ... to understand the morphology of survival" so her daughter "would outlast the hard flames." After the birth of their daughter Lourdes (Lourdes Puente), Jorge del Pino, jealous of Celia's love for Gustavo, puts Celia in an asylum. The next day, Celia sees El Lider making a speech. She decides to devote herself to El Lider and his revolution for the time she has left. Dreaming of the prosperity he promises, Celia works in the sugar cane fields. She dreams repeatedly of a young girl subsumed by a tidal wave while gathering shells on a beach.

Felicia's condition worsens as the summer progresses. Ivanito refuses to leave his mother, but the twins are loyal to their absent father. Celia recalls something Jorge once read her: the continents were once united but have been slowly drifting apart over the eons. She wonders if "Cuba will be left behind, alone in the Caribbean Sea with ... its conquests, its memories."


This chapter raises the question of whether history is destined to repeat itself and whether separation is the characters' destiny. This is suggested by the thought that Celia del Pino has at the chapter's end, of the inexorable drift of the continents leaving Cuba behind. It is also suggested by the separation of Celia from her lover, Gustavo, a separation that becomes a defining feature of Celia's life. She reaches out for connection through her letters, but the letters remain unsent, for connection is impossible. This theme is also reflected in the family history of Felicia and Hugo. Their troubled relationship, fraught with violence and leaving, has literally separated Felicia from herself by fracturing her psyche.

Celia's repeating dream of the girl gathering shells immediately prior to a tidal wave echoes an event recounted in Chapter 1. In that chapter, the 1944 tidal wave is described from the point of view of Felicia, then a child. In this chapter, the dream is contextualized within an account of Felicia's increasingly unstable mental condition. This suggests that the dream is not only a memory but also a symbolic foreshadowing of Felicia's future.

The house on Palmas Street where Felicia now lives is another symbolic element. In Celia's mind, it is expressly connected with misfortune in love. Celia's life as a young wife, and her presumed deteriorating mental condition prior to her hospitalization, took place there. Now, Celia sees something similar being repeated, in the same house, in the life of her grown daughter. However, Celia cannot save Felicia any more than she could help herself. Instead, she throws herself into a cause: the patriotic revolutionary socialism of Fidel Castro.

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