Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 1, Chapter 6 : Ordinary Seductions (The Fire Between Them) | Summary

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Summary

The third-person narrator follows the perspective of Felicia Villaverde, who is often seized with "delusions" that consist of over-sensitive sensory abilities, extra-sensory perception, and paranoia. Her "mind floods with thoughts ... from the past, from the future, other people's thoughts," and the mundane details of everyday life "come back as symbols." Felicia was a high-school dropout and a failed escort when she met Hugo Villaverde. He left her after one night at a hotel in Havana and returned when she was seven months pregnant. They married and moved to the house on Palmas Street. Hugo choked Felicia, threatened to kill her, and left again. In August 1966, while pregnant with Ivanito (Ivanito Villaverde) and sick with syphilis given to her by Hugo, Felicia tried to kill Hugo, setting him on fire with a grease-soaked cooking rag—an act their daughters witnessed. Now, she fears she will die and dreams of women who have been sexually abused by men and seem to want something from her.

The third-person perspective switches to Felicia's five-year-old son, Ivanito, who adores his mother. Felicia has told him that he nearly died from Hugo's syphilis while he was in her womb. Shea uses all her food rationing coupons to secure as many coconuts as she can and makes coconut ice cream. Felicia believes the cold coconut ice cream will "purify" and "heal them." Felicia is also suspicious of the sun. Ivanito's sisters tell him their mother behaved similarly when she burned their father. They warn him against ending up like her, and he doesn't understand why they wish to ruin "his happiness with Mama."

Celia tries to take the children away from Felicia, but Ivanito stays with her. Felicia bathes and adorns them both and prepares and serves an elaborate meal. As she serves them each a dish of ice cream with a pill crushed on top, she tells her son to "imagine winter ... and its white extinguishings." They lay down on a freshly made bed and fall asleep. The third-person perspective switches to Celia, who had made Felicia promise to bring Ivanito to Santa Teresa del Mar the next day. She wakes in the middle of the night. Her dreams and "an ominous pattern of moonlight" on her bed tell her something has happened to Felicia. She hurries to Havana.

Analysis

This chapter's title, "The Fire Between Them," refers to Felicia's attempt to murder her husband, Hugo, by burning him alive in their home. Hugo lives but is disfigured by the fire. Yet this event has caused a severe disconnect between the twin girls, Luz and Milagro, on the one hand, and Felicia and Ivanito on the other. Traumatized by witnessing the fire, Luz and Milagro will never trust their mother. Ivanito did not witness it, and in his love for his mother, cannot understand his sisters' perspective. The twins tell Ivanito that "families are essentially political" and urge him to side with them against their mother, whom they (rightly) regard as insane. Their comment reflects one of the novel's underlying preoccupations, wherein the political rifts in Cuba engender and reflect rifts within the del Pino family. Though Felicia is one of the more apolitical characters in the novel, her power relations with Hugo and her illness from the syphilis he transmitted to her still create a political divide among her own children.

The motif of fire continues with Felicia's distrust of the sun, which is a ball of fire. Opposed to this motif is a counter-motif of coldness and ice, expressed here in Felicia's reverence for coconut ice cream. She attributes magical healing powers to its white coldness. This motif is also seen in Chapter 5 when, after her miscarriage and rape, Lourdes Puentes flees hot Cuba seeking colder and colder climates, at last settling in New York City. This opposition between fire/sun and ice/winter also recalls the political opposition dividing hot Cuba and the colder, more northern United States as well as the political divisions within Cuba with its "cold" roots in Soviet-style communism.

Felicia's madness is congruent with the symptoms of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, it is a progressive wasting disease affecting all systems of the body. The cognitive complications of late-stage syphilis used to be called "general paralysis of the insane." One symptom is photophobia, a sensitivity to or intolerance of light. Like her cognitive symptoms, Felicia's photophobia is not recognized as a medical issue in the novel. Felicia herself interprets the symptom symbolically. It is connected to her distrust of the sun and her obsession with coldness.

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