Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 1, Chapter 7 : Ordinary Seductions (Celia's Letters: 1942–1949) | Summary

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Summary

This chapter consists of the unsent letters written by Celia del Pino to her former lover, Gustavo Sierra de Armas, between 1942 and 1949. In her December 1942 letter Celia laments the fact that both Cuba and Spain are now dictatorships. But it is a fact that she has accepted, just as she has made peace with having a "life of ordinary seductions." A November 1944 letter contains news of the tidal wave that destroyed much of the village. In April 1945 Celia describes the desperate poverty in Havana and asks, "Why is it that most people aspire to little more than comfort?" The following month Celia writes that she is grateful to live on an island whose boundaries are dictated by the tides, not by the will of men. She is also grateful for the "illusion of change, of possibility" the sea provides. Deeply dismayed by the way "they're carving up the world" and "stealing ... [o]ur fates," she concludes that survival "is an act of hope." In her October 1946 letter Celia writes that her husband, Jorge del Pino, is frightened by her smile and wonders why he has saved her. Just two sentences long, her February 1949 letter wonders "what separates suffering from imagination."

Analysis

Written in the 1940s, these letters plot Celia's inner life during the decade of World War II. Cuba entered the war in December 1941 as an ally of the United States following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This was the largest conflict the world had ever seen and resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people as well as a substantial shift in the balance of global power. As a result of the war, many international boundaries changed, particularly in Europe. Cuba itself remained largely untouched by the war, but Celia is clearly disconcerted by the country's dictatorship and the worldwide shifting of boundaries. Her identity is so strongly tied to Cuba, and she has realized that the island is not immune from political upheaval. Though the physical boundaries of the island cannot be redrawn by men, the government within is vulnerable—and so is she. She feels, quite simply, out of control.

The title of this first section of the novel, "Ordinary Seductions," is taken from Celia's letter of December 1942. Celia has the soul of a romantic; she is deeply inclined to passion and suffering and poetry. However, she has now come to accept that her life will not recapture the amorous intensity of the seduction she experienced in 1934 in the arms of Gustavo. Celia will turn herself over to the "ordinary seductions" of everyday life, which are the small charms and passions that surround her in the poetry of the mundane. Primary among these "ordinary seductions" for Celia is the sea, which she spends much of her life watching. In essence, Celia is carrying out a decades-long "affair" with the sea. That the sea is always changing and rearranging boundaries—or at least seems to be—eases the "deadliness" of her life's constancy and familiarity. Celia's statement that "to survive is an act of hope" aligns with her ever-attentive watchfulness of the sea. The sea offers her at least "the illusion of change, of possibility," and this hope sustains her.

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