Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Imagining Winter (The Meaning of Shells) | Summary

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Summary

A third-person narrator follows the perspective of Felicia del Pino (Felicia Villaverde) in October 1974. After her attempt to kill herself and her son, Ivanito Villaverde, friends and family urge Felicia to "give the revolution another try, become a New Socialist Woman." Felicia is doubtful as she marches in a revolutionary brigade. Her compañeros (friends) whisper furtively about being reported by friends and family members for violations against the regime, such as saying a prayer at the dinner table or listening to American music. She scorns her mother's worship of El Lider (Fidel Castro). However, Felicia later masturbates to fantasies of El Lider, whom she thinks of as "just a common tyrant."

The third-person perspective switches to Celia del Pino, who has found meaning in her devotion to the revolution. As a civilian judge in the People's Court, Celia feels "part of a great historical unfolding." However, in December 1975, Celia is disheartened after she feels her courtroom turning into "a live soap opera." She is further disheartened by her children, who oppose the revolution. She feels they are "desolate, deaf and blind to the world, to each other, to her" because they have "a past infected with disillusion." However, Celia has a connection with her granddaughter, Pilar, who lives in New York, with whom she converses at night in cycles of connection and disconnection.

Luz Villaverde begins narrating in the first person. It is 1976, and she and her twin sister, Milagro Villaverde, blame their mother, Felicia, for destroying their beloved father, Hugo Villaverde, by fire in 1966. Since "the summer of coconuts" in 1972 when Felicia's madness caused her to attempt to kill herself and Ivanito, Luz and Milagro have agreed to ignore Felicia, whom they refer to as "not-Mama." In the summer of 1975, the twins began secretly visiting their father in Havana. The visits ended when they walked in on him having sex with a masked woman. Now Luz and Milagro are happy and well adjusted at their boarding school. Ivanito also attends boarding school but is poorly adjusted and fears his mother will reject him if she discovers his attempt to visit his father.

Analysis

Felicia's experience trying to be a "New Socialist Woman" and Celia's experience as a civilian judge highlight the repressive aspects of the Castro regime. During Castro's half-century of rule, quality of life rose for Cubans in ways such as access to education, healthcare, and housing. However, these advances happened at the expense of freedom of expression, which was often brutally suppressed. At the same time, García demonstrates how the repression also borders on the absurd. Felicia is part of a "unit of malcontents, a troop of social misfits" who are being forced to march in the October heat to "reshape them into revolutionaries." Celia's role in the "grand historical unfolding" is to mediate a petty conflict over suspected marital infidelity that has, absurdly, been made into public theater. Both Celia, with her devotion to the regime, and Felica, with her distaste for it, are aware of the tension and agitation that characterizes life for everyone under the regime.

The novel's multivoiced structure finds expression here in the first-person narration of Luz, who is otherwise a minor character. Luz provides a contrasting perspective on the effect Felicia's disastrous union with Hugo and her cognitive decline has on her family. Celia reacts to Felicia with concerned empathy, and Ivanito adores his mother. However, Luz and her sister, Milagro, are neither enchanted by nor sympathetic to their mother. This estrangement between mother and daughters echoes the strained relationship of Lourdes and her daughter, Pilar. The division between the twins and Ivanito also echoes the polarization of Cubans either for or against the new government. Like Luz and Milagro who continue to adore their absent, abusive father, some Cubans, like Celia, adore the repressive revolutionary regime, in part because they have not yet been personally damaged by it (at least not enough to outweigh the other improvements in their lives). The disillusionment the twins feel after catching their father in the act of infidelity, however, reflects the disillusionment both Felicia and Celia now feel for the revolution.

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