How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Study Guide

Julia Alvarez

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 20 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/How-the-Garcia-Girls-Lost-Their-Accents/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2018, February 13). How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/How-the-Garcia-Girls-Lost-Their-Accents/

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/How-the-Garcia-Girls-Lost-Their-Accents/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Study Guide," February 13, 2018, accessed September 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/How-the-Garcia-Girls-Lost-Their-Accents/.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Part 1, Chapter 2 : The Kiss | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Narrated in the third person, the story focuses on the youngest García sister, Sofía, nicknamed Fifi.

The García daughters are grown up. But every year they travel home alone for their father's birthday. In their childhood home they become "their father's girls" again. He gives them money, which they try to refuse. Papi reminds them "the revolution in the old country had failed" and he escaped successfully to America. Now he wants to give his daughters what he's earned.

This year Papi turns 70. Sofía wants to have the party at her house. She has a four-month-old baby, the first son in two generations. Since Sofía ran off six years ago with her husband, Otto, she and Papi haven't been on speaking terms. Now they're beginning to get along again. Papi is thrilled to have a grandson—named Carlos like him—who carries on his name in America. Papi has visited the new baby twice, praising Baby Carlos with "macho babytalk" and telling him he can do anything. Sofía notices Papi ignores her young daughter and favors her son. Carlos also has inherited Otto's light skin and "fair Nordic looks," which make Papi proud. Papi has come around to the good-natured Otto, but he's still cold with Sofía.

Papi has always warned his daughters against becoming "loose women." In the late 1960s when the girls grew up, drugs, sex, and fashions were "political acts against the military-industrial complex." But defying their father was different.

The only sister without a college degree, Sofía was the sister with "non-stop boyfriends." The other sisters envied her. She was rebellious, dropping out of college to be with her boyfriend at the time. On a trip to Colombia she met Otto and fell in love. Still living at home, she tried to keep her father from finding out she was sexually active. But when he found love letters stored in a drawer, Papi furiously confronted Sofía, accusing her of "dragging my good name through the dirt." Sofía shouted he had no right to read her mail. Though Sofía frequently had "growing-up tantrums," this time she packed and left the house for good. Papi held a grudge against Sofía for years. He relented briefly when Sofía came to the house with her baby girl but never went to Sofía and Otto's house. This year Sofía is determined to reconcile with him. She's gathered each of the four sisters' families and planned a huge celebration with decorations and entertainment.

Baby Carlos is christened in the morning, followed by the party at night. The sisters toast Papi and write him sentimental cards, and he opens his gifts. Relatives in the Dominican Republic call to congratulate him. The sisters still feel he's waiting for something they haven't given him yet. Papi becomes more withdrawn as the night goes on. The sisters imagine him thinking "everyone in this room would survive him." He feels he means nothing to his daughters once they've moved on to successful adult lives in America.

Yolanda thinks of a party game. She blindfolds Papi and has each of the sisters kiss him. He has to guess which one it is. After several rounds of the game Sofía, who's been with her children, rejoins the party. She notices Papi never guesses her name. She swoops in and kisses him on the ear with an open mouth. This time Papi stands up angrily and takes off the blindfold. He's been "aroused in public" and is ashamed. Papi declares "That's enough of that," and the party is over.

Analysis

Family loyalties and devotion are again compared to "roots." Like a tree's roots in the earth, family roots keep pulling their members back. The García daughters have grown into their own lives, but they're easily "sunk into the past." The story shows more subtly what the previous story showed clearly. The García women now consider America home by default. "The old house they grew up in" is their house in America, the home their father urges them never to forget. The narrative will work backward to show how their definition of home shifts along with their definition of self.

Papi considers the Dominican Republic the "old country." Without the "comrades" who provided his sense of belonging in the Dominican Republic, he's adopted the American "every man for himself" ideology and become a successful doctor who survived a revolution. But Papi retains certain cultural signifiers. His accent is one. Another is the "Caribbean fondness for a male heir." He takes pride in being a García and the patriarch of the family. Similarly Papi doesn't want to give his daughters money in front of their husbands, fearing the husbands may be insulted if someone else provides for their wives.

Baby Carlos, the male grandchild, means Papi's legacy will last in America, for he believes legacy is defined by names and male lineage. The admiration of baby Carlos's "fair Nordic looks" indicates success is identified with whiteness as well as maleness. Carlos's looks are implied to be enviable and show the "good blood" of historical conquerors like Vikings. Sofía, however, sees gender roles differently, noticing Papi doesn't encourage his granddaughter to be president or go to the moon. She knows Papi is uncomfortable with his daughters' sexuality and independence even though they've reached adulthood. The narrator points out the liberalism of the late 1960s didn't help strained family relations. Teenage rebellion and experimentation were mandated as "political acts" and rites of passage for young Americans. The daughters couldn't be fully American without risking their father's disapproval.

Their family dynamic continues to pull them back in like the roots of a tree. The girls remain competitive as adults who count the money they've received from their father in case he's "playing favorites." Only Sofía, the "maverick," seems to have escaped this dynamic. She's not afraid of her father or nervous about expressing her sexuality. Her allure comes from confidence and comfort. Internally she's as devious and strong as "the other great power in the house."

Moreover she's the only one to openly defy her father's authority. The scene in which the two fight over her letters sets up opposing dynamics. Papi sees the family fabric crumbling beneath him. He thinks his job is to keep the family reputation intact and ensure his daughters are pure until marriage. He's also competing with the girls' boyfriends and later their husbands as the most important man in their life. As head of the family he doesn't want to be obsolete. The girls have matured and become American; they may not need him or the country he represents.

Sofía has a desire for freedom and self-determination, having been more successful than Yolanda at determining her own identity. Her face is "terrible in its impassivity" and indicates a clear sense of her own rights. The fight is both a struggle between conflicting cultural morals and a more universal struggle of children growing away from their parents. It's a primal fight, bringing out desperate urges in them both in "a biological rather than a romantic fury." When Sofía grabs for the letters, she's reaching for her own freedom. What happens next depends on how the story is told and retold. The narrator adds "or so the story went" when Sofía shows up at Otto's door. Part 1, Chapter 3 will present several different versions of Sofía and Otto's meeting and engagement. What really happened isn't as important as how it's remembered.

When Sofía includes the extended family in the birthday celebration, she wants to change the tradition. She's staging a "coup" or revolution. Alvarez often uses the words coup and revolution to describe the García women defying the established order. Because the García women are trained to operate in the domestic sphere, they're good at soothing family members' hurt feelings. But they can leverage their power in different and dangerous ways. Sofía doesn't want to use the same "social fabric." She wants to treat "the raw wound" at its heart.

As the main characters come together for the first time in the novel, the four women's characters are established. Sofía is courageous, rebellious, and appealing to men. Carla has learned to take charge. Yolanda has embraced feminism and struggles with feeling second best to her sisters. Though Sofía describes Yolanda as funny, talented, and beautiful to the single men at the party, none see those traits in her. The dynamic between the four sisters becomes clearer: who are the protectors and who needs protection.

Papi's birthday celebration mirrors Yolanda's welcome-back celebration in "Antojos." Both events mark a moment of transition in a family member's life. Both events try to make the celebrated person feel at home but end up showing the person what they lack. Just as Yolanda felt a craving for something missing, Papi seems to be waiting for something he hasn't received.

As Papi reflects on his legacy, he contemplates how America has disappointed him. Ancestry and the past don't mean much in a country constantly looking to the future. He senses American culture values the youth and skills of his daughters' childish sons-in-law and "fancy, intelligent, high-talking friends." His daughters now identify as "professional women ... with degrees on the wall," accepting American middle-class markers of success. Papi's internal monologue, as imagined by his daughters, reflects the scene in which Papi admires baby Carlos. The American baby who will carry on his name also renders him obsolete. There's a twist of situational irony. Papi has sacrificed to give his daughters a good American life. But once they have this life, they won't need him anymore as a keeper of the past. Has he erased his own legacy?

The daughters want to show him he still means something to them. The kissing game seems "extra innocent." The gesture can show familial love, or it can be romantic. It establishes the daughters are still their father's girls, and their husbands haven't taken Papi's place. When Sofía realizes she's not included in the "daughter count," she has thoughts similar to Papi's monologue. She's been cast out of the family. She's obsolete. So she decides to take on a new role, one she can control and command. Her "brilliant, impassive look" tells her father she knows where she stands. She's grown up and transcended her upbringing; she's left him behind, just as he feared.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!