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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

Important Quotations Explained

The Drum

Key Facts

1.
She has been too frightened to carry out any strategy, but now a road is opening up before her. She clasps her hands on her chest—she can feel her pounding heart—and nods. Then, as if the admission itself loosens her tongue, she begins to speak, English, a few words, of apology at first, then a great flood of explanation . . .

In Chapter 1, Yolanda gets lost while gathering fresh guavas in the countryside, and gets a flat tire. While stranded, two men approach and ask if she needs help. She is frozen with terror until they ask if she is an American. At this point, she begins speaking English, which the men do not understand, and assents that she is indeed American. This is ironic because the purpose for her trip to the Dominican Republic was to assert her Dominican identity and connect to her cultural and family roots. Yet, she fears interacting with Dominicans outside the safety of the family compound. During this moment of panic, she feels most comfortable pretending not to understand a word of Spanish. Her behavior is considered strange by Dominican standards, since a woman would not be out alone after dark looking for fruit. She can only explain herself by remaining tightly enclosed within her American identity and sticking to the English language.

2.
His face darkened with shame at having his pleasure aroused in public by one of his daughters. He looked from one to the other. His gaze faltered. On the face of his youngest was the brilliant, impassive look he remembered from when she had snatched her love letters out of his hands.

In Chapter 2, Carlos and Sofia attempt to reconcile their differences during his birthday party. Yet Sofia feels slighted by how her father treats her other sisters, and she decides to humiliate him during a party game. A seductive kiss in the ear leads to his shame and anger. The moment when she snatched back her love letters was the moment that led to the family rift, so the fact that Sofia continues to wear her brilliant and impassive look indicates that there has been no reconciliation. This look shows her pride in displaying her sexual independence from her father, and her unwillingness to feel the shame he insists is appropriate.

3.
The words tumble out, making a sound like the rumble of distant thunder, taking shape, depth, and substance. Yo continues: "Doc, rock, smock, luck," so many words. There is no end to what can be said about the world.

After Yolanda's stay in the mental hospital in Chapter 3, she begins to reclaim language and its meanings. Following the period when she could only quote or misquote things she had read or heard, she is able to label objects and play word games. By rhyming and naming, Yolanda regains the ability to use language and convey meaning. This moment signals a recovery from her mental breakdown. Her realization that there are limitless things to be said about the world indicates an artistic as well as emotional healing has taken place. She is prepared to write to a broader audience, as well as communicate with the people she loves and cares about.

4.
So, Laura thinks. So the papers have cleared and we are leaving. Now everything she sees sharpens as if through the lens of loss - the orchids in their hanging straw baskets, the row of apothecary jars Carlos has found for her in old druggists' throughout the countryside, the rich light shafts swarming with a golden pollen. She will miss this glorious light warming the inside of her skin and jewelling the trees, the grass, the lily pond beyond the hedge.

The moment when Laura realizes that she and her family will leave the Dominican Republic for an indefinite period of time signals a dramatic and traumatic transition. The proximity of this turning point leads her to view her surroundings in suddenly different ways. The details of her home that previously hid in the background of her perceptions come forward to occupy her attention. The light and plants, which will be different in the United States, come to have a significance that fixes itself permanently into her consciousness. During the moment when she prepares for change, Laura focuses on the essence of what she loves most about the Dominican Republic, the light that contributes to a distinctive sense of place.

5.
There are still times I wake up at three o'clock in the morning and peer into the darkness. At that hour and in that loneliness, I hear her, a black furred thing lurking in the corners of my life, her magenta mouth opening, wailing over some violation that lies at the center of my art.

The cat that continues to appear in Yolanda's dreams represents her home, the Dominican Republic, which reproaches her for leaving. This psychological distress unfolds into further traumas, which can be traced back to her being uprooted from the Dominican Republic, her culture, and her extended family at a very young age. This passage concludes the novel, indicating that this haunting is the root and simultaneous conclusion of her sense of violation. This violation stems from her experience as a child immigrant, and becomes the focus of her creative endeavors and her mature understanding of her cultural and personal identity. Her writing and poetry will center on the haunting that begins with the black cat and continues throughout her adult life as she struggles to incorporate the past into her plans for the future.

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