Skip over navigation

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

Still Lives

The Human Body

An American Surprise

Summary

Dona Charito was a German artist who married a Dominican man and taught the Garcia sisters art when they were children. They called her house, where she lived with her husband, Don Jose, the Hansel and Gretel house. The couple had met in Spain while sketching at the Prado. As a girl, Sandra was recognized to be talented at art, and drew pictures of the servant's baby or the cat. The baby's mother thought that the art was a curse when the baby became sick, and she begged Sandra to release the baby from her spell. Sandra burned the sketch and the baby got well. Sandra then drew the cats on the stucco wall of the house, and was punished for defacing the walls. The family then decided she needed art lessons to keep her out of trouble and also cultivate her talent. Because the family wanted to be fair, all of the female cousins would take the lessons together. Don Jose was busy, trying to complete a sculpture commission, and he was rumored to be insane. Fourteen of the cousins were sent for art lessons with Dona Charito, who was available.

When they arrived at the house, the children removed their shoes and were given a tour. They were shown paintings of fruit, guitars and horses before being instructed in the proper way to hold a paintbrush. Sandra became bored and painted a gold cat while Dona Charito was not looking. She painted several more cats before the teacher discovered them, and threw her out of the class for disobedience. Sandra wandered around the house and heard a man outside cursing Dona Charito. Sandra investigated and found a shed in the backyard. She climbed up on a stump to peer in a window, hoping to discover something embarrassing about her teacher. She saw strange shapes inside the shed, and noticed a woman's figure with a blank face. She also noticed a naked man chained by the neck who was chiseling feet for the female statue. He climbed on top of the statue and put his chisel against its forehead. Sandra screamed to warn the statue and the man jumped toward the window to grab her. The chain pulled him back, but she fell to the ground and broke her arm. She saw his face in the window, studying her and smiling. Sandra continued screaming until the class ran outside. She told Dona Charito she had broken her arm, and her cousins played happily in the mud.

It took many months for the bone to heal, especially since it had to be re- broken after it had healed incorrectly. Sandra got to have ice cream and special toys in the hospital. She could not go to art lessons anymore, though her cousins still had to study still life painting for a year while Sandra had her arm in a sling. At Christmas time, Sandra and her family went to the National Cathedral for the nativity pageant. Sandra recognized the sculptures from the shed, especially the Virgin, who had a face that looked exactly like her own.

Analysis

Sandra fears the creative potential of her artistic talent because the servant attributes malevolent powers to her sketches. Her family also feels the need to contain her creativity, which intrudes on their space and sense of order within the home. They also send the message that her talent should not make her stick out from her cousins or illustrate any uniqueness of character. Dona Charito's anger reflects her general frustration with children and the fact that she has to teach them. Sandra is not encouraged by this first art lesson, but rather frustrated and stifled. Dona Charito's mediocrity as an artist and as a teacher contrasts her husband's talent as a sculptor. Sandra's exploration of the backyard reveals the crazy potential of the artistic temperament, which leaves a man chained naked in his studio working on a sculpture that drives him mad.

The face of the sculpture upsets him, and prevents him from finishing the sculpture. The identity of the sculpture, the Virgin Mary, is significant because his artistic difficulty could represent his inability to see the face of God. His artistic quest is also a spiritual one, and Sandra provides an unexpected solution to his problem. His physical isolation within the shed and his spiritual isolation within his insanity prevent him from completing the face. Once he gets a glimpse of the outside world, Sandra becomes his muse in a spiritual as well as literal sense. The unfortunate consequence of her contact with his artistic process is the loss of her own talent and inspiration.

Before her accident, Sandra perceives and describes the world in terms of light and color. Following the accident she seems to have lost this ability or gift to see her surroundings in a particular and unique way. In addition, her arm has been broken so badly that she cannot continue to practice her sketching. Perhaps she could have re-trained her arm with further practice once it had healed, but since she has also lost her artistic sight, she gives up on her dream of being an artist. The ecstatic conclusion to this chapter, as Sandra recognizes her own face on the Virgin Mary, represents her acceptance of her own uniqueness, which found expression through another's artistic vision.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us