Skip over navigation

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

The Four Girls

The Kiss

Joe

Summary

Sofia was now twenty-six and Carla would be thirty-one next month, but Laura still insisted on calling all of the sisters "the four girls." She always felt that she had to apologize to strangers and their father that there were no boys in the family. Carlos always said, "Bulls sire good cows." The mother dressed each girl in a particular color, Carla in yellow, Sandra in blue, Yolanda in pink and Sofia in white. Sofia was jealous of her older sister's pink outfits, but Yolanda insisted on keeping pink for herself. The mother would sometimes get details about the different girls confused, but she had a particular story for each that she liked to tell on special occasions. Carla grew up to be a psychologist, and analyzed her own story for unresolved childhood issues. Carla's story was referred to as the story of the red sneakers.

When Carla was younger the family was poorer and had little money to spend on unnecessary things. Carla constantly begged anyway for a pair of red sneakers. A neighbor offered to give Carla a pair of white sneakers, but she only wanted red ones. Her father suggested that they paint the sneakers red with her mother's nail polish, which was what they did. Her mother told this story at Carla's wedding. Yolanda wanted to be a poet but ended up a schoolteacher. At a poetry reading, her mother described Yolanda's nervous nature—as a child, her hair fell out—to Yolanda's boyfriend, a fellow literature professor named Clive. She also told stories of how Yolanda used to recite poems on buses. The mother did not like to tell stories about Sandra, because she said she would like to forget the past. She and her husband had to commit Sandra to a mental hospital because her anorexia led to a mental breakdown. Sandra had started dieting during graduate school and ended up in the hospital, able only to read. She felt she was turning into a monkey, and had to read all the great works of man before she ran out of time. She felt that evolution was going backwards and she would eventually turn into all the animals her mother was trying to get her to eat.

The night Sofia was born, the family was robbed, but the robbers were caught and everything was returned. Her mother felt that Sofia was lucky for this reason. She told this story to a handsome stranger while watching her granddaughter in the hospital. A week after Sofia's daughter was born, the daughters gathered at her house for Christmas. Sandra had been released from the hospital for a month, but was still sensitive and cried easily. Sandra had a new boyfriend, and Yolanda's boyfriend had just gone back to his wife again. Sofia confessed that she made love to Otto on the fourth day she met him. In her mother's version of the story, they met in Peru rather than Colombia, and Sofia never fought with her father over the letters. Yolanda complained about Clive's betrayal.

Analysis

Laura's perspective on each of the girls is shown through the stories she chooses to tell about each of them during proud moments. What she leaves out or changes in each of the stories also indicates her current attitude toward each of her daughters. She is able to create a reality and history for the family that is more comfortable and positive by redefining the more difficult moments her daughters have experienced.

She smoothes over Sofia's betrayal of the family, her running away and fighting with her father, by calling it lucky that she ended up with such a loving husband and a beautiful blonde baby. Her story about the thieves who got caught the night Sofia was born similarly reflects her desire to look on the brighter side of things. She needs this positive attitude to craft positive family stories out of unfortunate events.

Her story about Carla's red sneakers reflects her pride that her family was able to work creatively during a time a relative hardship in order to provide for the children. Instead of overly dwelling on what she and her husband were not able to offer the children, she highlights their resourcefulness in pleasing the children's every whim, no matter how trivial. Also, though one could fault Carla for being spoiled and ungrateful for refusing the white sneakers, her mother only sees the father's loving desire to give his daughter everything she wanted or needed.

Yolanda's career as a poet and her trouble with men also get a positive spin when told by her mother. Though her mother is uncomfortable with the sexual or romantic content of her daughter's poetry, she seems to ignore this when she attends readings, and behaves as a proud mother would. Though Yolanda was unsuccessful as a poet, her mother still would assure strangers at her readings that she was brilliant and always had been, even since she was a child. The mother's inability to talk about Sandra's mental illness indicates the limits of her ability to transform negative experiences into funny family stories. She has nothing positive to say about Sandra's breakdown, and so this story is not repeated. The doctor at the hospital is the only one who hears the mother's perspective on Sandra's mental illness, and she does not tell the story proudly, but instead tragically. This omission indicates the limits of motherly pride, which will forgive rebelliousness, selfishness, or failure, but not insanity.

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