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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Julia Alvarez

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

How does Sofia's relationship with her father change over time? Discuss why they behave the way they do toward each other.

Sofia's relationship with Carlos changes as she matures and seeks to assert her personal independence. They also have difficulty relating to each other across cultural divides created by the fact that he grew up in the Dominican Republic, and she grew up in the United States. The conflict between Sofia and her father grows out of the gap between these two cultural perspectives. Sofia feels that it is her right to explore her sexuality however she pleases while also enjoying the privacy and independence of adulthood. Her father, on the other hand, feels that the presence of loose women in his house disrespects his parental and male authority. Sofia's flight from her father's house represents her desire to assert her own independent authority as a woman and as an adult. Her kiss at the birthday party reveals to her father in a very physical way the extent and nature of her sensuality. She also publicly humiliates him as she flaunts her sexuality in front of their guests. Despite their mutual efforts to leave behind their turbulent past, Sofia cannot forgive her father for his insulting and overbearing attitudes, and her father cannot tolerate her overt expression of her sexuality as a mature woman.

2.

How does Yolanda's attitude toward the English language change?

When Yolanda first learns English, it offers tremendous potential for meaning and self-expression, though when she goes insane, her English becomes fragmented and meaningless. Yolanda begins to expand her English vocabulary while studying with Sister Zoe. At this age, she learns words for things she has never even seen or experienced, like snow. As she grows older, she realizes that English better prepares her to interact with American culture and could open up a new world of language and literature. Yolanda's first speech written for school embodies the American attitude that encourages intellectual independence and aesthetic risk-taking, which she first encounters in Walt Whitman's writings. As a poet, words have a particular and very important significance for her. Her inability to understand the words that John spoke represents their problems communicating on a personal level. This gap between what he said and what she understood led to the breakdown of their marriage. This communication problem is reflected through the transformation of language into meaningless and garbled babble. The black bird that emerges from her throat and attacks Dr. Payne symbolizes her fears that language, and specifically her own words, could hurt the people she cares about. The allergy that she develops to certain emotionally charged words like love also represents her fear of the damage she could do to those she cares about should she use language to convey her feelings.

3.

Why does Carla want to return to the Dominican Republic?

As the oldest daughter, Carla has the closest ties to the Dominican Republic, and the most trouble adapting to the English language and American culture. The harassment she endures on the way to and from school also makes her painfully aware of the hostility toward immigrants that faces the family in their new home. Aside from the pain of leaving her extended family and the difficulty of transitioning to a new neighborhood, school and country, Carla also faces the traumas of puberty that any girl her age encounters. Her innocence regarding sex leaves her unprepared to deal with a perverted exhibitionist and possible child molester. Carla longs for the familiar and comfortable home she left behind in the Dominican Republic, as any girl her age might after moving a long distance. Yet unlike a child who is allowed to keep their language and culture, she also must face an openly hostile environment. Her first experiences of the United States are more traumatic than her sisters' impressions are, and so she feels that she has less to look forward to when contemplating the future.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Why did the Garcia family leave the Dominican Republic? Why did they decide to remain in the United States?

2. How does Yolanda feel toward Dr. Payne? How do their clinical interactions affect their personal relationship? What does Dr. Payne represent for Yolanda?

3. Why does Laura stop inventing? Why does she defend Yolanda to her husband, and how does this relate to her inventing?

4. Why did Sandra insist on making Mrs. Fanning buy her a flamenco doll? Why does she risk embarrassing her family just to have an extra Barbie?

5. Why did Carla not tell the truth sooner when her mother asked her about the missing toy bank? Why did she wait for Gladys to be questioned before confessing that it had been a gift?

6. Why did her father object to Yolanda's speech for school?

7. Why would Yolanda prefer that her mother not attend her poetry readings?

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