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Carlos returned from a trip to New York City with a surprise
for his daughters. He promised he would show them the surprise if
they finished their dinners first. Carla wanted a clue what the
surprise might be, but she had to wait. Gladys, their maid, began
singing a song about going to New York. Carla liked to hear her
sing, though her mother thought she was just a poor ignorant black
girl. Gladys set the table and invited Carla into the maids' room.
Chucha and Gladys bickered for a moment, until Gladys started daydreaming
about going to New York. She thought that the Statue of Liberty
was an American version of the Virgin Mary, so she prayed to her
every day. The black maids complained about their work and the endless
presents the girls received. Carla did not mind having to clean
her plate if she got to eat spaghetti and meatballs, and waited
impatiently to learn about their surprises. Their mother got a bottle
of her favorite perfume, and the girls got small iron statues. They
didn't understand what they were for, but Yolanda's was a man in
a boat next to a whale, Sandra's was a girl jumping rope, and Carla's
was a girl staring at clouds. Their father said they were all the
rage at FAO Schwarz. Then they realized that they were mechanical
banks that moved when a coin was put into a slot. Gladys was allowed
to put a coin into Carla's bank, making Mary rise toward the clouds
with her arms uplifted. Carla brought the bank to school and got
almost a dollar in pennies from other children. Her mother's friends
and Gladys also often put pennies into the bank. Eventually it was
forgotten and put away on a toy shelf.
Christmas decorations and preparations then held everyone's attention,
and Gladys began singing Christmas carols instead of radio merengues. Carla
got the baby doll she had wanted for Christmas, as well as other
toys. The maids each got a wallet with a little money as a gift.
Gladys offered to buy the bank with her Christmas money, but Carla
thought she might get in trouble for selling a gift her father had
brought her. Gladys offered to throw in the wallet she had gotten,
and Carla felt sorry for her. Carla said she could keep the bank
for free, and Gladys thanked her before bringing the bank to her
A few weeks later, her mother noticed the bank was missing
from Carla's room. Carla told her mother she did not know where
it was, and her mother decided to search the maids' room. Her employers interrogated
Gladys, and then Carla admitted that she had given the bank away
voluntarily. Her parents still felt that they could not trust Gladys,
and she was pressured to leave the family. As Gladys left the house
crying, Carla put a penny into the bank and it jammed, leaving Mary
stuck between heaven and earth.
Carla's greed and materialism contrasts with Gladys's
sincere desire to get ahead in life through hard work and frugality.
Her ambition to make it to America, where a better job and way of
life supposedly waits for her, reflects her faith and optimism.
Her positive attitude also indicates innocence; since she does not
understand what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes for Americans,
nor does she understand the problems she could create for herself
by taking Carla's statue.
The tragedy of this story is Carla's indifference toward
the people who worked to improve the quality of her life under relatively exploitative
working conditions. The bank symbolizes the crass materialism of
the American dream, since it suggests that if you put money in,
Mary will ascend to heaven, representing a spiritual and material
fulfillment. The materialism of the American dream is contrasted
by the sincerely hopeful attitudes of workers like Gladys, who are
simply struggling to survive. The fact that the bank came from FAO
Schwarz in New York lent it the allure of success and luxury. Carla
disregarded this luxury once she became bored with it, indicating
her spoiled and ungrateful attitude toward her privilege. Gladys,
on the other hand, was willing to sacrifice her Christmas gifts
to have a piece of that luxury.
The ease by which Carla got her friends and family to
contribute pennies to her bank fund contrasts with the difficulty
Gladys faced trying to earn a decent living, supporting herself
independently, and getting ahead in life through a working class
existence. Carla earned money for the bank just by being cute and
coming from a privileged background. Gladys could not even buy her
way toward her dreams, since her effort to buy the bank resulted
in her unemployment. The fact that the bank gets stuck as Gladys
leaves the house symbolizes the limitations of the American dream
and the difficult position immigrants and workers face as they try
to get ahead. They end up stuck between heaven and earth, just like
Mary, trapped between what they hope to leave behind and what they
hope to achieve.
This story seems to be less about Carla, a spoiled child
who does not appreciate what she has been given through her family
position and privilege, than about the general difficulties the
working classes face when contemplating immigration. The author
might intend the narration of Gladys's troubles to balance out her
portrayal of the Dominican immigrant experience, since she devotes
most of the novel to an unusually wealthy family.
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