Discussion Questions: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez)
Although the work is fiction, it is almost inevitable to read the novel as memoir, delineating the experience Julia Alvarez experience while moving from her home country in the Dominican Republic to the United States. Even with the time period set in the sixties, many of the events and conflicts Alvarez writes are contemporary and inherent in the bicultural experience. From the Syrian immigrants to the Central American ones, the issues on identity, feminism, and independence looms in their daily lives.
After reading the book, I can’t help but compare the four daughter’s experience with my friend’s experience. She was escaping poverty and abuse, while the Garcia girls are escaping political persecution. She didn’t have a stable home; they come from an upper class family and have relatives studying English in the U. S. It strikes me as a complicated, even problematic, depiction of post-colonialism – which isn’t bad. What effects do post-colonialism and acculturation have on class in the home country and in the foreign land?
Language plays an important and elusive role in the novel. Although the girls have grown up with Spanish, at the beginning of the novel, we hear family conversations in English with particular words emphasized in Spanish. We know they are talking in Spanish. On other hand, we hear the accented/ broken English of the maids and the father throughout the book. How does (lack of) communication in Spanish reveal the sense of loss to the Garcia family?
The fragmented storytelling tends to make all the stories sound the same, as if there were no distinct personality. The are some obvious characteristics that differentiate Carla from Sophia; however, the third person and first person fluidity gives the illusion of one speaker. How does changing point of views help the reader understand the difficulty of finding one’s identity when faced with a wildly different culture and land?
NOTE: In an academic paper by Alexis Cullerston, she writes, Alvarez “marries history with her own truth by building upon the past to explore the present.”
As young girls and later women, the Garcia girls are only oppressed by the general hegemony of American culture, but also their own, sometimes sexist, Dominican culture. What are those limitations they can’t seem to escape in American and Dominican soil? What are some ways they desire to exert their independence?