The 1991 novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents written by Julia Alvarez presents a description of the lives of four daughters of Garcia narrated episodically in form of short stories and in reverse chronology. The Dominican cum American Julia Alvarez was well versed with both cultures and throughout the novel, she covers the theme of generational and cultural changes and contradictions as envisioned in the life of Garcia. The protagonist is an escapee of the Dominican totalitarianism and an assimilated American as his moral and cultural values interfere with those of his American-educated daughters, namely Sofia, Sandra, Yolanda, and Carla. In setting, every short story features one main character selected from among the four daughters in The Kiss, Sofia happens to be the lead heroine. In the story, the author characterized her in cementing the main theme of the novel, that of generational and cultural clashes. Several literature analysts branded Sofia as the second force in Garcia’s family after the father since she was the only one who fully unshackled herself from his will. In this paper, we analyze her character, the role play in the thematic development of the novel, and the stylistic development in The Kiss (Perlberg, and Alvarez).
In summary, The Kiss breaks down the dysfunctional relationship between Sofia and her parent. The story begins with four siblings visiting their father on his birthday. Garcia responds warmly towards Sofia’s sisters and acts indifferently towards her. Everyone notices the cold reception that the girl has received from her father but they all understand the reasons behind the unfolding events. The free-spirited Sofia acts independent of the family. Despite being the youngest, she preceded her sisters in getting married. She also does not have a college degree as she has dropped out of college to her German suitor, gets married, and has two children. Her father notices every mistake that she has committed in her life and thus, the bad blood between Sofia and him is understandable. The organization of Garcia’s birthday is supposed to serve as a platform on which the man and his daughter can reconcile. Sofia does her best to make peace with her father who seems to notice every single mistake that she has committed without ever noticing any positive thing or achievement. Nevertheless, her sisters admire her lifestyle and at the end of the party, Sofia organizes the next birthday for her father. However, again she makes a mistake during The Kiss game and the feud continues.
Sofia, as characterized by Julia Alvarez, can be likened to the prodigal son of the Bible. She did her best to reconcile with her vengeful father. The girl tried to have proper communication with her father but her past and present state stood cemented between them making it difficult for them to forgive each other. Garcia revered his traditional Dominican cultural values, where children would never think of arguing with their parents. Nevertheless, having been brought up in New York, Sofia is assimilated to the American youthful life (Perlberg, and Alvarez). The dissimilitude between the prodigal son’s parable and Alvarez’s characterization of Sofia was that Garcia differed from the father in the Bible, since he was not ready to forgive the mistakes of his daughter and instead, he kept on the rough and vengeful cause.
Through Sofia, Julia Alvarez managed to stage and develop the central theme of her book, that of acculturation and generation collisions. In the context of The Kiss, the author illustrated the age and cultural differences between Sofia and her father. Garcia grew up in the Dominican culture, where children had been taught to respect their parents and fathers lived to be known as the heads of their families. Probably, were it not for the totalitarianism of the government in his mother country, the man would have never moved to the New York City, which apparently impacted negatively on his grown up daughters (Alvarez). Garcia sailed through all the struggles of putting his children through school in a foreign country. Three of his daughters followed his teachings and all graduated from college except for one, Sofia, who was the youngest, yet the first one of the four daughters to get married and have children in an informal setting. Secondly, Sofia was the only one who dropped out of college to marry a German, a fact that Garcia possibly despised. At one point Garcia opened a letter sent to Sofia and the girl stated that he had no right to meddle with her affairs. Obviously that was cold for a father to get from his daughter. However, on the flip side of the coin, her sisters liked and actually admired her beauty and the beauty of her free spirit. The story illustrates the fallout between what the younger Americanized generation, with the likes of Sofia, reveres and on the other hand, what the old guard Dominicans are accustomed to as presented by Garcia (Telgen).
By character, The Kiss displays the character of Sofia as an independent American girl who appreciates feminism and independence as a right, at the same time abhorring male domination. When she was asked about the love letters in her drawer, the girl cursed stating that her father did not have the right to search her private life. Afterwards, she immediately walked out of the house and went out on a vacation with the boy she thought she had been in love with. After a while, in Colombia, she met Otto who would end up marrying her. Secondly, the story brings out Sofia’s character as a reconciliatory and peace-loving person despite being first to anger, as indicated in the story where the author states, “The youngest daughter most wanted to reconcile with her father in a big way.” The story also presents Sofia as a powerful person and at one time, the author likened her to a pale ivory moon and a powerful, tamed animal. Her power was demonstrated in the way she managed to bring her dad’s little daughters together during his birthday celebration; and by bringing her child to the family, she managed to unite the family for once. Furthermore, her power appears in the way she managed to attract the attention of her more educated sisters offering them advice on matters concerning love and relationships. The ultimate portrayal of her power happens where she walks up to Otto and asks him to marry her.
Throughout the story Julia Alvarez applied the use of a variety of stylistic devices in the development of themes and characters. The most common stylistic elements in her work include a number of similes and metaphors, which were used in the development of Sofia as a character; a good example is the likening of the heroine to a powerful, tamed person and to the pale ivory moon. Secondly, the author applied allusion as a tool to have the reader relating the novel to the real life environment where she mentioned places like Michigan, Colombia, and Germany. Thirdly, the author used juxtaposition as a stylistic device to reveal the character of Sofia, the antagonism between her and father, and the character traits of her sisters with a good example being in The Kiss game where she made the mistake of arousing her father unlike her sister who pecked him in the love of a daughter (Alvarez).
To fully understand the story in The Kiss, one needs to have a clear understanding of the contextual setting of the novel and the background of the author (Telgen). The scenic setting of The Kiss is in the New York City, where women are fully aware of their rights. The environment represents the culture in which Garcia’s daughter grew up and worked and thus, the culture that they assimilated. Therefore, the setting explains the character of Sofia as a rebellious American child. On the other hand, Garcia came from an environment where morals and respect for the old were upheld by the society. In such a way the setting explains why Garcia would prefer exercising his power as a father on his children. Julia Alvarez happens to be familiar with both the American and Dominican social and cultural environments. As such, the choice of the setting for the How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents novel may have been informed by her experience with the two environments making. She understood the generational cultural dysfunction and thus, putting it in writing served in the best way possible (Alvarez).
In conclusion, the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents best captures the theme of acculturation and cultural change, the character description of Sofia, and the application of stylistic devices in the development of both the themes and characters in The Kiss. The author wrote the episodes of the book based on her experience with both the Dominican and American cultural and political settings, therefore being able to put in writing the life of the Garcia’s, who were Dominicans and had assimilated into the American culture and life (Perlberg, and Alvarez).