Sunday, November 9, 2008

Julia Alvarez pt. 2

I think I must not be alone in feeling a sense of confusion and curiosity at Alvarez's choice of ending. It seemed there might have been a mistake and that the last chapter of the book was accidentally missed out. Told in a reverse chronology, the book begins with a grownup Yolanda in "Antojos" and ends with Yoyo the child in the "The Drum". 
The last chapter and the last couple of paragraphs especially seem rushed. Alvarez writes: "You understand I am collapsing all time now so that it fits in what's left in the hollow of my story?...I grew up a curious woman, a woman of story ghosts and story devils, a woman prone to bad dreams and insomnia" (285-6). The narrator is the same at the beginning as the end yet the story does not come full circle. Is this abrupt end on purpose, to prove a point maybe? Authors often leave stories open for their readers to make their own conclusions but this ending left me wondering.
The "hollow story" that Yoyo speaks of contrasts with the colourful yet complicated story we have just finished. The detail in the story leads us to believe that it is being told from the child's point of view yet the adult perspective ("I grew up...") says the opposite. This discrepancy asks us to question the narrator. This final quote introduces themes that weren't introduced before. Yolanda has never mentioned insomnia, frequent bad dreams or haunting ghosts (besides her short stint in the mental institute). The end of the book makes me rethink the beginning of the book just as I refer back to the family tree sketch, to try and connect these two seemingly different narrations. 
Other aspects in these ending chapters make me question the congruencies and connectedness of the stories. Our narrators are young and are often unsure how to interpret the actions happening around them. Imagination plays a large part in their young minds and their inventions often incorporate themselves into the storytelling. An example of this is the boy/creature Carla finds in the garage behind Doña Charito's house. Carla was on the hunt, alone, looking for something that would incriminate the Doña. She did find what she was looking for but what was it exactly that she found? A small man locked up with a metal collar in the garage carving statues for the local church? Do the maids keep their masters secret? Do the families that come to stare at the odd architecture hear the screams of the prisoner? Does it really exist?
When one hunts for trouble, it is usually not far off, especially if your imagination is young and frightful. 
I don't think that Alvarez was trying to make us question the validity of her story but instead points us in a certain direction. Children exaggerate stories in their own favour, the imagination of the young is wild and at times they'll have difficulty distinguishing reality from imagined, children lie to win or obtain something they want for themselves; all are normal occurrences for children. If they are unable to distinguish reality from imagined then the imagined is what they remember and that becomes the story of their life. Because our narrators are for the most part children, these are details that should be acknowledged. 
The story in its entirety is a mix of imagined, multi-perspective, and reality but who is to say which is which?


beth said...

I understand what you're saying about the ending seeming a bit abrupt, although I felt that the reverse chronological order employed didn't leave Alvarez any other choice. In order to end a book that is structured in such a manner, it almost has to be abrupt, as there is no end when yo go back in time. She could have just gone on and on to a time before the girls were even born, etc.

In fact, I found the ending to be just what the story needed. The last story, "The Drum," was one big metaphor for the condition of the lives the girls would go on to live in New York. The kitten, wrenched from its familiar surroundings and flung out the window, expected to land on its feet, is a symbol of the girls as they are uprooted from their home in the Dominican Republic and expected to assimilate in the USA. I thought that ending with this metaphor intoroduced a bit of irony and tied up the novel qyuite nicely.

I also like your take on Don Charito being chained up in the shed as possibly figment of Carla's imagination. That's very interesting. I definitely took it at face value, but you could of course be right. I deifnitely wouldn't put it past Alvarez to include this story largely for the purpose of critiquing the tendency of young children to let their imaginations get the best of them. Nice observations.

AnnaC said...

Great post!

I agree that because the girls are so young, they do not know how to perceive the things that happen around them and so they resort to inventing stories to portray their sentiments about it. When Carla was sexually assaulted by the man in the car, i think that she did not make a big deal of it because she did not understand it.

Valerie said...

I think that the whole "hollow" story is Yolanda undervaluing her experiences and labelling them as too negative. Her last little wrap-up, where she abruptly says "then we moved to the United States...", is sort of a cop-out of a real ending. Obviously the book up until the very end is much more multi-dimensional and complex and colourful, with both good and bad elements. Suddenly Yolanda just labels all the previously written stories as a "violation". Although in each chapter I feel that it was clearly shown how much the family (and sisters within it) needed each other and supported each other, the liberties of living in the United States, the interesting childhood experiences; Yolanda seems to overlook all these things in her last reflection and final statement.