Study Guide

Felicia del Pino in Dreaming in Cuban

By Cristina García

Felicia del Pino

A Fiery Flame

Just as Lourdes is a daddy's girl, Felicia is her mother's mirror. She lives passionately, recklessly—even more so than Celia—and seems determined to squeeze the most she can out of her life. While her mother is associated with the element of water, Felicia is undoubtedly linked to fire. That's not just because she sets her abusive, philandering husband ablaze to get rid of him. It's also because Felicia herself is constantly burning.

In most cases, this is not a good thing for her. She suffers horribly from syphilis and mental illness (both of which are often referred to metaphorically in terms of burning and fire), and their effects on her brain and judgment are all too plain to see. Felicia's nerves are burned out, receiving far more information than she can process at any given time:

She can hear everything in this world and others, every sneeze and creak and breath in the heavens or the harbor or the gardenia tree down the block. They call to her all at once, grasping here and there for parts of her, hatching blue flames in her brain. ("Fire," 75)

Felicia becomes inundated with light and heat, so much so that she has to shutter up the house to protect herself, as even the trees "assault her with their luminosity" ("Fire," 75). Her increasingly frequent breaks with reality produce frightening consequences for her young children. She even begins to lose the sympathy of little Ivanito, who is normally happy to play along with her until her brain cools down and comes back into balance.

But unlike her mother, Felicia doesn't have "wet landscape in her palm" to quench the flames of passion and restore her to life.

In Love with Love

Felicia is always searching for affection from the people around her. When she meets Hugo, a very slender pickup line is all she needs to follow him back to a hotel room and learn to tolerate his particular type of lovemaking.

The affection she can't get from her romantic relationships she hopes to recover in her relationships with her children, but she comes up blank in terms of the girls. Luz and Milagro are terrified of their mother's manic behavior and withdraw accordingly. This isolation drives Felicia even further down the path of madness.

Her obsessive search for love lands her with a "colorless worm" of a man whom she literally picks up off the street and who dies in a freak grease fire, and with a very hairy man named Otto whom she pushes to a dramatic death on high voltage electrical wires. It seems that her penchant for fire extends to the most intimate parts of her life.

In the Lap of the Gods

Felicia is also characterized by her obsession with the things of religion. We're told that she has a devotion to Saint Sebastian and was always fiddling with things like crucifixes and rosary beads. Because of this, she's a natural candidate for the practice of santería, in which her BFF Herminia grooms her. Herminia's father is a babalawo, a kind of high priest of the faith who practices divination with various sacred tools.

She conforms nicely to the practice of a religion that has an abundance of paraphernalia: beads, statues, special clothing, sacrificial offerings—and lots and lots of coconuts. It's an organizing principle in her otherwise disordered and illusory life and one that fed her imaginative tendencies. Herminia witnesses her happiness in religious practice and feels that Felicia has finally found the peace she has been searching for:

For her, they were a kind of poetry that connected her to larger worlds, worlds alive and infinite. Our rituals healed her, made her believe again. My father used to say that there are forces in the universe that can transform our lives if only we'd surrender ourselves. Felicia surrendered, and found her fulfillment. ("God's Will," 186)

Felicia's unquenchable capacity for poetry and mysticism ensures such fulfillment, as surely as it guarantees her untimely end. She's simply not able to be contained by this world. Entering into the mysteries of santería seems to have opened the door into the next—and she steps right through.