Study Guide

Dreaming in Cuban Love

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"He used to write her letters every day, when he still had the strength, long letters in old-fashioned script with flourishes and curlicues...They were romantic letters, too...He called Abuela Celia his 'dove in the desert.'" ("Going South," 33)

Pilar is charmed by her grandfather's late-in-life attempts at romantic contact with her grandmother—as any teenage grandchild would be. She does not yet understand the origin and nature of her grandparents' relationship. In this way, her view of their union is as unrealistic as her dreams of Cuba.

"Gustavo returned to Celia's counter again and again. He brought her butterfly jasmine, the symbol of patriotism and purity, and told her that Cuba, too, would one day be free of blood-suckers. Gustavo sang to her beauty mark, the lunar by her mouth. He bought her drop pearl earrings." ("Palmas Street," 36)

We'd fall pretty hard for this kind of courtship, too. It also explains Celia's fervor for the Revolution.

"It surprised me how my heart jumped when I heard he'd been hurt...I discovered I loved him at that moment. Not a passion like ours, Gustavo, but love just the same. I think he understands this and is at peace." ("Letters: 1935-1940," 54)

Celia comes to the realization that her indifference to Jorge has been transformed to a steady love. At another point, she understands that her passion for Gustavo would likely have cooled over the years—so that makes her men about even, right?

"When Lourdes was a child in Cuba, she used to wait anxiously for her father to return from his trips selling small fans and electric brooms in distant provinces. He would call her every evening...and she would cry, 'When are you coming home, Papi? When are you coming home?' Lourdes would welcome her father in her party dress and search his suitcase for rag dolls and oranges." ("Grove," 68)

It's possible that Lourdes' love for her father was intensified by her fear of her mother's indifference and manic behavior. Or perhaps this is genuine love shared by two compatible souls. We expect that it's a combination of the two.

"Felicia approaches the bleached, crumpled heap that will be her husband. He looks like a colorless worm, writhing on his stomach in a synthetic tan suit with precisely matching socks, his steel glasses smashed against the pavement. Felicia is smitten." ("Baskets," 149)

We're not sure if Felicia's emotions are the sign of her desperation or if she really is just a highly charitable person, able to love the unlovable. She desperately wants a second husband, despite the dire predictions of the santero who told her she wouldn't be able to keep what she desired. Perhaps their intense passion burned itself up too quickly?

"Could her son, Celia wonders, have inherited her habit of ruinous passion? Or is passion indiscriminate, incubating haphazardly like a cancer?" ("Baskets," 157)

When Javier returns from Czechoslovakia a broken man, Celia can't help but recall her own brush with death after Gustavo left her. In this world where the unexplained and unusual happens all the time, it's not out of the question that emotional lives can be transmitted via DNA.

"...Neighbors had kept their distance, believing she was destined for an early death and anyone she touched would be forced to accompany her. They were afraid of her disease as if it were fatal, like tuberculosis, but worse, much worse. What they feared even more...was that passion might spare them entirely, that they'd die conventionally, smug and purposeless, having never savored its blackness." ("Baskets," 157)

Celia herself is clearly horrified by living a life of numb affections, as reflected in her question for Pilar and I Ching ("Should I live for passion?"). It's not a surprise that she is able to see this same fear in the eyes of the women around her.

"That girl [Lourdes] is a stranger to me. When I approach her, she turns numb, as if she wanted to be dead in my presence. I see how different Lourdes is with her father, so alive and gay, and it hurts me, but I don't know what to do. She still punishes me for the early years." ("Letters: 1950-1955," 165)

Jorge wants to punish Celia for loving Gustavo, so he has her tortured in an asylum and separated from Lourdes. Lourdes detests her mother for not loving her, so she clings to her father. Jorge clings to Lourdes because affection is not forthcoming from his wife. It's a vicious, vicious cycle.

"'After we were married, I left her with my mother and my sister. I knew what it would do to her. A part of me wanted to punish her. For the Spaniard. I tried to kill her, Lourdes. I wanted to break her, may God forgive me. When I returned, it was done." ("Changó," 195)

To be fair, Jorge hangs around for a long time after his death just to make this confession to Lourdes and set the record straight. In doing this, Jorge proves his love for both Celia and Lourdes—but it's too little and too late. Lourdes can't reach out to Celia and never delivers his message of contrition to her.

"'Your mother loved you,' Jorge del Pino repeats urgently. 'She loved me,' Lourdes echoes.'" ("Changó," 196)

Lourdes can repeat it, but it's only an echo. She doesn't own this fact and certainly doesn't believe in her heart that her mother loved her. The rejection in her infancy feels too big to overcome.

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