Study Guide

Dreaming in Cuban Chapter 8: The Meaning of Shells (1974)

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Chapter 8: The Meaning of Shells (1974)

  • Time has moved forward and Felicia del Pino, saved from her attempted suicide/homicide, now marches with other misfits as guerrilla fighters for Castro.
  • She is not enjoying herself, though she understands why she is there. She doesn't, however, remember trying to kill herself and Ivanito.
  • Ivanito has been sent to a boarding school and Felicia visits him there. It's not clear that he understands what has happened.
  • As Felicia listens to the other members of her brigade, she learns more about the effects of the Revolution. The State perpetuates a culture of war and constant agitation.
  • Felicia volunteers for the night watches because she can get away from this reality and also because it reminds her of special moments with her mother when she was little.
  • She says that she learned her "fancy" language from her mother during their sleepless nights on the porch swing, when Celia would recite poems to her.
  • Now Felicia and Celia fight constantly, especially about Castro. Felicia knows him to be a tyrant, but her Mom is kind of in love with him.
  • And this leads Felicia to a terribly creepy fantasy of El Líder making love with her, in which she gets pretty excited .


  • We continue to move double-quick through time in this chapter, this time seeing the evolution of Celia del Pino
  • She has taken a more active role in state matters, becoming a civilian judge.
  • Basically, this means that she has to arbitrate the lower-level squabbles between neighbors, husbands and wives.
  • The current case is one of infidelity—or rather an accusation against a woman for man-stealing.
  • Celia doesn't like these types of cases because the entire neighborhood shows up to watch for entertainment.
  • Although the case is between two women, Celia sends for the husband who is at the center of it all. She gets him to admit that he's the instigator of all the trouble and she sentences him.
  • We get an update on Celia's family as she reflects on her relationship with each member.
  • She feels that all of her children (including the elusive Javier) are disconnected from each other and the world.
  • Celia spends most of her thoughts on Javier, her only son who ran off to Czechoslovakia and became a professor of biochemistry.
  • Javier writes letters to Celia, telling her that he has taught his daughter to speak Spanish so that she can speak to her abuela when they visit—which they don't.
  • Celia has come to know Javier through these letters and through his photographs.
  • Perhaps hardest for Celia is the lack of intimate connection she might have had with her children and grandchildren, as she once had with Pilar when she spoke to her telepathically in the night.

Luz Villaverde (1975)

  • Luz remembers her father Hugo in tender ways. This is quite different from how the rest of the family views him.
  • She blames her mother for destroying her father and she now tells the story with greater clarity than others have before.
  • Luz hates the way her mother Felicia speaks to them—all poetry and no substance.
  • It's clear that both Luz and Milagro have been traumatized by Felicia's erratic behavior.
  • She tells the story of their 9th birthday, when Felicia filled the piñata with eggs. That would make a kid hate you, we do believe.
  • Luz and Milagro had very little contact with their father as they grew up. He sent postcards and brought scarves back with him when he visited. They idealized him.
  • When Hugo returns to Cuba, the girls decide they are going to visit him. They wait until Felicia is out of the house and head to the docks where he is staying.
  • At first, Luz and Milagro feel pity for their father because he is poor and disfigured (Felicia burned his head and hands) and because he speaks lovingly to them.
  • He also gives them presents to make up for the lost time, though Luz doesn't understand how he can afford it on his small pension.
  • Eventually, Hugo requests to see their brother, Ivanito, and the girls are all for it. They want Ivanito to see what their wicked mother did to their father.
  • But when they finally bring Ivanito, they find Hugo in a compromising position with a prostitute. Some things never change.
  • In the end, all three children wind up at boarding school, away from their dysfunctional parents.

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