Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents The Black Bird

By Julia Alvarez

The Black Bird

We know what you're thinking. What's with all these black birds and ravens that keep popping up throughout the novel? Here are a couple of subtle allusions for you: Mami makes a roundabout reference to Edgar Allan Poe (author of "The Raven"), and Yoyo's boyfriend Clive thinks she's talking about the famous Wallace Stevens poem "Thirteen Way of Looking at a Blackbird".

As Stevens points out, there are (at least) thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird. Which is helpful to keep in mind.

Because there's a very strange black bird that makes its appearance in this novel. Here's the gist of it: while being hospitalized for a mental breakdown, Yoyo opens her mouth and a big, black bird comes out. It's not a nice bird. It flies through the window and dive bombs her latest crush object, her therapist, Dr. Payne. It tears his chest open, and then flies off into some storm clouds.

We told you it wasn't a friendly bird.

So where did this bird come from, and what does it signify? The bird has something to do with Yoyo's mental breakdown, and it may even have something to do with her getting better.

Let's look at the text: the bird makes its first little flappings in Yolanda's heart when her husband, John, forcibly kisses her, "pushing her words back in her throat." The words she swallows "beat against her stomach" and "peck at her ribs" (1.4.73-75). So this baby bird is made from the combination of Yoyo's words and John's refusal to let her say them.

Right before Yoyo vomits up the bird (gross), she's overwhelmed by desire. The bird stirring is "an itch she can't get to." It's "more desperate than hunger" (1.4.49-51). The bird itself is really obviously sexual. Yoyo describes its "tiny head drooping like its sex between arching wings" (1.4.155).

The black bird is a symbol for sexual desire. It's no wonder it goes after Dr. Payne, who Yoyo is nursing a secret crush on. Attack, raven, attack!

The black bird is also the mental distress that causes Yoyo's breakdown. After all, the little baby bird is born inside her when her marriage falls apart. And Yoyo seems to get better soon after she vomits up the bird and sees it disappear.

The bird is also a manifestation of Yoyo's words. The words she swallows and can't express (because John forces them down her throat) become the baby bird. And after the bird leaves, she's able to start writing again.

These are three ways of exploring the symbol of the black bird, but we're willing to bet there are at least thirteen ways of looking at this particular birdie.

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