Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Society and Class

By Julia Alvarez

Society and Class

The maid stares down at the interlaced hands she holds before her, a gesture that Yolanda remembers seeing illustrated in a book for Renaissance actors. These clasped hands were on a page of classic gestures. The gesture of pleading, the caption had read. Held against the breast, next to the heart, the same interlaced hands were those of a lover who pleadeth for mercy from his beloved. (1.1.5)

Some of the first images we get in the novel are of interactions between Yolanda's wealthy aunt and her domestic servants. This posture of "pleading" suggests that their relationship is not exactly one between equals.

"I'm alarmed, you know, the way things are, a big car stalled in the middle of the university barrio." (1.1.13)

Tía Flor keeps making these vague references to "the way things are," and we keep being like, huh? How are things, exactly? This is what we can figure out from this statement: it's not a good idea to go around showing off your "big car" in a neighborhood full of students. Why do you think that might be?

"A bus!" The whole group bursts out laughing. [...] "Can't you see it!?" She laughs. "Yoyo climbing into an old camioneta with all the campesinos and their fighting cocks and their goats and their pigs!" (1.1.45)

The contrast between the privilege of Yoyo's relatives and the poverty of the bus riders could not be more stark. The idea of Yoyo riding a bus is completely ridiculous to her family.

Iluminada has now crept forward to the edge of the circle to offer the matches to her mistress. In the fading light of the patio, Yolanda cannot make out the expression on the dark face. (1.1.53)

The hierarchy of class in the novel goes hand-in-hand with perceptions of race. Careful reading lets us know that Yoyo's family is light-skinned, while the servants have brown skin. And even among the servants, those with lighter brown skin consider themselves superior to those with darker skin.

She and her sisters have led such turbulent lives—so many husbands, homes, jobs, wrong turns among them. But look at her cousins, women with households and authority in their voices. Let this turn out to be my home, Yolanda wishes. She pictures the maids in their quiet, mysterious cluster at the end of the patio [...] (1.1.55)

Just when Yoyo is really getting into her fantasy about living the good life in the Dominican Republic, the troublesome picture of the maids sitting in the corner sneaks into her imagination. The thought that's nagging her is this: in order to live a life of luxury and privilege in this society, you have to exploit a whole bunch of other people.

[...] Yolanda approaches a compound very like her family's in the capital. [...] They are probably relatives. The dozen rich families have intermarried so many times that families trees are tangles of roots. (1.1.64)

This tidbit about Yoyo's family connections paints the picture of a Dominican society where wealth doesn't change hands very often. Rich families keep the money in the family by intermarrying with other rich families.

"You must excuse him, doña," the woman apologizes. "He's not used to being among people." People with money who drive through Altamira to the beach resorts on the north coast, she means. (1.1.69)

The term "people" doesn't apply to just anybody. Here, the woman uses it to mean "people with money." What does that make people without money?

She reaches for each man's hand to shake. The shorter man holds his back at first, as if not wanting to dirty her hand, but finally, after wiping it on the side of his pants, he gives it to Yolanda. The skin feels rough and dry like the bark of trees. (1.1.107)

Here's another picture of the inequality between two classes of people that Yoyo encounters in the Dominican Republic. Because she obviously has money and is from the upper class, this poor man is reluctant to even shake her hand.

And above the picnic table on a near post, the Palmolive woman's skin gleams a rich white; her head is still thrown back, her mouth still opened as if she is calling someone over a great distance. (1.1.112)

It's weird to see this poster of the Palmolive woman hanging in a poor roadside stand. After all, this image of a privileged blond woman (whose skin gleams a "rich white"—get it?) looks nothing like most of the people who actually shop there.

The grand manner will usually disarm these poor lackeys from the countryside, who have joined the SIM, most of them, in order to put money in their pockets, food and rum in their stomachs, and guns at their hips. But deep down, they are still boys in rags bringing down coconuts for el patron when he visits his fincas with his family on Sundays. (3.1.29)

Laura uses her knowledge of how class works in Dominican society to her advantage. She knows she can intimidate the threatening soldiers simply by reminding them of her class advantage.

None of the maids liked Chucha because they all thought she was kind of below them, being so black and Haitian and all. (3.1.86)

Okay, this complicates our understanding of class in this novel. We thought it was simple—wealthy Dominicans on top, and poor people like maids and servants on bottom. But even amongst the servants there is a hierarchy, and it involves how dark your skin is. People with darker skin tend to be from Haiti, so it involves nationality, too.

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