How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary and Analysis
"The Human Body"
This chapter tells an episode from the girls’ childhood on the Dominican Republic, narrated by Yolanda as an older woman. She recounts some of the trouble she got into as a young tomboy. Instead of having a female best friend, like her sisters, she liked to play with Mundín. She thinks about her grandfather, on whom Trujillo had conferred a bogus post with the United Nations. Her grandfather, whom the girls called Papito, was a peaceable man, but Trujillo felt threatened by his wealth and education, and hoped the U.N. position would keep him out of the Dominican Republic. Papito and his wife travelled to New York frequently and brought back toys for the cousins.
On one such trip, Yolanda’s grandmother brings her a child’s edition of the Arabian Nights, and gives Mundín a Human Body doll with removable organs, and a large ball of pink molding clay. Yolanda is jealous and asks for a swap, but Mundín refuses, so she stomps off and pretends to read her book. Unexpectedly, she finds herself engrossed in the tale of Scheherazade. In the meantime, Mundín has made a snake from his clay and is scaring the younger girl cousins until they scream and threaten to tell on him. To keep their silence, he is forced to promise them some of the clay—and promises Yolanda some as well.
Mundín demands something in return for the clay, and since he is not interested in her Arabian Nights book, he asks her to show him her private parts in exchange. To carry out the bargain, Yolanda and Mundín, with little Sofía in tow, go to the coal shed at the back of the property. This shed is supposed to be off limits to the children, since it is located near the border between Papito’s property and the estate of Trujillo’s daughter and son-in-law. The dictator is sometimes seen through the hedges marching across the yard with his young grandson in a little military uniform.
When both Yolanda and the uncomprehending Sofía have carried out the bargain, Mundín offers each half the clay. Yolanda throws a tantrum, demanding all the clay, and Mundín promises to give Yolanda his Human Body doll as well. However, her shouts draw the attention of the adults. Mundín’s mother and the gardener find them in the shed and are about to punish them with Yolanda lies and says they were hiding in the shed from the guardia—the secret police.
The story ends with them all trooping back into the house, leaving Mundín’s Human Body doll in the coal shed where he had dropped it out of fear. When they retrieve the pieces, all the organs have been chewed up or trampled and cannot be recognized or fit back together.
In this chapter, Yolanda exhibits a growing sexual curiosity, although she remains a masculine tomboy. She unabashedly expects Mundín’s Human Body doll to have genitals, and does not understand the gardener’s pornographic magazine that she finds near the coal shed, although she recognizes that it was inappropriate, and that finding it has given her some power over the gardener. At the same time, she must steel herself against Mundín’s gaze when she strips to show him her private parts. Mundín is similarly curious and uninterested at the same time—he is intrigued by the qualities that differentiate the sexes, but finds Yolanda’s body uninteresting compared with his own.
Yolanda’s only knowledge that sex is an important issue derives from adult sources. In her religious instruction classes, she has learned how original sin led Adam and Eve to feel shame at their nakedness. At home, her aunts warn her to guard her body “like hidden treasure” (235) and pressure her to stop playing with Mundín. The rigid sexual rules of Dominican society are thus imposed on her before she understands what sexuality is.
A more ominous social force, the dictatorship of Trujillo, also looms over her childhood. Her grandfather is interrogated by the SIM after Yolanda and Mundín accidentally set off a firecracker at the border of Trujillo’s property, just as the dictator’s grandson walks by. Yolanda lies about the guardia to escape from trouble in the coal shed, recognizing that the guardia provoke fear in her older relatives and that her own infraction will be forgotten.
At the chapter’s end, Mundín and Yolanda try to put the mangled inner organs back into the Human Body doll. However, the pieces have been damaged beyond recognition and they cannot reassemble the body. The doll’s destruction offers an allegory for Yolanda’s maturity into knowledge of sexuality and power. Social morality, sexual rules, and the violence of the dictatorship gradually transform Yolanda from an unselfconscious child to the anxious, unsure woman she becomes. The image suggests that Yolanda was complete and unified as a child, but that her initiation into sexuality and external social systems breaks down that earlier self. When this occurs, the child becomes a “little man” (238)—a miniature version of a self-aware adult.
The process of transformation from a naïve child to an adult who experiences shame and fear parallels the Biblical story of Genesis. Yolanda alludes to the story when she thinks of her religious instruction, in which she learned that Adam and Eve had to put on clothing after they had sinned. As she begins to become ashamed of nakedness and understand the violent power behind Trujillo’s dictatorship, she seems to leave her personal Eden behind.
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