How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary and Analysis of "Still Lives"

This chapter centers on Sandra’s early love of drawing, which she loses after a traumatic incident with a famous sculptor on the Island, Don José. Don José and his German wife Doña Charito met in the Prado in Madrid. The two artists decided to move to the Island and settle in the outskirts of the capital in a “Hansel and Gretel” cottage. Sandra has shown a talent for drawing that distinguishes her, and so is given art lessons with Doña Charito. Superstition endows drawing with a magic-like power: a servant, Milagros, begs Sandra to destroy a picture she drew of Milagros’ baby after the child comes down with fever; the next day, the baby is cured. After Sandra is forced to erase cats she has drawn on a stucco wall, the cellar is overrun by rats. The family decides to take Sandra to Doña Charito for art lessons, with thirteen of her girl cousins in tow.

At her first lesson, Sandra aches to begin drawing while Doña Charito lectures them. Her active imagination makes her perception of the world vibrant and emotionally charged. These perceptions, in turn, create a lush inner world inside that she years to release on paper. Doña Charito, however, for all her artistic expertise, does not recognize this passion. When Sandra ignores the lecture and begins to draw, Doña Charito charges her with impudence and commands her to sit in a punishment chair in another room.

Sandra, growing bored, wanders through the house and hears a man cursing from outside. Following the sound, she finds a locked shed and peers inside, thinking that she can revenge herself on Doña Charito by discovering one of the woman’s secrets. Inside, she sees huge logs with half-formed creatures emerging from them. Then she sees a small man, naked and chained by the neck to an iron ring by the door, working on a sculpture of a woman with a spiked halo. He clambers on top of the sculpture, sexually aroused, and prepares to begin forming the woman’s face.

Sandra cries out instinctively to warn the woman, and the man sees her and lunges towards the window. Sandra, who has been standing on a log, throws herself backwards, breaking her arm. The man appears at the window and studies her terrified face, her eyes riveted to his and her mouth screaming voicelessly. Then she begins to scream and he disappears; soon Doña Charito and the cousins come running, and find Sandra sobbing over her broken arm. She does not relate what she saw inside the shed.

With her arm in a cast, Sandra can no longer attend art lessons. By the time the cast comes off, months of pampering and the ridicule of jealous cousins have changed Sandra. She has turned inward, become sullen and dependent on her mother’s attention. She no longer feels the urge to draw. That Christmas, she goes to a nativity pageant at the National Cathedral. The new crèche, unveiled that night, is composed of the giant creatures Sandra had seen in Don José’s studio. Don José had finally finished the enormous project, and Sandra realizes that the Virgin Mary’s face, wide-eyed in wonder, has been modeled from her own terrified face, which Don José had seen from the window of his shed.


The chronology of Sandra’s stories moves in a direct line backward from her breakdown, and almost all of them mention her dissatisfaction and unfulfilled inner hunger. Her stories seem focused on unraveling the mystery of her mental illness. This is the first chapter, however, in which Sandra speaks in the first person. She explicitly admits to having been altered for the worse by the experience of being pampered while her arm healed. This change seems to have provoked her later reliance on external sources of comfort, which are never fully adequate to her inner need.

Throughout the novel, Sandra has appeared as an unhappy woman who is unsatisfied by possessions, success, work, good looks, or sex. Her eating disorder and mental collapse are linked to this emptiness and lack of meaningful goals. This episode offers a clue as to how she came to be disconnected from the outside world. Her love of drawing is described in terms of creatures, spaces, even worlds that fill her imagination and seem to be “inside” of her. She can bring these things to life and relieve some of her metaphoric inward pressure by drawing.

The metaphor of another world residing within her implies a way for her to achieve satisfaction and happiness without external crutches. After she breaks her arm, however, she begins to turn inward, and is no longer willing or able to draw her internal world out. The pun in the phrase “draw it out” (254) signals the importance of drawing as the bridge between the external world and Sandra’s inner creativity. Instead, Sandra becomes dependent on her mother’s attention, beginning a cycle of neediness that leaves her perpetually unsatisfied.

Initiations into the sexual and social adult worlds are also central themes in this chapter. She watches Don José become sexually aroused while sculpting, implying that Sandra’s excitement while drawing may have sexual sources she is unaware of. In addition, as a child, Sandra is painfully aware of her anonymity and her mortality. Constantly surrounded by a flock of cousins, she senses that she has no purpose except as another vehicle of the illustrious de la Torre family name. This premature awareness of her social role reveals the same sensitivity to social relations that she shows in her keen observations of the Fannings. She is also preoccupied with power dynamics. She looks into the shed in order to take revenge on Doña Charito, recognizing that knowing a secret about someone will enable her to control him.

Finally, the chapter explores the meaning of creativity. As a child, Sandra’s sees in terms of vivid metaphors that transform mundane things into active, vibrant creatures. For instance, she sees Doña Charito’s tongue “like some fat beast caged inside her mouth” (245). Her creative talent is not simply in copying images accurately on paper, but making them come alive through her active imagination. Sandra’s sensual, lively vision aligns with the superstitious Dominican attitude towards art and drawing. Milagros’ belief that Sandra’s drawing has afflicted her child with fever is connected to Sandra’s sensation of bringing cats and birds to life by drawing them. The joy Sandra takes in the act of creation is perhaps the element missing from her unsatisfied adult life.