How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Summary and Analysis of "The Drum"

The final chapter of the novel is told in the first person by Yolanda about herself as a young girl. Her grandmother, whom she calls Mamita, brings a toy drum to the Dominican Republic from F.A.O. Schwarz in New York. Yolanda wanders around the yard for weeks playing her drum, even after she loses both drumsticks and must play with dowel rods.

While playing outside, Yolanda also likes to visit the coal shed at the back of the property, which has become haunted for all the children. A Haitian laundry maid, Pila, who practiced voodoo, warned her that all the local spirits and devils lived in the coal shed. Pila was only employed by the family a few months before she ran away with ten shopping bags of stolen clothing. She was caught and the clothing returned, but she still left her mark on the property in the form of the haunted shed. By the time Yolanda receives her drum, Pila has been gone a few weeks but has left a haunted coal shed behind.

Yolanda, a tomboy and daredevil, decides to go into the coal shed alone one day. As she looks into the barrels of coal, she finds a litter of kittens, but no mother in sight. Yolanda picks a kitten with white paws as her favorite and names him Schwarz after the toy store, but leaves the coal shed without him, afraid that the mother will attack her if she finds Yolanda there. On her return to the house, Yolanda meets a strange man with a gun strapped to his back and a big dog named Kashtanka. The man warns Yolanda that the kitten may die if she takes it from its mother too early, and suggests she wait at least seven days, until Thursday. The two see the mother cat go into the shed and come out again, and once the man has left, Yolanda sneaks back into the shed to look at Schwarz.

While in the shed, she hears a report from the man’s gun coming from the orange grove, and realizes he is hunting birds. An intuition of adult hypocrisy dawns on Yolanda, who thinks of all the baby birds the man is leaving orphaned by his shooting. Without pausing to consider her action, she grabs Schwarz from the coal bin and runs out of the shed with him. Seeing the mother cat sunning herself, Yolanda grows frightened and slips the Schwarz into her toy drum. She marches by the mother, banging feverishly on the drum to muffle the kitten’s plaintive meowing.

Once Yolanda reaches the safety of her house, she tosses Schwarz out of the window and, afraid of the mother cat’s retaliation, watches from inside all morning as the hurt kitten tries to limp back to the coal shed. That night, Yolanda wakes up to see the mother cat perched at the foot of her bed. She discovers the next day that the new laundry maid, Nivea, left a window open that night. However, the cat continues to return even after the windows have been securely shut.

For months and even years after, Yolanda is haunted by visions of the mother cat. Yolanda ends the chapter by addressing the reader directly to explain why she is telling the story. She describes herself as a curious woman, fascinated by ghost stories, and suffering from bad dreams and bad insomnia. All of these qualities, she implies, and even her urge to write, stem from this disturbing episode.


In some ways, this chapter does not bring much closure to the novel, since it does not explicitly address central themes such as immigration, language, sexuality, or the political situation. The chapter deals with an apparently trivial incident in Yolanda’s childhood. However, Yolanda’s overwhelming, inarticulate guilt at her action haunts her in the form of a sinister cat that comes to affect her psychological life for the rest of her life.

In the story, Yolanda cannot fully articulate some of the abstract feelings and ideas she has. For instance, she recognizes that the poacher is violating his own rule by killing birds in the orange grove, but she has no word for “hypocrisy.” She does not admit to any feelings of guilt after taking Schwarz, and only mentions her fear of being attacked by the mother. However, her initially selfish fears seem to transform into moral pangs of their own accord. She later recognizes the vision of the cat as an embodiment of guilt—of her reaction to the “violation” (290) she perpetrated on Schwarz and its mother.

The accumulated effect of these visions is anxiety, insomnia and the excitement of an already active imagination. These psychological disturbances impel her to write poems and stories as a means of understanding her anxieties and fears. She writes to pick apart and understand her past, as she explains in “The Rudy Elmenhurst Story.” The vision of the cat therefore becomes the driving force behind her whole creative life.

The final chapter, seemingly disconnected from the previous tales, thus represents a final stage in Yolanda’s struggle to find the root of her compulsion to write. This discovery encapsulates a vital current underlying the novel—the purpose of storytelling. The novel’s reversed chronology supports the idea of storytelling as a way to work backwards through one’s life and recognize underlying patterns. For Yolanda, this process seems to culminate with the explanation of the cat’s enduring impact on her life.

Yolanda even remarks on the relation between real life and storytelling in the chapter. When she hears the man shooting in the orange grove, she comments that one can “call it coincidence, call it plot” (286) that such an event would occur and affect her actions. Real life and storytelling become tangled, and what was originally coincidence becomes plot in retrospect. The same is true of the vision of the mother cat, whose appearance on the first night is probably simple coincidence, but who transforms the plot of Yolanda’s life.

The black cat becomes a symbol of the unresolved emotions that compel Yolanda to write. She practices her art in order to tame and understand these feelings and their effect on her. The cat can be a violent, wild, and uncontrollable animal. As a symbol, it suggests a fierce, irrational, and mute energy that Yolanda can subdue only by putting it into words and fitting into it the pattern of her life. Nevertheless, the powerful final image f the black cat with its howling magenta mouth hints that the cat can never be fully tamed. It will always lurk in corners of her unconscious where her rational mind cannot reach, driving her onwards.