How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Style and structure

Alvarez defies the Aristotelian notion of a well-knit plot, as the story is told in reverse chronological order through a series of fifteen chapters, with no linear, unifying storyline.[6] In Julia Alvarez: A critical companion, Scholar Silvio Sirias argues that "a well-constructed plot has an underlying structure that promises the reader that the author is in control, and that any event she is telling will eventually make sense".[32] Sirias then goes on to explain how Alvarez's initial exposure of the girls to the reader in their somewhat adjusted, adult states enables her to first evoke certain assumptions in the reader and subsequently shatter these assumptions with the disclosure of the García family's troubled past.[32] Scholar Julie Barak argues that the reverse chronological order Alvarez employs is actually a unique stylistic technique which adds "to the reader's uncertainty and instability, [allowing for the recreation] of the Garcia girls' own ambiguities".[33]

Scholar William Luis observes a strong resemblance between the structure of Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and Alejo Carpentier's Viaje a la Semilla as both employ the tactic of backwards narration and consequently lay claim to two beginnings and two endings.[5] Alvarez has also been said to follow the stylistic traditions established by novels such as Pedro Juan Labarthe's The Son of Two Nations: The Private Life of a Columbia Student (1931), Marcio Veloz Maggiolo's El prófugo (1962), Humberto Cintrón's Frankie Cristo (1972), and Richard Ruiz's The Hungry American (1978).[34] Despite the overtly North American stylistic qualities the book appears to boast at first glance, each of the aforementioned authors are of Hispanic descent.[34]

Julie Barak emphasizes the significance of "one other stylistic idiosyncrasy of the work that adds to the sophistication of [Alvarez's] artistry" as there is a marked transition from third to first person narration for each girl in the last section of the novel.[15] Luis describes this shift as a pivotal moment after which the events assume a chronological order and time accelerates, illuminating life in such a manner that it suddenly makes sense.[35] The manner in which Alvarez alters the narrative voice is a stylistic expression of the extent to which each one of the girls "wants to be in control of her own version of her history... These first person narratives in the last section become, in effect, a defense offered by each girl in her own words, an explanation of who they have become in the present, of why they 'turned out' the way they have."[15] The transition of narrative voice "changes the dynamic of the reader-character-author triad"[15] and allows for the reader, who has been kept at a distance by the third person narrator, to relive "the memory with the character, closely connected to her, developing a strong empathy with a unified character".[33]

Jacqueline Stefanko rationalizes Alvarez’s decision to alternate amongst the varying voices of all four García girls, wither her assertion that "the amnesia produced by the diasporic cultures of Latinas gets negotiated within the text through polyphony".[36] After significant observation, Stefanko has concluded that "as hybrid selves who cross and recross borders of language and culture, these Latina writers create hybrid texts in order to 'survive in diaspora,' to use Donna Haraway's term, seeking to heal the fractures and ruptures resulting from exile and dispersal".[37] Through her creation of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Alvarez has intentionally fictionalized her own life story in a polyphonous manner which extends beyond the boundaries of traditional style and genre, thus setting herself apart from the average author both stylistically and structurally.[38]


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