Academic journal article Bilingual Review

My Mother, My Text: Writing and Remembering in Julia Alvarez's in the Name of Salome

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

My Mother, My Text: Writing and Remembering in Julia Alvarez's in the Name of Salome

Article excerpt

In her article titled "Endless Autobiography?" Leigh Gilmore states that some Caribbean women writers "have taken the project of self-representation to be open-ended, susceptible to repetition, extendible, even, perhaps, incapable of completion" (211). This would certainly appear to characterize Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez's literary project. Alvarez's texts demonstrate varying degrees of self-representation; indeed, they affirm what cultural critic Karen Christian calls the "inconclusive character of identity" (149). Crucial to the ongoing process of identity (re)construction that takes place in Alvarez's novels is the figure of the mother, who at once facilitates and threatens the daughter's negotiation of an autonomous identity. In both Alvarez's own life and in her texts, the mother's authority, and consequently the authority of the motherland that she represents, are placed in jeopardy by a new nation and culture. Thus both author and protagonists find themselves the targets of two different sources of authority: the mother/motherland and the new North American homeland.

Numerous studies explore the impact of the mother figure on the daughter's process of identity definition in Alvarez's more overtly autobiographical works such as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and !Yo! (1997). However, less attention has been paid to how Alvarez subtly continues this project of identity negotiation through works that superficially appear to be biographical or fictional rather than autobiographical in nature, such as In the Name of Salome (2000). This study proposes that Salome may be read as a narrative palimpsest in which Alvarez continues her own autobiographical project over (or under) the fictionalized retelling of the fives of the novel's mother-daughter protagonists. Alvarez's literary appropriation of the lives of these famous Dominican figures allows her a space to examine her own identity in relation to both her mother and her motherland.

As is typical of the immigrant experience, Alvarez finds herself in an intermediary cultural position that Homi Bhabha, in The Location of Culture, calls the "third space" (37). According to Bhabha, those who occupy this space may be said to be "in-between" distinct cultural poles. As a consequence of this unstable positioning, immigrants often become the subjects of an "unhomeliness" or "the condition of extra-territorial and cross cultural initiations" (9). Motivated by the experience of "unhomeliness," Alvarez attempts to establish a "home" or a specific cultural space by textually negotiating between two distinct cultural sites: the Caribbean (represented by the mother) and her adopted homeland (the United States). Caribbean writers frequently undertake this task of literary maneuvering, according to Antonio Benitez Rojo. In his seminal work, The Repeating Island, Benitez Rojo states that quintessential Caribbean texts encompass a "search for routes that might lead, at least symbolically, to an extratextual point of social nonviolence and psychic reconstitution of Self" (27-8). This reconstitution of self is the impetus behind Alvarez's literary revisitations of her immigrant experience and its impact on the mother-daughter relationship.

In early essays, poems, and most notably in her more overtly autobiographical novels, The Garcia Girls and Yo, Alvarez recalls her own immigration. In these novels she "remembers" through the character of Yolanda Garcia, whom critic William Luis labels Alvarez's "alter ego" (62). Alvarez changes her name as well as those of her family members and claims significant creative license by classifying The Garcia Girls and Yo as works of fiction rather than memoirs. However, it is clear from the texts that Alvarez's own life story supplies the basic plot of the novels. The Garcia Girls allows Alvarez a literary space to revisit her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic whose family fled to the United States in order to avoid the political persecution of the Trujillo dictatorship. …

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