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MIT SP 400 - Portrayal of History

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1 Essay 2 Portrayal of History: Looking at Political Influences in Dreaming in Cuba, Paula, and La Historia Oficial Writing about history often leaves the audience questioning the work’s legitimacy. Personal beliefs, pictures, eyewitness accounts, and many other types of documentation contribute to the way that we interpret and depict an event. For non-fiction writers, it is important to use clear facts and reliable resources. On the other hand, fiction writers are free to twist and change history according to what fits their storyline best. Still, a lot of fiction composition aims towards making statements about history and therefore there may be more partiality than events reinvented. But how accurate are these embedded opinions and how well do they complement the plot or setting of a novel? How do similar references to history compare in nonfiction writing and in film? In Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia describes one family’s attitude towards the dictatorship of communist Fidel Castro. In her memoir Paula, Isabel Allende portrays numerous historical facts about her native country, Chile, during the infamous military coup of 1973 and some debatable details about politics in her family. Finally, in the movie “La Historia Oficial,” director Luis Puenzo presents a more specific and personal view of a political conflict in Argentina that was influenced by Chile’s military coup. After looking at these three pieces, we can judge how politics influence different types of writing and film and we can see the benefits of including historical data in these works. Political unrest in Cuba marks the lives of three generations of women - Celia, Lourdes, and Pilar - in Dreaming in Cuban. The novel’s plot unfolds under the rule of Fidel Castro, known most frequently as “El Lider,” who rules Cuba after leading a2 socialist revolution and overthrowing the government in 1959. After gaining the support of the peasants, Castro quickly earned the love of nationalist supporters who helped him maintain his power and even impeded the United States during the CIA’s attempt to occupy Cuba during the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs Invasion. Throughout the novel, Cristina Garcia extensively criticizes the Cubans’ blind love for Castro, yet she also recounts the struggle of those who battled against the revolution, thus providing the audience with a multilateral look at how people were affected by it. Considering the fact that Dreaming in Cuban is a work of fiction, the reader may wonder if Cristina Garcia distorts the historical data to better fit her opinion of Castro’s presidency. Amazingly, this is not entirely the case. The main character, Celia, is a Fidel Castro lover; she works as a night watcher, sugarcane cutter, and does many other jobs for her beloved Lider. She is continuously pointing out the revolution’s merits: “No one is starving or denied medical care, no one sleeps in the streets, everyone works who wants to work” (Garcia, 117). Moreover, Garcia describes to us the one job that allows us to reconsider the work of the revolution: as a civilian judge Celia encourages reform rather than punishment and persuades adolescents to follow their delights rather than giving them a cold-hearted punishment. This is shown when she sends the young boy who was accused of being anti-revolutionary to work in the theater (Garcia, 158). On the other hand we also get Celia’s sexual obsession with her leader, episodes which were quite distracting, but represented well her dedicated passion for him. This obsession also makes her believe that she has a higher purpose in life, especially since her people are part of what she believes to be “the greatest social experiment in modern history” (Garcia, 117).3 Although Celia is a strong supporter of the revolution, her daughter Lourdes chooses to be the exact opposite; she pursues the American dream in New York and refuses to believe that the revolution does well to her native country. Lourdes denounces the Cuban government numerous times, and with much reason to do so. After two visits from a couple of revolutionary soldiers, she loses her second baby, she is disgustingly raped, and she is also marked for life with an illegible scar on her abdomen (Garcia, 70). Nevertheless, in the United States Lourdes did not have a perfect life either: the American food was tasteless to her and her daughter Pilar was a rebellious young lady who even had the nerve to runaway from home and interrupt the commencement of Lourdes’ new Yankee Doodle bakery with a horrific image of the Statue of Liberty. To counteract this, Lourdes’ obsessive tendencies in her bakery over thieves, over her daughter, and her erratic diet, give light to her quest for success; although unhealthy it is obvious that she wants her bakery to succeed and her daughter to be under her eye, so that she can show her mother Celia that living in the United States is better than living in Cuba. As the more sane character, Pilar finds herself with a strong desire to go to her homeland, but is kept back with her New York culture that is accurately described: with increasing crime rates and decreasing skirt lengths. This is Garcia’s best character who is indirectly affected by the revolution in two ways: she cannot return to Cuba because her mother does not want her to visit her Fidel-loving grandmother, and she is stuck with her fastidious mother who is such a lame believer of the boring American dream. We can also understand her conflicting emotions with her distorted painting of the Statue of Liberty. With this character that is stuck between her grandmother and her mother,4 Garcia once again presents both sides of revolution sentiments and how they affect this family of arrogant women. In addition, by showing and expressing both sides of the revolution opinions, we get the richness of Garcia’s magical realism more genuinely. The political unrest that is discussed throughout the novel serves as a support for the plot by mirroring the familial break and attempt at recovery, allowing us to see the magical realism as not just a wonderful work of fiction and writing, but also to unwittingly excuse the psychological issues that were prevalent among these women. For example, Celia’s obsessive behavior over her lover Gustavo and El Lider while making a hyperbole of a Cuban supporter also allows us to see the positive side of being one; her behavior while obsessive formulates her


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