Elements that Stand Out in ‘The Kiss’ by Julia Alvarez

Elements that Stand Out in ‘The Kiss’ by Julia Alvarez

Cultural diversity is well appreciated all over the world. From Africa to Europe, across the Caribbean to Latin America all the way to North America, populations differ in terms of language, race and culture. Perhaps the most significant of these is culture that is much dictated by one’s place of origin. More often than not, it becomes a challenge living in a society with different social norms and expectations from one’s own. It is even more difficult where one has to deal with conservative members of the family. Reading ‘The Kiss’ gives an insight into this.

Understanding Julia Alvarez’s background may help one to better understand her works and the themes contained therein. Her family migrated to the United States of America from the Dominican Republic, a move that exposed it to many challenges, both within and outside the family. Much changed in the family, from the beliefs that governed it to the way it viewed itself. The plot of ‘The kiss’ is a mirror of what actually happened in the Alvarez family.

The content is very interesting and captivating. Issues that are of concern to all families, especially those that migrate to the United States are addressed. It is Sofia’s father’s birthday, and the mood is jovial. Everything goes on splendidly with the live music and the toasts until the underlying tension caused by a long family conflict explodes. Yolanda at some point notices Carlos’ sour mood and decides to light him up by engaging him in a game in the middle of the party. The daughters are to peck their father on the forehead or cheek; he should then guess which of the daughters kissed him. Sofia is at this time in the bedroom tending to her son, but she returns and notices her father does not guess her name. She is very upset, but she decides to surprise him by kissing and licking his ear sensuously. This act arouses him, and he gets furious, snatches the blindfold and declares the game and the party over (Alvarez, 1991).

Free indirect narration is an element that stands out clearly and makes ‘The Kiss’ more interesting. This is especially the case where Carlos’ mood is described, for he feels out of place among his daughters’ young and fancy friends (Alvarez, 1991). He compares his long, eventful life to their youth and inexperience, and imagines how his death would be inconsequential on their material life. His mood is sour, something that Yolanda notices before she decides to play the game. This element is significant here because it helps in the flow of the plot.

Symbolism is another literary element that stands out. ‘The kiss’ is symbolic for through it; Sofia reveals to her father the extent of her sensuality. Flaunting her sexuality before the guests humiliates him. Sexual contact between father and daughter is considered incest and therefore taboo, but she breaks this by flirting and going to the extent of arousing him. Through it, she draws attention to his inability to control her sexual behavior although she is a married woman.

The conflict between Sofia and her father represents women’s struggle over their sexuality. It also illustrates the cultural differences of the Dominican Republic and the United States. In the former, a man’s ability to guard and protect the chastity of his female relatives determines his honor, whereas, in the latter, a woman is expected to be in control of her sexuality once she reaches adulthood (Cancela, 1986). The conflict here grows in the gap between these cultural differences.

In conclusion, the elements discussed did not affect any opinion to the work. It is worth mentioning that they made it more interesting and easier to understand the themes contained therein, each in equal measure.


Alvarez, J. (1991). How the Garcia girls lost their accents. Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Cancela, J. O., (1986).  Heritage Society Museum and Archives. & British Columbia Heritage Trust. The ditch: Lifeline of a community. Oliver, B.C: Museum & Archives.